In the Name of God, the Subtle, the Loving
The young woman was always known to be pious, and she had taken for herself a place of prayer in an eastern section of the Temple. On one of those days, she was in sincere and solemn prayer when she was called out to by the angels:
“God has chosen you and purified you, and he has chosen you over all women of all peoples,” they said. They continued: “Obey your Lord devoutly, worship, and bow in prayer with those who bow in prayer.”
Later, a man suddenly appeared before her in her place of prayer. She was taken aback and said to the man: “I take refuge from you with the Benevolent One, if you are conscientious.” She was concerned that, perhaps, he had evil intentions for her. Seeking to allay her fears, he then said, “I am only a messenger from your Lord, to give you a sinless son.”
This shocked her. She was unmarried, and she never even gave committing such a sin as fornication a passing thought.
“How shall I have a son,” she protested, “when no man has touched me, and I have not been unchaste?”
Obviously, if she were to be with child, it would be a scandal. Yet, this mattered not to the man, who was not a man at all, actually, but the Holy Spirit itself.
He replied, “It will be so. Your Lord says, `It is easy for me; and we intend to make him a sign for humankind, and a mercy from us. So the matter is decided.'”
So, the woman conceived the child, and she left to have the child elsewhere, away from the community. The pangs of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree for support, and she cried out in anguish:
“Oh would that I had died before this and had become a thing forgotten, utterly forgotten!”
It is possible this was uttered out of the tremendous pain of childbirth, but it is also a reflection of her anxiety of having to face the community with a child, knowing that she was an unmarried woman. Suddenly, a voice cried out to her from beneath her:
“Grieve not,” said the voice, which belonged to her newborn child. The baby continued, “Your Lord has provided a rivulet [running] beneath you and shake the trunk of the palm-tree towards you: it will drop fresh, ripe dates upon thee. Eat, then, and drink and let your eye be gladdened.” What wisdom from a newborn baby!
Not only did the boy comfort his mother, he gave her an excellent strategy to deal with the outcry of the community that is sure to come:
“And if you should see any human being, convey this to him: ‘Behold, abstinence from speech have I vowed unto the Most Gracious; hence, I may not speak today to any mortal.'”
So, she came home – baby in her arms – and the cries of “scandal” came from all sides. I can imagine the scene: a young mother, known to be pious, and chaste, and upright, suddenly re-appears before her people with a child. People surrounding her, and probably crying, “Adulteress! Stone her!”
“You have done an amazing thing!” they said to her. “O sister of Aaron! Your father was not a wicked man, and your mother was not a loose woman!”
She pointed to her child, signalling that he will answer them. They mocked her: “How can we talk to one who [as yet] is a little boy in the cradle?”
The “little boy in the cradle” answered them:
“Behold, I am a servant of God. He has vouchsafed unto me revelation and made a prophet, and [He has] made me blessed wherever I may be; and He has enjoined upon me prayer and charity as long as I live, and [has endowed me with] piety towards my mother; and He has not made me haughty or bereft of grace. Hence, peace was upon me on the day I was born, and [will be upon me] on the day of my death and on the day I shall be raised to life [again]!”
The people were shocked and amazed at this miracle, which defended her honor and affirmed her innocence, and showed everyone that this babe and his mother were indeed most special.
This story, if it is not obvious by now, is the story of the birth of Jesus Christ (pbuh), whose event most Christians are celebrating today. This story is not taken from the Bible, but rather, the Qur’an. Yes, it’s in there! The verses that speak of this are 19:16-33 and are some of the most beautiful of the Qur’an.
This may come as a shock to many of our Christian neighbors, but it should not. Jesus Christ (pbuh) is very prominent in Muslim belief. In fact, Jesus Christ (pbuh) is mentioned more by name than the Prophet Muhammad himself (pbuh). Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them both) are brothers, in fact, as all prophets of God are brothers. If you study the teachings of both Jesus and Muhammad (pbut), you will see such a striking similarly that is fascinating.
I wish more people would realize this: that our communities have more in common than in distinction. We should use these commonalities to bring our communities together in peace, harmony, and fellowship. As Christians the world over mark the birth of Christ, who is my prophet as well, I pray that the communities of Christianity and Islam put down the conflict and use their common love for Jesus as a bond that ties them both in friendship.
In Your Most Holy Name I ask this, Amen.
And…Merry Christmas to all!