Lets start with some Islamic trivia, which, by the way is not trivial. Not by a long shot. Here is the question: In the Quran, only one woman is mentioned by name. Who is it?
The answer: Mary. Mother of Prophet Jesus, Peace Be Upon Him (PBUH).
Did you know that? Here is more: The 19th chapter of the Quran is titled: Maryam—Arabic for Mary—and in that chapter, God tells the story of the miraculous birth of Jesus. In detail.
Today, on this Third Sunday in Advent, I will put on my Christmasy outfit in red and green, and go to church for services. The Rev. K. Karpin will call my name, I will walk up to the lectern, a copy of the Quran in hand, and read from the chapter of Mary. I will hold my iPhone close to the mic and play the Arabic recitation of verses—just a few—to give the congregation a flavor of the sound of the Quran. I will then read the translation in English, verses 16-33. The angel bringing the news of the birth of a boy to virgin Mary, her disbelief, “How can I have a child when no man has ever touched me!”, a vivid description of the setting where she gives birth—God calling out to her to drink from the rivulet and shake the trunk of the palm-tree, ‘it will drop fresh, ripe dates upon thee’; her labor pains, and baby Jesus speaking miraculously from the cradle testifying to his mother’s chastity. Every year at this time of the year, Rev. Karpin invites me to read these verses during Sunday services. Every year when I get his email, my husband and I are deeply moved. A church, during their holiest services, inviting a Muslim to read from the Quran. What an amazing commitment to interfaith harmony! What a gesture of good faith (no pun intended), of inclusivity, and recognition that we are all children of God! Only in America!
But interfaith harmony goes both ways. I would like to see more and more mosques inviting Christian clerics to read from the Bible. A year ago, I decided to do a poll of sorts, asking Muslim leaders in my network if they had invited priests and ministers for a reading of the New Testament. Some had, but only some. Most if not all, did invite them to participate in interfaith events, as speakers, but not exactly a reading from the Bible. I have participated in countless interfaith events where clerics of all faiths would read from the scripture based on whatever the theme of the event was, but here I am talking MOSQUES –as in religious services in a place of worship. Board members of mosques, consider this my Call to Action. And while I am on the topic of sermonizing to my fellow Muslims (I have no credentials whatsoever), may I interest you in checking out this amazing book: The Islamic Jesus by Mustafa Akyol. The last chapter is titled: What Jesus Can Teach Muslims Today. Actually, I take that back. I urge people of all faiths to read this book. It is enriching in so many ways, but in particular, it is a Uniter. And we need more of that, and a lot less of ‘you know what’. Here is the link.
In Pakistan, my mother would often go to Midnight Mass. When asked, she would say, “Muslims believe in the miracle of Jesus’s birth; we believe he was a prophet; the Quran reveres Mary, so why not.” We were touring Lebanon—this was many years ago—and at The Shrine of the Lady of Lebanon, a Maronite church, she lit a candle. Hasan, our tour guide (nice man) got very upset. “You are a Muslim! Why are you lighting a candle?” She gave him the same answer. This week we sat in the school gym and watched our 9-year old granddaughter and all the third-graders sing Rudolph and Frosty. Later that day her Quran teacher came to the home and went over her recital of the Quran as the lights of the mini Christmas tree sparkled by the window.
Today after services when we gather for refreshments in the Parsonage, someone from the congregation is bound to ask me the question I am asked every year. “How come the Quran mentions Jesus’s birth?” And my husband and I, waiting for this question, take off. Not only does it mention his birth, it talks about his miracles, raising the dead to life, blowing life into a clay bird, healing the sick….the Quran includes stories of all the prophets—Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Joseph, Noah (peace be upon all of them)—we believe in all the scriptures revealed to the prophets—Bible, Torah, Psalms. These are the moments Khalid and I treasure. The fun part begins after the formal ceremonies are over—over food, food being the ultimate Uniter.
PS: I didn’t mention how my boys lobbied for a Christmas tree, and one of my many regrets. I tell that story in my memoir, Threading My Prayer Rug.