So what’s a Muslim girl doing in a Christmas Pageant?
Our mosque built a very good relationship with a local Methodist church. Dinners, interfaith discussions, a Q &A about Islam, and even classes exploring the Enneagramⁱ. I was asked to lead a month-long adult Sunday school class addressing the prophets that Islam and Christianity share.
So when a dear friend asked for help with their annual Christmas in Bethlehem pageant, how could I refuse?
First United Methodist Church of Garland offers a wonderful enactment of the Christmas story in Bethlehem. Minus the secular elements of trees, Santa and presents, what enfolds throughout the church is a virtual walk-through of one very significant night in the history of Christianity. I have never experienced a more relevant and touching celebration of that holiday.
So where do Muslims come in? Not only do our Methodist friends design sets and props and offer Middle Eastern fare to make a proper 1st century Middle Eastern city, they dress the part as well. The long robes and other period clothing are easy enough to model. But the women struggle with their scarves. Something that is very much right up our alley. So bring on the authorities! Last year, no more slipping scarves, or 21st century unwanted bobs peeping out. All were delighted and able to remain in character throughout the evening. We Muslims thought they all looked beautiful and suggested they can call us anytime and we could even fill in as actors without even changing our street clothes!
Practicing Muslims do not typically celebrate Christmas. We recognize Jesus as one of the five greatest Prophets along with Noah, Abraham, Moses and Muhammad, peace be upon them all. Although Jesus is not accepted as divine, Muslims are commanded to recognize his importance and miracles as part of our faith.
We have many stories of Jesus throughout the Holy Qur’an. In fact, at this time of year, I always read those passages that detail his birth. Mary is referred to as Maryam, the mother of Jesus. Her story starts a bit earlier than the Biblical account.
A pious pregnant Jewish women prays to God to dedicate the child within her womb in service to the Temple. She is stunned to find the baby is a girl and asks God why. He replies that He knows far well what she delivered and why. Mary is raised in a secluded part of the temple and Zachariah wins the right to take care of this rather remarkable young girl. Although he is her caretaker, often when he enters he finds her chamber full of food. She explains to him simply that God provides.
Much like the biblical narration, a strange man appears to her suddenly one night. She is shocked and afraid but is reassured of the good news of a very blessed child. Perplexed she asks, “How can I be of child when no man has touched me?” The man who we now know to be the angel Gabriel, congratulates her on the birth of a prophet of God. When her belly grows she leaves the temple and retreats to a place ‘in the East’. Alone and with the pains of labor, she cries out to God for help. She is told to grab onto a date tree, shake it and ripe dates will fall to sustain her while a spring miraculously appears beneath her feet. Having given birth she then returns to her family who are naturally aghast that their darling, pious girl arrives with a baby in her arms. Besieged with questions she merely points to Baby Jesus who speaks, declares himself a prophet of God and defends his mother. This is the first of many miracles attributed to Jesus within the Qur’an.
I am touched by the humanity of this story. I remember well my own labor. My husband with all good intentions reminded me to ‘shake the tree’ like Maryam during those awful pains. Needless to say, all he got from me was a good smack, correct though his reminder might be.
So, although there will no tree or presents beneath for me this year, I hope again to serve my Methodist faith partners. You might even recognize me on those streets of Bethlehem.
Wishing all the blessings of the traditions of the season!