When I became a Muslim thirteen years ago this month, I left behind the Christmas traditions my family celebrated every year of my childhood. My mother was able to transform our Southern California home into a Winter Wonderland as soon as we walked in the door; it may have been 75 degrees and sunny outside, but inside we felt we were in a Currier and Ives world of red velvet beribboned pine boughs, twinkling lights and beautiful music. I loved it. The Christmas season and our small traditions remained the same no matter how many years passed. My mother worked extremely hard to build warm, and loving holiday memories, and I sincerely cherish them.
Like many American homes, there wasn't much Christ in my family's Christmas. There would always be some discussion surrounding the reason for our celebration, but we didn't attend church services or talk too much about what my parents believed. The beautiful nativity on the mantle, hand-painted by my grandmother, was flanked by tasteful, secular decorations. This led to a kind of vague confusion between the miraculous birth of Jesus, and the magical feat of Santa Claus zipping around the world in one night.
Nostalgia not withstanding, thinking about Christmas is now far more meaningful to me on a spiritual level than it was when I was young. The fact that Muslims accept and believe in the virgin birth of Jesus has been a golden thread that links my childhood Christmas memories to my very fulfilling adult life as a Muslim.
The world's more than 1.5 billion Muslims would like their Christian neighbors to know that we believe in the Annunciation; in the Quran we read that God sent the angels to Mary:
"When the angels said: O Mary, surely God gives you good news with a Word from Him of one whose name is the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, worthy of regard in this world and the hereafter and of those who are made near to God. And he shall speak to the people when in the cradle and when of old age, and he shall be one of the good ones." Quran 3:45-46
The Quran has only one chapter named after a woman; Chapter 19 is titled "Mary", or as it is translated in Arabic -- Maryam. The Quran tells us that the infant Jesus, (or Isa as it is translated in Arabic), spoke from Mary's arms:
"...He said: Surely I am a servant of God; He has given me the Book and made me a prophet; And He has made me blessed wherever I may be, and He has enjoined on me prayer and charity so long as I live; And dutiful to my mother, and He has not made me insolent, unblessed; And peace on me on the day I was born, and on the day I die, and on the day I am raised to life.'" Quran 19:30-33*
While Muslims don't celebrate Christmas, we believe in the awesome and miraculous birth of Jesus, in the miracles he performed by God's Grace, and in the message of love and peace Jesus brought to the world.
I hope my family knows that I am more attached to the account of Jesus and Mary than I ever was as a child, now that I am a practicing Muslim. It is a vital part of my faith; a faith that I share with over a billion and a half people around the world.
This is my Christmas card to my family, and all my Christian friends and neighbors: Peace on earth and goodwill toward men.
*Muslims understand this verse in reference to the to death of Jesus after the second coming and resurrection on the Day of Judgment. See Quran, 4:157