AS A MUSLIM interfaith activist, the month of December reminds me of Christmas as it was celebrated in St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Bombay, India. Father D’Souza used to say:
Money loss little loss
Time loss much loss
Heavens loss all loss
This message still resonates in me because it fitted perfectly with what I learned at home: that wealth mixed with faith can have a corrupting influence. That loss of wealth and loss of time are not equal — that time never stops for anyone, and finally, the Hereafter and the Day of Reckoning represent the ultimate test of all humanity. Also, that all wise people from all religions resonate to the message of Jesus, considered a Messiah, born out of the word of God, and “a light to all humankind,” according to the Quran.
We greeted our neighbors who were Christians, visited their houses and ate good food, and learned about Jesus’ life through our Christian believers in God. Everyone — the Hindus and the Zorastrians came in, too — and we all had a feast.
Christianity in India and Pakistan is not what it is here today — sorry to say this to my Christian friends. The festivity and commercialization in the “Happy Holidays” is devoid of the real essence of Jesus’ message.
During this auspicious time, sermons in the San Francisco Bay Area center on the life of Jesus and Mary. Eternal love, compassion and forgiveness become very much a part of how you fit yourself spiritually in a world that is forbidding you from even mentioning “Merry Christmas.”
Christmastime also rehearses Abraham’s journey from Ur, in present-day Iraq, in search of more hospitable place to live — how he trekked the desert through Egypt, Israel-Palestine-Jordan and Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The season reminds us of the importance of Jerusalem, Hebron and Bethlehem to the descendants of both Issac and Ismael — this is what it is all about.
“Secular fundamentalists,” please forgive me. I have religious freedom to greet the followers of Jesus, telling them “Merry Christmas” and to my Jewish friends to say “Happy Hanukkah.” — not “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.”
This is the time for renewal of spiritual values, to ask for forgiveness, and beginning the task of repairing the world. Jesus, primarily a Jew, would say, “Tikkun Olam.”
Iftekhar Hai, President of UMA Interfaith Alliance, is an interfaith activist and founding director of the United Religions Initiative.