A Diamond’s Eye View of the World

a multi-faceted look at the middle east, and the middle west

the spirit of brotherly love: wishing across religions

Posted by adiamondinsunlight on December 26, 2006

A very disheartening Associated Press article was published on December 24 in the Kuwait Times, the International Herald Tribune, and a few other papers. Its subject was the decline of communal tolerance in Kuwait, as evidenced through the increasing unwillingness of some Kuwaitis to wish their Christian brethren a merry Christmas.

Theologically, this position is highly defensible. After all, one of the major ‘sticking points’ between Christianity and its two Abrahamic siblings is the divinity of Christ. A strict interpretation of Judaism or Islam would see wishing someone a “merry Christmas” as encouraging him or her in the error of seeing Christ as the son of God. The same would be true for Christians or Jews wishing Muslims an 3eid mubarak – after all, in Islam it is Ishmael, not Isaac, who is sacrificed, and there is less emphasis on the covenant God makes with Abraham.

Like many who favor ecumenicalism over sectarianism, I prefer to consider the faiths of all believers as the product of sincere human striving towards God, and our differences as a mystery for God, not man, to unravel. I wish my fellow Christians, Jews, and Muslims joy and peace on each holiday, and I was delighted to find that the first holiday greetings in my inbox yesterday came from one of my Muslim friends.

Here is the AP article, taken from the Kuwait Times:
Religious ‘intolerance’ rising in Kuwait

KUWAIT: Is it religiously acceptable for Muslims to wish their Christian colleagues or acquaintances a Merry Christmas? In Kuwait, it depends on who you ask. Days before the holiday that is not officially celebrated in Kuwait, fundamentalists like Mohammed Al-Kandari began urging fellow Muslims not to extend the greeting to Christians they know. Al-Kandari, who heads the Society of Sharia, or Islamic law, told Al-Watan daily the celebration contradicted with Islam because Christians believe Jesus (PBUH) was the son of God. The decline in tolerance of other faiths comes as political Islam is sharply increasing its presence in mainstream politics across the region.

A year ago, the militant Islamist group Hamas swept Palestinian elections; Jordan appointed an Islamist to the Cabinet in November; and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood formed the largest opposition bloc in parliament since elections in 2005. There are few hundred Kuwaiti Christians among the country’s 1 million citizens. However, many of the 2 million foreign workers who live here are Christian. Kuwait University political science teacher Ahmed Al-Baghdadi said posters expressing sentiments similar to Al-Kandari’s appeared around campus for several days. “It is dangerous because it means that the extremist movement feels stronger than before …maybe in the future they will call for closing down (non-Muslim) places of worship.”
Kuwait permits several churches to operate. Senior Shiite scholar Mohammed Baqer Al-Mahri issued a statement saying Muslims can “congratulate their brethren the Christians” on Christmas and “show joy” on the occasion. “Let all Christians in the world know that all Muslims love Jesus … and his mother Mary,” just like the Holy Quran tells us to, Al-Mahri said. The government is fighting extremism with a campaign to spread “moderation” especially among young men, many of whom have adopted fundamentalist Islam and taken up arms in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

On Christmas Eve, Al-Watan columnist Nabil Al-Fadhl urged officials leading the campaign to make a concrete gesture to Christians. “It is a silly joke to try to preach moderation …. if you do nothing about those who fight Christmas and describe as infidel those who wish Christians a Merry Christmas,” he wrote. Christians freedom to worship in the Arabian Gulf is generally more constrained than elsewhere in the Arab world. Saudi Arabia is the least tolerant of other faiths. It bans non-Islamic holidays.

Meanwhile, with Santa Clauses in trendy malls, giant Christmas trees in hotels and holiday treats on supermarket shelves, Christmas cheer is can’t be missed in Dubai. In fact, the holiday kitsch is at an all-time high in this Muslim city where many residents reveal in the commercial hype of the Christian holiday. Though winter temperatures feel more like summer here, it hasn’t stopped people from purchasing Christmas trees, which are shipped in from colder, northern countries, and taking pictures with Santa amid fake falling snow inside a local mall.

Despite a growing rift between some Muslims and Christians, it’s no surprise that the commercial side of Christmas is all the rage in Dubai, home of other over-the-top, flashy attractions including an indoor snow skiing park and man-made islands created in the shape of palm trees. The majority of the 800,000 citizens of the oil-rich United Arab Emirates are Muslim. But an estimated 3.7 million foreigners also live there. Though most are guest workers from other Arab and Muslim countries, many come from predominantly Christian countries including Britain.

Anger toward the West and Christians by some Muslims has escalated over the past year after cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) were first published in a Danish newspaper and following the explosive comments made by Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI in September about violence and the prophet. But unlike conservative Islamic Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, which bans celebrating non-Muslim holidays, and Kuwait, where debates spring up about whether it’s un-Islamic to wish people Merry Christmas, Dubai has long been the liberal bastion of the Arabian Peninsula where people from all countries and religions seeking to reap the benefits of its booming economy live.

The commercialised Christmas shopping spirit is most prominent in Dubai’s vast malls, which feature displays of fake snowmen, furry polar bears and fuzzy reindeer wagging their heads as they pull sleighs full of presents. A snowstorm erupts every hour at the Emirates mall, where for US$11, children can visit Santa and receive a gift. Across town at the Ibn Batutta Mall, fake Santas strum electric guitars, singing “Jingle Bell Rock.” At the Wafi City mall, an Egyptian-themed shopping centre built around a fake pyramid, children played among gingerbread houses and shoppers listened to Christmas carols.

“It’s lovely,” said Donna Ralf, 43, from England, while shopping with her granddaughter. “It definitely makes home seem closer.” Dubai’s legions of hotels and clubs also seem to be competing to outdo each other to attract well-heeled residents to luxurious Christmas dinners. Many have sent teenagers to slip fliers under apartment and office doors in neighbourhoods favoured by expatriates. One hotel, the Mina a-Salaam, even boasts a giant, brightly lit Christmas tree that floats on a raft in an artificial lake.

The Christmas frenzy has spilled over to residential neighbourhoods. At one apartment complex, fliers are posted inviting residents of all denominations to Christmas parties, and the greeting “Happy Christmas” is in vogue here, even among non-Christians. Newspapers also have jumped on the Christmas bandwagon, with the top headline of the Khaleej Times yesterday reading: “Look, it’s Christmas” above a picture of a mother and daughter wearing Santa’s hats. Emirati resident Loloa Al-Khalifa, dressed in the traditional black cloak or abaya, said she welcomed the Christmas cheer while taking photographs of her 1-year-old son in front of holiday decorations at one of the malls recently. “I’m very proud of our traditions but happy that my son is growing up in such a cosmopolitan city,” Al-Khalifa, a Muslim, said. – AP

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One Response to “the spirit of brotherly love: wishing across religions”

  1. nice post …
    we have a diverse society here in Kuwait where as you said find people who are totally against the Christmas idea but on the other hand you find islamists who are totally with it …
    FREAKY …
    hope this would last where you can hear the other side’s opinion

    Cheers

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