Is Christmas fake news?

Star decoration

This advent has been filled with evangelistic events, carol services, pub carolling etc, all trying to wrench Christmas back from the fat red man and bring our attention back to the baby in the manger. Because only the baby in the manger lived the perfect life, died and rose again and promises eternal life to all who believe in Him (John 3:16, John 5:24.) What hope! All while the fat red man – the one invented by Coca Cola I mean-only gets us fatter and sadder and lonelier after we have eaten or played with or passed on his offerings to the charity shop.

Each year I try and invite my Muslim friends to Carol services (or whatever), and every year I get a response like this one, this time from a good friend:

WhatsApp message

This was followed, as has happened before, with a link to a dawah video about Jesus Was Never Born on 25th December and  How Christmas Is Actually a Pagan Festival. In the video I watched, I learnt that gingerbread men are haram, because they are symbolic of pagan massacres. And yet the same dawah people, who warn of the evils of children’s biscuits, are very shy when it comes to making videos on why some Muslims literally massacre people at Christmas markets. (This guy has no videos on violence in Islamic teaching at all.)

The evidence for whether Jesus was actually born on 25th December is a bit sketchy.  It has some patristic support: according to this article, Hyppolytus (ca. 170-236) claimed that Jesus was born on December 25, as did John Chrystostom (ca.349-407) and  Cyril of Jerusalem (ca. 348-386). Other Church Fathers, such as Iraeneus, (c140-202) said Jesus was born in the 41st year of the reign of Augustus, who began his reign autumn 43 BC, making Jesus’ birth ‘the autumn’ of 2BC. Eusebius’ dating is similar. Others argue the dating is based on Rabbinic tradition, which held that you die on the day of conception; and nine months on from April 25th, the date given  for Jesus’ crucifixion, is December 25th. Either way, there are no Scripture references nor enough historical evidence, to be exactly sure.

But exact dating is a side issue. The main point of course is not the date of his birth but the significance of it. Jesus Christ was not just a human baby, but God in the flesh (John 1:1, Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:6.)  Christian doctrines – incarnation, atonement, resurrection – are inextricably bound up with the belief that God was born, not the date of his birth.

And if Muslims are going to continue to make this objection, they need to be consistent. Last week a Muslim brought the “25th December” objection to me on his way to Mawlid – Muhammad’s birthday party. Only no-one knows exactly when Muhammad was born either. In fact the historical Muhammad is far more obscure than the historical Jesus. But celebrating  the birthday of an influential figure seems perfectly reasonable, whether it’s on the exact day or not. Quibbling over Muhammad’s birthday doesn’t prove Islam true or false, same with Jesus.  (Interestingly, celebrating Mawlid was condemned in a fatwa by Ibn Taimiyya (d.1328) – one of the forefathers of Wahabbism – as an innovation.)

And was Christmas derived from a pagan festival?  The celebration of the nativity may have been concurrent with pagan festivals, but there is not much evidence to suggest it was pagan in origin.  The Romans used to celebrate the feast of Saturnalia, which involved feasting , gifts and candles until 23rd December. But it was disapproved of by the early church. Gregory Nazianzen, Bishop of Constantinople c. 379 compared it unfavourably with celebrations of the Nativity.

‘…let us not strive to outdo each other in intemperance… Let us leave all these to … the …festivals of the Greeks… But we, the Object of whose adoration is the Word… seek it [‘luxury’]…in the Divine Law …’

The early church celebrated Jesus’ birth with fasting, perhaps as a reaction to the dissipation around them. It’s a challenging thought.

The other contention, according to this article, is that Christmas was initiated by Roman Emperor Aurelian. Aurelian did initiate games to the Sun deity,  Sol, held in October, but also celebrated the Winter Solstice as the ‘birthday’ of the sun, around December 25th. However this was a celebration of the sun the astronomical body, not the deity – an important distinction.  Christians didn’t mind the celebration of the Nativity co-inciding with a naturally -occuring event like the Solstice, and even drew parallels with Christ  the ‘Sun of Righteousness’ (Malachi 4:2). In fact what we know about early Christians is how they actively shunned any association with other gods and refused to sacrifice to them, even if it led to their violent deaths. How likely is it really that saints like Perpetua, who chose Christ and the lions rather than offer a pinch of incense to a foreign god, would have indulged in a remotely pagan festival? If anything, the evidence points to early Christians consciously setting themselves apart from pagan traditions.

As Christmas developed down the centuries, it undoubtedly picked up traditions from other origins – some of them probably pagan, like the ringing of bells (to warn off evil spirits.)  Instead of being shunned – though some Christians do still – these were infused with new meaning, in this case, making a joyful noise to the Lord. The same is true of candles, a borrowing from Hannukah, symbolising Christ the light or the world, evergreen trees Jesus’ indestructible life etc. But why not take something bad and make it something new and beautiful? Isn’t that what Jesus does with us when we are born again?

It’s worrying that the Christian symbolism behind our traditions is getting  lost as Christmas became more secular and commercial. I know of more Christians now who don’t celebrate Christmas because it  seems so far-removed from the Nativity story. But whether you do Christmas stockings or plum pudding or not, the point is to keep the main thing, the main thing: Christ the Saviour is born! And when Muslims – or Christians – attack Christmas for being pagan, it’s not attacking the main thing, but a straw man.

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is g]conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name h]Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:2-23)

Happy Christmas everyone!

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Miracles of Muhammad at Speaker’s Corner

Miracles of Muhammad at Speaker’s Corner

Hatun and a Christian brother ask Muslims what miracles Muhammad performed?

“And We refrain from sending the signs, only because the men of former generations treated them as false: We sent the she-camel to the Thamud to open their eyes, but they treated her wrongfully: We only send the Signs by way of terror (and warning from evil).” Sura 17:59

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Comparing Muhammad to priests

Comparing Muhammad to priests.

Hatun has a conversation with a thoughtful Muslim about paedophile priests and Aisha.

The Bible says paedophile priests need to repent; the Qur’an says Muhammad is the best example for Muslims to follow (Sura 33:21).

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Finding wisdom in Muhammad and Aisha

Finding wisdom in Muhammad and Aisha.

The Qur’an identifies Muhammad as the best example to follow (Sura 33:21). Hatun asks a Muslim about Muhammad’s marriage to Aisha, consummated when she was 9 years old. The man tried to justify the “wisdom” behind Muhammad’s actions..

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Muhammad more than a man!

Muhammad more than a man!

While Muslims say that Muhammad is just a man, just a prophet; Hatun and Daniel look at the Quranic teachings where clearly Muhammad is more than a man.

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Muhammad: divinely inspired or demon possessed?

Muhammad: divinely inspired or demon possessed?

Hatun and Daniel look at the manner in which Muhammad received his revelations. Do those signs show that Muhammad is prophet of God or demon possessed?

“Narrated Safwan bin Ya’la bin Umaiya from his father who said: ‘A man came to the Prophet while he was at Ji’rana. The man was wearing a cloak which had traces of Khaluq or Sufra (a kind of perfume). The man asked (the Prophet), “What do you order me to perform in my ‘Umra?” So, Allah inspired the Prophet divinely and he was screened by a place of cloth. I wished to see the Prophet being divinely inspired. ‘Umar said to me, “Come! Will you be pleased to look at the Prophet while Allah is inspiring him?” I replied in the affirmative. ‘Umar lifted one corner of the cloth and I looked at the Prophet who was snoring. (The sub-narrator thought that he said: The snoring was like that of a camel). When that state was over, the Prophet asked, “Where is the questioner who asked about ‘Umra? Put off your cloak and wash away the traces of Khaluq from your body and clean the Sufra (yellow color) and perform in your Umra what you perform in your Hajj (i.e. the Tawaf round the Ka’ba and the Sa’i between Safa and Marwa).” Sahih Bukhari 3:27:17

..Muhammad said, ‘O Khadija, what is wrong with me?’ Then he told her everything that had happened and said, ‘I fear that something may happen to me.’ … But after a few days Waraqa died and the Divine Inspiration was also paused for a while and the prophet became so sad as we have heard that he intended SEVERAL TIMES TO THROW HIMSELF FROM THE TOPS OF HIGH MOUNTAINS and every time he went up the top of a mountain in order to throw himself down, Gabriel would appear before him and say, ‘O Muhammad! You are indeed Allah’s Apostle in truth’ Sahih Bukhari 9:87:111

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Why did Muhammad want to commit suicide?

Why did Muhammad want to commit suicide?

Daniel questions a Muslim on why Muhammad wanted to throw himself off a mountain after he received his first revelation from angel Jibril? “Narrated ‘Aisha: The commencement of the Divine Inspiration to Allah’s apostle was in the form of good righteous (true) dreams in his sleep. He never had a dream but that it came true like bright day light. He used to go in seclusion (the cave of) Hira where he used to worship (Allah Alone) continuously for many (days) nights. He used to take with him the journey food for that (stay) and then come back to (his wife) Khadija to take his food likewise again for another period to stay, till suddenly the Truth descended upon him while he was in the cave of Hira. The angel came to him in it and asked him to read. The Prophet replied, ‘I do not know how to read.’ (The prophet added), ‘The angel caught me (forcefully) and pressed me so hard that I could not bear it anymore. He then released me and again asked me to read, and I replied, “I do not know how to read,” whereupon he caught me again and pressed me a second time till I could not bear it anymore. He then released me and asked me again to read, but again I replied, “I do not know how to read (or, what shall I read?).” Thereupon he caught me for the third time and pressed me and then released me and said, “Read: In the Name of your Lord, Who has created (all that exists). Has created man from a clot. Read and Your Lord is Most Generous,” up to, “that which he knew not.” (96.1-5)’ “Then Allah’s apostle returned with the Inspiration, his neck muscles twitching WITH TERROR till he entered upon Khadija and said, ‘Cover me! Cover me!’ They covered him till his fear was over and then he said, ‘O Khadija, what is wrong with me?’ Then he told her everything that had happened and said, ‘I fear that something may happen to me.’ … But after a few days Waraqa died and the Divine Inspiration was also paused for a while and the prophet became so sad as we have heard that he intended SEVERAL TIMES TO THROW HIMSELF FROM THE TOPS OF HIGH MOUNTAINS and every time he went up the top of a mountain in order to throw himself down, Gabriel would appear before him and say, ‘O Muhammad! You are indeed Allah’s Apostle in truth,’ whereupon his heart would become quiet and he would calm down and would return home. And whenever the period of the coming of the inspiration used to become long, he would do as before, but when he used to reach the top of a mountain, Gabriel would appear before him and say to him what he had said before. (Ibn ‘Abbas said regarding the meaning of: ‘He it is that Cleaves the daybreak (from the darkness)’ (6.96) that Al-Asbah means the light of the sun during the day and the light of the moon at night).” Sahih Bukhari 9:87:111

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Jesus is alive with Allah?

Jesus is alive with Allah?

According to Sura 4:1457-158 Jesus is still alive and he is with Allah. But what about Muhammad? Muhammad is long dead in the grave.

The conversation moves on to how Muhammad died. (Answer: he was poisoned by a Jewish woman in revenge for killing her family.)

Narrated by Aisha, The Prophet during his illness from which he died, used to say, “O Aisha! I still feel the pain caused by the food I ate at Khaybar, and at this time, I feel as if my aorta is being cut by that poison.” (Sahih Bukhari 4428)

“And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah.” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain.

Rather, Allah raised him to Himself. And ever is Allah Exalted in Might and Wise.” Sura 4:157-8

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Who needs blasphemy laws anyway?

Twitter message

There have been two victories for freedom of speech recently. The first, on 28th October, was when Ireland voted in a referendum to scrap its blasphemy laws. Stephen Fry was reported by a member of the public in 2015 for the following comments:

“Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded stupid god who creates a world so full of injustice and pain?” the actor said.”The god that created this universe, if it was created by a god, is quite clearly a maniac, utter maniac, totally selfish.”

The reaction from the political establishment was embarrassment swiftly followed by legislative reform. How ridiculous that this stuff is still on the statute book, said the press.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, where blasphemy is a capital offence and blasphemy laws are defended by its UK educated Prime Minister,  Asia Bibi was finally freed after 8 years on death row. After some grubby bargaining with the political parties who wanted her dead, it’s hoped she has finally been allowed to leave the country – the latest news is still unclear.

But unlike Stephen Fry’s opinions, Western media outlets don’t like to repeat what Bibi actually said. The BBC reports coyly “she made three offensive comments about the Prophet Muhammad.”  Sky News says she was imprisoned “over allegations she insulted Islam’s Prophet Muhammad”. Mohammed Hanif in the New York Times went further still:

“We can never know what she may or may not have said because repeating blasphemy is also blasphemy, and writing it down may be even greater blasphemy. So let’s not go there….”

Surprise, surprise, the same newspaper decided to publish Stephen’s comments in full! Why this lack of editorial consistency? I wonder if the violent protests  across the country, calling for the assassination of Bibi and the judges who acquitted her had anything to do with it.

So what exactly did Asia say that everyone is too shy to report? Asia recounts answering her neighbour, who had just referred to Jesus as a “bastard”, with the words “I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind. What did your Prophet Muhammed ever do to save mankind?” Probably one of the most prescient, probing, relevant questions ever asked. And not even blasphemous -her neighbour was blasphemous. Either way – blasphemy should never be a criminal offence. But who cares? A blasphemy law is redundant when the mainstream media is sharia compliant by choice.

Indeed Twitter’s sharia-compliance officers charged us with ‘hateful conduct’, after we tweeted Sky News on the issue of grooming gangs:

“Religion of Islam has lots to do with this. Qur’an supports their actions. Role model of Muslims is Muhammad and his actions support the actions of grooming gangs (should be called ‘rape gangs’.” (You can probably tell which one of us wrote that.)

Clearly Twitter can’t tell the difference between ‘hateful conduct’ and ‘uncomfortable facts.’ But then, this is the organisation that accepted a paid  ad promoting female genital mutilation. (You can watch our response to Twitter  here, and you can read our article where we link the issue of rape gangs with Islamic teaching here.)

But at least the European Court of Human Rights is on the side of free speech – right? Wrong. The ECHR thinks free speech is less important than “the rights of others to have their religious feelings protected, and to have religious peace preserved.” So if people feel on religious grounds, that having sex with 9 year old child is acceptable (because their prophet did so) their religious feelings take precedence over proper discussion of their prophet’s behaviour.  All at a time when “child marriage has become one of the most pervasive and enduring forms of sexual exploitation of young girls in the Middle East and North Africa,” according to this  white paper on Child Marriage in the Middle East and North Africa.  (Click here for the full article by Jules Gomes.)  Likewise Asia Bibi won’t be offered asylum in Britain, according to one source, due to ‘security concerns and unrest in certain sections of the community.’ Yet again Muslim feelings trump the morally right thing to do.

Tomorrow is Remembrance Sunday. I wonder what the soldiers who laid down their lives would make of the freedoms they fought for being discarded so cheaply? But bemoaning it doesn’t help. Nor does silence. The church needs to find her voice again, and be firm and be courageous. We must “speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:9); we must preach the Gospel in season and out of season (2 Tim 4:2), and “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor 10:5), especially as it gets more costly. But we can do with joy and hope, with Jesus as our victorious King.

‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’ (John 16:33)

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