With the arrival of the birth anniversary of Prophet Jesus (PBUH), millions of people around the globe celebrate this occasion as well as the new year and this can be a great opportunity to think deeper about peaceful coexistence.
To further discuss the issue, IQNA has reached out to Matthew Kaemingk, assistant professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and director of Richard John Mouw Institute of Faith and Public Life in Houston, Texas.
Here is the text and parts of the video of the interview:
IQNA: Prophet Jesus is known as the symbol for peace and love how can we use his teachings and his character to bring peace to the world?
Kaemingk: I think one of the most important things about Jesus is his call for us to love our neighbor not just when it's easy but when it's difficult. Jesus understood that love is costly and hard and sometimes involves sacrifice; that in a world of violence, hatred, and difficulty, being a person of love and forgiveness costs something and I think that’s a very important lesson that we can take from Jesus is that being a person of hospitality and generosity in a world of selfishness is what God calls us to.
And so as we celebrate Christmas the birth of Jesus and it's very interesting as the Bible talk about Jesus being born in a town where he as uninvited; he was unwanted that there was no room for him and he came anyways.
IQNA: When you look into the Muslim’ holy book, the Quran, you see several references to the name of Jesus. The question is how much the Western scholars in the first place are aware of these references and how do they react to them?
Kaemingk: I think that most western Christians and most western scholars do not closely read the Quran and are not aware that Jesus is a revered prophet in Islam so many Christian pastors in the west do not understand that Jesus is a very respected figure in Islam. So I think that Christians like myself are trying to teach other people in the west that Jesus is a very important figure in Islam and in the Quran.
IQNA: How much do you think this familiarity with Islam’s respect for Jesus can help ease the somehow anti-Muslim sentiments that we, unfortunately, see in some of the Western countries?
Kaemingk: I think it would help a lot. I have to say that I think that the most important thing is not so much that Christians study the Quran but that Christians get to know Muslims. I think building friendships across Christianity and Islam is very impactful. I have a number of friends who are Muslim and those relationships have had a big impact on me and how I think about Islam. For many people in the west they don't have any friends who are Muslims and so the only thing they know about Muslims is what they see on the television or read about in the newspaper. So I think that’s very important. I think it would be wonderful if Christians understood how important Jesus is to Islam and how respected Jesus is.
IQNA: How can we achieve this? I mean who's responsible for this and raising this awareness?
Kaemingk: I think that Christians are responsible for learning more about Islam. I think that Muslims are responsible for learning more about Christianity. I will say that there are a number of Muslims in the United States, where I live, who are very committed to building relationships with Christians.
And I think that what will happen in the future in the United States is that the country is becoming more secular and more atheist and so the Christian church is getting smaller and I think that what will be happening more often is that Muslims and Christians living in the United States will need to co-operate more often as secularism grows in the United States. So I think there will be a lot more conversation because frankly, the faiths need one another in a secular country.
IQNA: Going back to your community, how do you mark this event I mean the birth anniversary of Prophet Jesus? Is there any reference to the teachings of Jesus in your celebrations or it has just become New Year celebrations without any spiritual content?
Kaemingk: In my church here in Houston we will sing songs about Jesus’s birth and we'll have lots of music. We will say prayers we will read the story about the birth of Jesus and we will talk about what the arrival of Jesus means for us.
Of course, Muslims and Christians have a very different understanding of who Jesus was. Muslims believe him to be a prophet, simply a man. Whereas Christians believe that Jesus is God incarnate come to Earth. And so we talk a lot about what it means for God to be with us in the birth of Jesus and that Jesus is coming to save us, to be our rescuer and so we have a lot of songs that talk about what happened to this baby when this baby grows up.
But in general, my family and I, we give gifts to each other. We have a Christmas tree. There is a lot of gift-giving for Christians and gift-giving is meant to help us remember that God has given us this gift of Jesus and so we're to be grateful and we're to be joyful. So this is meant to be the most joyful time of the Christian year because God gives us the gift of Jesus.
IQNA: The next question is how do you assess the participation of non-Christians I mean Muslims, Jews in these celebrations and how can these affect the peaceful coexistence in different communities around the globe?
Kaemingk: It’s a wonderful question. One important story related to the birth of Jesus is the three wise men. And the wise men, it says, come from the East – which Bible scholars think maybe Persia – looking for Jesus and as the story goes in the Bible, they bring special gifts from the East to honor Jesus and to celebrate his birth. The story is told in the book of Matthew which was written to Jewish people. And this is a surprising story for the Jews to hear that people from the East who are not a part of Israel come to know Jesus and to acknowledge Jesus and to honor Jesus with gifts and this is a very important story within Jesus’s birth and it is meant to remind Jews and Christians that those who are outside of their community, foreigners, are also to be included and honored and so we need to have an open and hospitable pasture towards outside people. And we need to acknowledge that God is speaking to them as well.
And I think this little story is meant to tell us that God surprises us with who God includes and so we as Christians need to be very open to building relationships with Muslims and Jews and people in Asia, Africa and Latin America because God includes outsiders.
IQNA: Any final comments?
Kaemingk: Thank you so much for having this conversation and reaching out to a Christian neighbor. I look forward to more conversations like this. I believe that peace and coexistence come through building relationships and asking questions and trying to learn from one another. So I thank you for your curiosity. And I encourage your listeners to seek out people who are different with curiosity to listen and learn and thank you so much and peace and blessings to you and all who follow you.
Interview by Mohammad Ali Haqshenas