Thursday, December 29, 2005

Christmas letters from Muslims

Peace, Kapayapaan, Kalinaw, Kalinong, Salam, Shalom, to you this Christmas.

I was pleasantly surprised to receive letters from Muslims working in Saudi Arabia reacting positively to last week’s column piece, ``The Christmas Story in the Koran’’ (12/22/05).

First, I’d like to say that the Inquirer stylebook spells the name of the Muslims’ Holy Book as ``Koran’’ so the few times in the past that I wrote ``Qur’an’’ I always got a call from the proofreading department informing me that the spelling will changed. I again got a call regarding my title.

At first I was a bit hesitant to run the account on Mary’s pregnancy and the events that led to Jesus’ birth as narrated in the Koran. Was my copy of the Koran an accepted translation? I presumed that like the Bible that comes in different translations, the Koran also has many translations. My pocketsize copy is by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House and published in the US. Its title is ``The Koran’’ I got it from Powerbooks for only P125.75. The Bible isn’t as cheap.

Honestly, I was charmed by the account on Mary giving birth beside the trunk of a date palm. Famished and in pain, Mary heard a voice telling her to shake the tree, whereupon ripe dates fell on her. Dates are a good post-partum repast, I suppose. I thought, we have always associated Christmas with castanas (chestnuts). Why don’t we switch to dates?

I really prefer dates. Some of the best I’ve tasted were preserved ones that were still on the twig. They came from Tunisia. Dates, I was told, are a popular food item for Muslims at the end of Ramadan.

Now, if we go by the ripening of the dates and their falling on Mary, this would mean that Jesus was not born during a winter month but in the summer in that part of the world. Not that the exact date and time matters much now.

Anyway, here are some of the letters.

``I was, as usual, going over the columns and to my surprise, I found your story title to be quite intriguing. However, as I read the story, I was happy to know that even if our times have changed, good people are still not hard to find. Thanks for taking time out to read our Holy Qur’an (correct name) and I am grateful that you have published the story of our beloved Prophet Jesus (or Issa in Arabic). (Peace and blessings be upon him.) Keep up the good work.’’


``Thank you for your nice article about Virgin Mary and Jesus as mentioned in the Qur’an. Yes indeed, as Muslim reverts we believe in them as well as all the prophets sent by Allah or God. Prophets sent by Allah to teach people to worship only one true God and their greeting is ``Salam’’ (peace). Jesus was sent to Bani Israel and said: `Hear Israel, your God and my God is one, so worship Him only.’ Also Issa (Jesus) said: `And verily Allah is my Lord and your Lord. So worship Him (alone).’

``That is the Straight Path--Allah’s religion of Islamic Monotheism which He did ordain for all of His Prophets. [Ayah 36, Surah 19 (Maryam), the Glorious Qur’an.]

``But (Jesus’) birthday is not celebrated by practicing (Sunni) Muslims. When Mary gave birth, fresh ripe dates dropped when she shook the trunk of the palm tree. Here in the Middle East, dates ripen during summer (July-August) and not December.

``Reading the Qur’an and learning Islam is really a good sign for all of us Filipinos in order to bring lasting peace and progress in our country. Peace be unto you. - Ben Manikan, Riyadh, KSA,’’


``Salam! That is how we greet each other in Islam. Peace! And I would like to extend it to you. For me you are lucky to have the chance to have taken a glimpse of the Qur'an and I hope this won't be the last time. Please read it to feed your mind and to nourish your soul. Don't be afraid that you will end up comparing the Bible and the Qur'an. Happy Holidays! - Mary-Ann Amir,RN, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’’


I also received a letter from a friend and church activist from way back, now Midsayap-based Pastor Al Senturias, chair of the Mindanao People’s Peace Movement (MPPM). Al and his wife Linda (president of the Southern Christian College) are both involved in forging peace among Christians and Muslims.

Attached with the letter was the ``Summary Report and Recommendations of the Mindanao People’s Peace Mission to Sulu’’(conducted before Christmas).

Among the 13 observations are:

1. The people complain of looting done by the military during operations and being fired at by helicopter gunships.

2. There are American troops in Sulu engaged in bayanihan or civic works. However, the people are not aware of the real purpose of the Americans’ presence.

3. There is suspicion on the part of the military leadership regarding the motivations of concerned citizens, just as there is deepening mistrust among civilians of military presence.

4. There is a strong citizens’ movement capable of working with local government units, the police and the military in building a peaceful, orderly and progressive community.

Even longer are the recommendations classified as short-term (1 year), medium-term (two to three years) and long-term (four to seven years). The long-term has to do with addressing the root of the conflict in Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, as well as other Bangsamoro areas in Mindanao and Palawan. This is the about the right to self-determination of the Bangsamoro.

There is so much more to this MPPM report than I am able to mention and which government, civil society and churches ought to pay attention to. There is reason to hope for peace, if only….