Let the Virgin Mary unite Christians and Muslims at Christmas

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RELIGION:

(RNS] — Muslim-Christian relations are in shambles all over the world and even in the United States . The two faith communities, which together make up more than half humanity, can look to one figure to encourage them to love each other at Christmas. It is Mary, the mother Jesus.

Mary has a whole chapter named after her. She is not the only woman mentioned in the Quran. In fact, she is mentioned in Muslim scripture more often than in the New Testament. In the Quran, God praises her as “chosen among all the women of the world”, “a sign of humanity” and “a model of purity, piety and patience.”

Muslims have faithfully preserved the mother of Jesus throughout the centuries. This includes ancient art from the Middle East, South Asia, and Far East as well as the modern Iranian film “Saint Mary”. We look at how she may inspire us — as a follower of the Lord, as an individual mother, and as a role model to all Muslims, both men and women.

Christians as well as Muslims revere Mother Mary and stand shoulder-to-shoulder at pilgrimage and worship sites all over the globe, from Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and the Philippines.

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I’ve been hearing from Catholic professionals how the Blessed Mother inspired spiritual awakening, brought peace to single Muslim mothers struggling to find their way, encouraged dialogue between Jewish and Christian empty-nesters and offered solace for agnostics searching for meaning. She also helped a Muslim convert to Christianity to explain to her priest that Jesus would love both Islam and Christianity.

Hearing about Mary’s love by Muslims, Islamophobes or Islamophiles discover that they are bound to Mary and are grateful for her bringing them closer.

Mother Mary is our beacon of light and hope right now.

Anti-Muslim sentiments held by Christians at alarming rates. Two decades after 9/11, 75% of white evangelical Protestants and 58% of white U.S. Catholics believe that Islamic values are at odds with American values, according to the Public Religion Research Institute.

Half of Americans believe, furthermore, that violence, rather than peace, is encouraged by Islam, a faith practiced by 1 in 4 people in the world. (In the months after 9/11, only a quarter of Americans believed this myth. )

But for the past two decades, Muslims in America have been victims of hateful and violent acts. Not its perpetrators. Since 2010, FBI hate crimes data shows, Muslims have been the second most common target of religious hate in America (after Jews).

In recent weeks and months, Islamophobic rhetoric has translated into bias or violence against Muslims across the nation, as well as the emergence of allies and calls for redress (for example, in Florida, New Jersey, Illinois, California, New Mexico, Washington). Children are not spared. The 2020 American Muslim Poll reveals that 55% of students in K-12 public schools face religious bullying — 30% of the time by teachers or school officials.

Muslims at campus are not faring much better. A recent report examining Islamophobia at California universities and colleges found that nearly 40% of Muslim students report racial discrimination or harassment, including by professors (34%), peers (54%) and student services (23%). More than 1 in 5 Muslim university students have been denied accommodations.

Refugee cannot be found at work. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that Muslims have constituted 20%-28% of workplace religious discrimination claims every year between 2002-2017 though they are only 1% of the American population.

Research offers a promising way out of this situation. A national longitudinal study of Gen Z college students across the U.S. found that young people developed mutual understanding by breaking bread together, touring one another’s houses of worship, attending vigils and other informal encounters together and volunteering side by side for common causes such as eradicating homelessness and poverty.

Mary is the mother of Jesus, the Messiah. She is praised in the Bible as a righteous and humble servant of God and can be a guide for finding common values like compassion, generosity, and care for the weak and the needy.

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Two millennia since she gave birth, Mother Mary still has the power and ability to unify Christians and Muslims who are wary of each other. As Lady Maryam is known in the Quran, she can be a symbol to help us replace burdened hearts and hardened souls with love, peace and understanding.

Interfaith harmony is not an obstacle to our belief. In reaching out across lines of difference, we take a page from the World Evangelical Alliance, the Vatican, the Ismaili Imamat, the Muslim World League and the World Jewish Congress, each of which has supported interfaith dialogue to foster peace and respect around the world.

Let us all find joy in sharing our spiritual gifts and listening to each other throughout the year. Let us all replace fear with hope, and remember that the Other is not something to be afraid of but a blessing we can learn from and cherish. Let Mother Mary guide us through this process.

(Zahra N. Jamal is associate director of the Boniuk Institute for Religious Tolerance at Rice University and CEO and founder of The Inclusion Expert, a culture and diversity consultancy. These views do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Religion News Service. )

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