On Christmas Eve last year, the Muslim world observed another important birthday, that of the Prophet Muhammad.
It just so happens that once every 30 years, the Islamic and the Gregorian calendars bring the dates on which the birthdays of the two great historical figures are celebrated that close to each other.
Perhaps a day will come when mosques and churches can jointly observe a double celebration as a tribute to two strong characters who have shaped the world. A distant dream, one may say.
Instead, this Christmas is a time of high alert in several countries that fear attacks by a few, very misguided Muslims.
Such a thing should not become a norm in Malaysia, even if recently some parts of Kuala Lumpur have seen security beefed up for Christmas.
But not all is lost, and something as seemingly unconnected as the recent Selangor water issue has shown that good sense — and goodwill — still prevail in Malaysia.
Officials, taking advantage of the time of the year when water use is the lowest, had decided to cut water supply in parts to do much needed repairs. When people protested that it was like stealing their Christmas, a clear promise was given: no more water cuts during any festive periods.
This should relieve the minds of those who may have felt there was a particular insensitivity to their own festivities. It’s not like that.
Reassuring too is the recent statement by the Federal Territories mufti, when he reaffirmed there was nothing wrong for Muslims to wish “Merry Christmas”. A statement which would not even be needed, were it not for the few among us ready to take or create offence, based on their own misunderstandings.
Indeed, in the Arab world, a key word used for the Christmas greeting, “Eid Milad Saeed”, also commonly refers to another very important birthday.
The birthday of Prophet Muhammad is universally known as the “Milad”, or in local parlance, “Maulud”. Milad means birthday, in Arabic.
This year, the gap between the dates celebrated to mark the birthdays of Jesus and Muhammad has become wider, but they still both fall in the same month of December and Rabiul Awwal, the third month in the Islamic calendar when Muslims celebrate the birthday of the Prophet.
Such connections between these two great faiths are worth remembering at a time when a great deal of misunderstanding exists, indeed is hatched, between both faiths. In Malaysia, the “Allah affair”, among other polemics, epitomises this.
And so we find the significance of the two “Milads” of Prophet Muhammad and Jesus Christ being celebrated together is lost in an environment such as ours.
This is despite the fact that the Quran, a book Muslims regard as the word of God, eternalises their brotherhood with Christians, and respectfully uses the phrase “People of the Book”, even if it openly challenges Christian theological principles.
I will continue to hope that the positive connections between Islam and Christianity are recognised and promoted, and the goodwill that most Malaysians treasure continues. Who knows, perhaps 30 years from now, when the birthdays of Prophet Muhammad and Christ meet again, a Christmas Milad shall have its day!
Abdar Rahman Koya is editor-in-chief, FMT, and he wishes all our Christian readers a Very Merry Christmas!