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A Muslim's view of Jesus the refugee


JesusMy old school chaplain at St Andrews Cathedral School taught me that the word 'Christmas' is really a combination of two words — 'Christ' and 'mass'. So it is Christ's mass. Being a low church Anglican, he made sure we understood that by mass, he didn't mean Mass. Then again, he also made sure we remembered that the word 'catholic' meant universal.

And so, with that in mind, I'd like to offer a very non-universal reflection of Jesus. It's my own personal theory of who Jesus was and why he is a very good reason for this season.

The first pertinent thing to say is that Jesus probably looked like someone who'd be on the wrong side of the Cronulla riot. He was born in a place called Beyt Lahm on the West Bank, which today has a giant wall passing through and around it. Many Western Christians are blissfully unaware of why the wall exists and how it makes a 'Two State Solution' to the conflict there virtually impossible.

Because Jesus was what one might call a Jewish Palestinian, he may have had olive skin and curly brown or red hair. When I was at school, the baby Jesus was always played by a blonde headed white skinned doll. Joseph and Mary looked very Anglo, while I played one of the three wise men from a faraway place called 'the East'.

My two wise colleagues were played by a Chinese girl and a boy from New Guinea.

Jesus was born into a family of internal refugees. His mother had to seek refuge, fleeing Herod's nasty dictatorship. I doubt even Saddam Hussein or the Taliban would have had a policy involving the industrial-scale slaughter of male infants.

Despite coming from an aristocratic family, Mary was forced to flee her home. It's uncertain whether she used the services of satanic people smugglers to get her to safety.

I believe Jesus' humble beginnings (not to mention the fact that I believe he was divinely inspired) led him to understand what it was like to be marginalised. He was born to a virgin, and in the Koran there is a passage which mentions the first time the baby Jesus made a public appearance.

Mary had made a vow not to speak in her own defence if asked how she could produce a baby when she wasn't married. The religious men present accused her of sexual impropriety. She pointed to the baby in the cradle who performed his first miracle by speaking out in defence of his mum.

'I am indeed a servant of God: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet. And he hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me prayer and charity as long as I live. He hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable. So peace is on me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I shall be raised up to life again!'

For me, this was the essence of Jesus the Messiah. Jesus was someone who spoke for those whom the rest of society marginalised. We see this in the New testament Jesus who was happy to spend time with tax collectors, fishermen and ladies of the night.

Who was Jesus' closest female companion? Who was the one who went to the Garden where his tomb was to rub herbs on his body in accordance with Jewish custom? Who was the one who spent so many hours and days with him? Who was the one who shared his own blessed mother's name?

Jesus had two Marys in his life. One was his mother, the one who miraculously conceived him while she was still a virgin. The Qur'an says she was chosen over and above the women of all nations.

And the other Mary? Some say she was a prostitute. I'm not sure if she was, but the point is this: Christ didn't waste time with wealthy Middle Eastern despots or the even wealthier neo-Conservative thinktanks of his day, seeking measly riyals or US dollars in return for loyalty. I doubt you'd find Jesus appearing in WikiLeaks.

Muslims believe Muhammad was known to make time for a woman in his city who suffered from schizophrenia. He also had a close friend Julaybib who had no known ancestry and apparently suffered from some physical deformities.

The word Sufi comes from the name given to poor starving semi-naked refugees who lived on a bench in the mosque and who became known as the People of the Bench ('ashab as-suffah'). They are the equivalent of today's street people.

Muhammad also spoke of the prostitute who finished her shift and went to the well. She saw a dog that was dying of thirst. She took pity on it, dropped her shoe into the well and dragged it out full of water for the dog. For showing kindness to a dog, the prostitute earned God's mercy and forgiveness.

Real Islam, real Christianity — indeed real religion — wants to rid us of pomposity and self-righteousness. God's prophets (including the Son of Man) made time for those whom society pushes away. Jesus, the child of a refugee, was there for everyone. I just cannot picture him, the son of a refugee, standing up and preaching for us to stop the boats.

Irfan YusufIrfan Yusuf is a lawyer and blogger.

Topic tags: Irfan Yusuf, Jesus, christmas story, nativity scene, herod



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Existing comments

Yes, I liked this article. A different perspective and refreshing for being that. Plenty of food for thought at Christmas here.

Maureen | 22 December 2010  

Who knows? - but He might have preached for us to stop the boats as a way of saving the lives of those travelling in the boats.

Sylvester | 22 December 2010  

Loved the article, Irfan . . . specially the last paragraph . . . what you said there is spot on . . . "God's prophets (including the Son of Man) made tim for those whom society pushes away."

Robert Rennick | 22 December 2010  

There's little doubt, surely ,that Joseph, Mary and Jesus would have attached themselves somehow to a "caravan" for the journey to Egypt. they would never have made it travelling any other way

Brian Thomas | 22 December 2010  

Irfan may thanks for such a pertinent and thoughtful piece. I agree wholeheartedly with all you say. Happy Christmas to you and yours.

Rosemary Keenan Gwelup WA | 22 December 2010  

Loved it,lots of coloured-glass reflections, thanks Irfan. Sufi poets punched holes in pomposity/self-righteousness too. Salam.

janforrester | 22 December 2010  

Thank you Irfan. The westernization of the Jesus image has trapped the essence of Christian values behind walls - of border security that shun the vulnerable escaping wars of western making and in Jesus' homeland - apartheid walls and checkpoints.

Vacy Vlazna | 22 December 2010  

Thanks Irfan, especially for bringing us to the attention of 'Look who's Talking' Qur'an, where baby Jesus defends his mother. The interesting thing for me is that Jesus present birthday of Dec 25th is also shared with other Virgin births: Isis to Horus, Semele to Dionysus, Mithras.... http://spiritedsheela.blogspot.com

Julie McNeill | 22 December 2010  

Perfectly said, Mr Yusuf, and absolutely the message that our politicians need to take on board.

Patricia | 22 December 2010  

For me, the key statement in Irfan's piece was that real religion wants to rid us of pomposity and self-righteousness. I guess by 'real' he means 'at its best', and by that he may (and I would) mean 'when it promotes things like genuine compassion, forgiveness, peace, calm etc'. This rings true, because it's hard to imagine a pompous self-righteous person feeling and acting with any of these things (hence Irfan’s statement about Jesus not likely to have preached against the boats). We think we can recognise pomposity and self-righteousness. The trouble/challenge - is that it’s very difficult to avoid being pompous or self-righteous ourselves when we get up on our respective soap-boxes. How do we address this? (Should we even enter the blog tournaments?) I suggest several ideas, if adopted, will help: (1) remember we’re all capable of self-delusion, (2) when it comes to many religious beliefs, our preferences and comfort zones, rather than some impartial, unadulterated reason, are intimately involved and often primary, (3) no-one knows the origin and purpose of life, the nature or scope of God etc. although people have come up with various systems/frameworks that seem to fit either aspirations or experience, and trust in others from a deep-seated need for security, belonging and community. I suggest these ideas are salutary brakes on our tendency to be pompous and self-righteous. I fear forgetting or rejecting these ideas inevitably has the opposite effect. An acquaintance recently remarked to me - as we were having a beer at the local hotel - that “God can get along without us; we can’t get along without God”. I thought that was a beauty of a statement, and one worth some reflection.

Stephen Kellett | 22 December 2010  

Jesus, is son of God.

Harry | 23 December 2010  

Excellent interpretation of the Religious situation one we should all bear in mind in our lives and our everyday living. Many thanks Pam

pamela byrnes | 23 December 2010  

Great article thank you, except that Jesus, the Son of Man was not a prophet to faithful Christians, but God himself. You had done so well in unifying our similarities and then at the end you disrespected me by your opinion about my world view of Lord and God, the Son of Man, Jesus. Please be more careful with your words to avoid inflaming the differences between Christianity and Islam.Pax...Salam...Peace

Richard Lock | 23 December 2010  

The depiction of Jesus as a light-skinned person in European Christian art is simply an instance of inculturation which is usually taken to be a good and necessary thing, as in the Our Lady of Darwin ikon which shows Mary and Jesus as Aborigines and the Japanese silk-screen Madonna and Child that shows them as white-skinned Japanese people. There are many other examples of Christian art which adapt the physiognamies of biblical figures to local ethnicities. Nothing wrong with that, surely. Actually, we have very little evidence as to the complexion of Jewish people in 1st-century Roman Palestine.

Sylvester | 23 December 2010  

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What a fabulous article. Your "non-universal reflection" on hazrat-e Isa Masih and Mohammad (PBUH) is quite a good analysis (except for the people-smugglers, likely). I like how you differentiated between real Islam, real Christianity and the false representations that are masquerading in this world. Thanks for your contribution.

Abdul Halim | 23 December 2010  

dear Irfan. what a wonderful perspective. This Jesus of Nazareth is someone who did identify with hurting humanity - that is why I love Him.

david strange | 29 April 2013  

dear Irfan. your article is one of the most touching of all time - Yes God has compassion for the "stranger... it is sad but true in a country that "professes to be Christian -christian politicians act as they do.

david fernandes | 14 June 2014  

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