The current issue of our semi-annual magazine, SIMnow, includes a special section of stories by some of our missionaries and workers in several countries around the world. We saved two of their submissions to publish online. We hope you will enjoy these additional glimpses into the world that Christ loved and died for.
by Margaret*, SIM South Africa Missionary
Living in a country with a large Muslim minority, one cannot generalise about the way Christmas is perceived and celebrated by non-Christian friends and neighbours.
Some might observe a secularised holiday, but a strict and devout Muslim family would, in all probability, not celebrate Christmas at all. A Muslim family who has ‘lost’ a family member to Christianity and, as a result, ostracised the family member for bringing dishonour on the family name, would probably not even acknowledge Christmas at all as it would be too painful for them.
In spite of the above, most South African Muslims are aware that Nabi Isa (Arabic for Prophet Jesus) is mentioned in their Holy Book, the Qur’an. Some even make a special effort to wish their Christian friends and neighbours a ‘merry Christmas’. By and large, the older generation (born in the 1950s to early 1990s) attended local schools and were exposed to the weekly assembly devotion and also Bible time at the start of some school days. However, this is not the norm in our schools any longer.
My friend, a Christian from a Muslim background, grew up in a small rural town. Their neighbours were Christians and celebrated Christmas. The families would greet each other on their respective holy days wishing them a happy Eid or a merry Christmas and that was generally as far as it would go. On one occasion, she was invited to a Christmas Day service. All she remembers is that she enjoyed it very much.
Years later, after she was married, she accepted Jesus as her Saviour. It was only then that she accepted that Jesus was more than a prophet and is, in fact, the very Son of God, the Christ, her Saviour. It was only then that celebrating Christmas became meaningful for her. It was my privilege to disciple her and her family explaining the Biblical and traditional elements of Christmas, Easter and the Ascension.
Having been ostracised by their family, they felt particularly lonely during the Muslim fasts and feasts when they would’ve enjoyed extended periods of family times. The children struggled the most, not understanding why they didn’t see much of their cousins at all. The initial excitement of Christmas decorations, tree, tinsel, lights and candles soon soured with no one to share their joy. Soon the focus was far more spiritual.
Their first few Christmas celebrations were spent with our family. What a joy to celebrate Jesus’ birthday with them! My mother and her granny (who raised my friend and was not a believer) chatted together so easily. After lunch together, afternoon tea took the form of a birthday party for Jesus. We read the story of His birth from the Word using a nativity set as illustration, lit the single large ‘birthday’ candle next to the birthday cake and sang ‘happy birthday’ to Jesus. We exchanged gifts, much to the delight of granny and the young children aged between four and ten. Then we shared what an appropriate gift for Jesus would be, and even considered aspects of His gift to us of Himself.
* Name has been changed.