I am a first-generation American Muslim, born of Egyptian parents. Thus, growing up, never once did I decorate a Christmas tree in my house. Never once did I exchange gifts with my family on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning. Never once did I decorate our house with Christmas lights. For me, Christmas Day was just like any other day -- except that it was quite boring because everything was closed.
But I did grow up with Jesus Christ in my life.
I was taught that Jesus Christ was "God's word communicated unto Mary, and a spirit emanating from him." I was taught that Jesus was strengthened with the "Holy Spirit." I was raised to believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, Mary, and that he spoke in the cradle.
With God's permission, Jesus cured lepers and the blind, and he raised the dead to life. Christ was a "symbol [of God's grace] unto all people," and he will be "held in honor in this world and the Hereafter, and in [the company of] those nearest to God."
All this, and I never once opened a Bible for worship or scriptural study. That is because this was all in the Quran:
"Lo! The angels said: 'O Mary! Behold, God sends thee the glad tiding of a Word from Him, [a son] who shall become known as the Christ Jesus, son of Mary, of great honor in this world and in the life to come, and [shall be] of those who are drawn near unto God." (3:45)
"We vouchsafed unto Jesus, the son of Mary, all evidence of the truth, and strengthened him with the Holy Spirit." (2:87)
"And [remember Mary] who guarded her chastity, whereupon We breathed into her of Our spirit and caused her, together with her son, to become a symbol [of Our grace] unto all people." (21:91)
This is just a smattering of the record of Jesus Christ in the Quran. Christ, in fact, is mentioned more by name in the Quran than is the Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet himself has said: "Both in this world and in the Hereafter, I am the nearest of all people to Jesus, the son of Mary. The prophets are paternal brothers; their mothers are different, but their religion is one."
Throughout my life, I have honored and revered Jesus Christ, because my religion has told me to do so. And throughout my life, I have honored and revered his mother, Mary, because my religion has told me to do so.
An entire chapter of the Quran, chapter 19, is named after the Virgin Mary, and it is one of my favorites. In fact, the Quran tells the story of the Virgin's birth and comments that "no male child [that her mother could have hoped for] could ever be like this female [Mary]" (3:36).
Clearly, my belief about Jesus is not identical to that of my Christian brothers and sisters: I do not worship him as God or include him in the Godhood. Yet, that does not mean that a deep and profound love for Christ is not shared with my Christian brothers and sisters. It does not mean that Jesus is not close to my heart. In fact, it is this shared belief in God and love for Christ that brings me closer to those of the Christian faith and affirms to me that together we can work for the good of our country and our world at large.
There are some who claim to follow and worship Christ who attack my faith, its founder and its tenets. There are some who speak in Christ's name who wish to marginalize my community from all aspects of American life. Yet I know, as someone who knows and loves Jesus, that this is not what he taught.
In this special time, when we remember the gift that was the birth of Jesus Christ, let us remember that division and hatred between the children of Abraham is not what Jesus Christ would want. Let us remember that Jesus would want all of us -- Christians and Muslims alike -- to live together in peace, and love one another as brothers and sisters in God.
Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago-based doctor and writer. His latest book is "Noble Brother: The Story of the Last Prophet in Poetry." Copyright (C) 2012 Hesham A. Hassaballa -- distributed by Agence Global. Sally Kalson is off this week.