Today, just as the Christmas and Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s birthday anniversary have been celebrated, I shall reflect on some serious issues, notably faith and moral issues in our time. Not that the birthday celebrations are not serious, but we can also reflect on lighter issues, such as if the actual birthday of Jesus, Issa, really was the 24th of December, and what exact year was it? Some say that the time that the Orthodox Churches in Eastern Europe and the Coptic Church in Ethiopia celebrate Christmas, are probably more correct, namely in January. Furthermore, some say that it is more likely that Jesus was born spring. And about the founding father of Pakistan, the Quaid-e-Azam, I just heard somebody claiming that perhaps he was born on 26 December, not 25 December. 

Does dates of this kind matter? No, not the least; what matters is that we celebrate the events, well, not not even that, but rather that we remember the messages and the results of the works of the leaders. Jesus became the founder of the new and kinder way of understanding God, and the way human beings should relate to each other, not only basing it on Moses’ strict interpretation of God’s will. Christianity lies at the bottom of Islam, too, and it forms a pillar of the messages of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH).

On that note, I wish that in future, both Christians and Muslims could agree on celebrating Christmas together. Jesus was a messenger of God. If Christians want to use the term ‘Son of God’, that must be understood as a way of saying that Jesus was more like God than most other people; that he was closer to being a holy man than others. His way of interpreting God’s will, making people see God, and making people live better together with fellow human beings, makes Jesus unique.  

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I hope that we can reach a time when Christians and Muslims can come closer together. This would be important all over the world, indeed in Europe with high number of Muslim immigrants. Europe has been a stronghold of Christianity, and it still is, yet, also more secular. It would be important that the two religions learn more about each other and get closer, not continue to emphasize differences, because the differences are in actual fact small. Christians know less about Islam than Muslims generally know about Christianity. Leaders and faithful of religions must have open hearts and minds to each other. We must want to live by the moral and religious advice of one and the same God, yet, with different messengers.  

Let me add, maybe on a lighter note, that if Muslims and Christians agree to become closer in celebration of Christmas, then Muslims should expect that Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr would became the common holy month of fasting. I believe there is potential to agree on this, partly because most Christian denominations only speak about fasting and its symbolic aspects, but few actually practice it. If Islam could help revive the holy month of fasting also in Christianity, it would not only bring the religions closer, it would help show the value of Islam to Christians.  

This could be my Christmas message this year, a message of peace on earth in celebration of the birth of the ‘Prince of Peace’, remembering, too, that Islam is the Religion of Peace. Unless we human beings cooperate more, there will not be peace on earth. Unless we decide to help each other, share with each other as individuals, groups and countries, there will not be peace on earth. There will always be refugees, people who flee, emigrate and try to find better lives somewhere else. When refugees flee (today there are over 70 million refugees) it is your duty and mine to do what we can to help them, in words and deeds. In religions, we must go beyond interface dialogue and ecumenical talks. We must find deeper ways of cooperating.

Am I dreaming? Yes, I am. But without dreams nothing new will happen. When we think something is impossible, it is often just because we have not tried alternative and new ways. The Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf shared a few words of wisdom in a recent TV interview. He said that we should not think of immigrants as strangers; we should think of them as friends whom we have not yet had the opportunity to meet. 

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture organized by a group affiliated to the Michael Faraday Society in Islamabad, named after the renowned physicist who lived from 1791-1867. The speaker at the gathering was Professor Hamid Saleem, who is a renowned Pakistani physicist – and a poet. He underlined the difference between theology and science, saying that the first is based on belief and tradition while science is based on empirical experience and data analysis. What about poetry? Well, it speaks from and to the heart. Yet, none of them, not even science, can exist without dreams and hopes, and none exist without having a desire to do what is right and improve the world we live in – and for that, we also need to embrace what is sacred and holy. Religion is part of most people’s lives and the superstructure that human beings have had at all times, but it is not always the foundation for moral standards.

Today, as at all times, human beings have placed moral issues high, often as part of religion but even separate. Physicists or other scientists working for improvements and new understanding, using experimenting and theories, even fantasy and dreams, are contributing to enhancing living conditions. Scientists often have a calling and moral imperatives for their work, yet, it is often the religious thinkers who put words to these, not the scientists. Today’s environmentalists, those who work to save the world from pollution, global warming and climate change, are also moral leaders, such as the impressive activist Greta Thunberg (16) – and the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai (22) campaigning steadfastly for education for all. 

Theology and religion can certainly help in convincing people of the importance of moral foundations and high standards. But they can and maybe should be kept separate. They belong to different cultures or spheres. Many will say that religion is the basis; some will say that science is the basis. I just say they are separate, and one does certainly not exclude the other. This is especially important to underline in our secular time. 

Today, we should place new demands on our religious leaders so that religions can address everyday issues better. Cooperation between religions is more important than before. Cooperation and better analysis of political issues must improve. This is a responsibility for us all, including the preachers and politicians. Environment and global warming issues are not only for the scientists and activists alone; they must also be addressed by our religious leaders. We must be good custodians and stewards of God’s creation. It is a sin and morally wrong not to listen to the scientists, including social and natural scientists; together, we can do what is essential and right.

With these thoughts, dear readers, may I wish you a Happy New Year 2020.