Common values celebrated across Abrahamic holidays: By Achmad Munjid


Late last month, the Islamic New Year, 1430 Hijra, was observed immediately following Christmas and Hanukkah. In a world where conflicts often have a religious spin, these consecutive events should be interpreted as a positive sign, even an opportunity, for Jews, Christians and Muslims to embrace one another.
Why did Omar ibn al-Khattab (d. 644 CE), the second Muslim caliph (religious and political authority), choose the event of Muhammad’s migration from Mecca to Medina as the first day of the Muslim calendar?
Because the event symbolises the principle of freedom of faith. This fundamental meaning is shared by Christians and Jews during the celebration of Christmas and Hanukkah.
Etymologically, the Arabic word hijra means migration, physically and mentally. The prophet and his followers migrated from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE when pressure and harassment from the Quraish ruling elite could no longer be tolerated. The hijra made by the Prophet Muhammad and his followers, therefore, is not a mere physical migration, but also a transformation of the psychological environment, bringing about political change, an ideological revolution and spiritual reform.
In other words their physical migration from Mecca to Medina was an effort to seek a new, safe environment in which to practice their faith. Like many American founding families who came from Europe, the main reason of this hijra was to satisfy their right to freedom of religion.
In the old tribal Arab world, such an escape was often a one-way ticket with tremendous risks. Each individual was bound to their tribal origin almost absolutely.
Clan membership and ethnicity fully defined someone’s identity and even his/her existence. Therefore, leaving one’s community meant leaving identity as well.
The Hijra, and by extension the Islamic New Year, can therefore be seen as a social, political and spiritual breakthrough. It is a starting point for the establishment of a new social order that is supported not by blood, ethnic and cultural affiliation, but by the ideological principles of monotheism, social equality and political contract among the stakeholders, as articulated in the Medina Charter.

This is also the main message of Hanukkah and Christmas.

Hanukkah is a commemoration of the victory of Jewish revolution against the Greeks after King Antiochus IV seized the Solomon Temple in Jerusalem and transformed it into a place of worship for Zeus. In 164 BCE, Judah the Maccabee led the revolt and successfully took over the Temple and rededicated it to the God of Abraham. For the Jews, more than just a political struggle, this revolt is seen as a defence of their freedom to practice Judaism.
At Christmas, Christians consecrate the birth of Jesus, or Christ the Saviour, who was later crucified for his religious teachings. For many it’s an opportunity to reflect his humble beginnings and celebrate his life and teachings.
These three faiths, share bitter stories of oppression. However, they also have victorious stories to tell about their common struggle for freedom of religion.
To celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, and the Islamic New Year without remembering the struggles of each group for the right to freedom of religion is an empty ritual. It has become a routine that differentiates each group from the others, building walls of separation rather than opening doors to embrace one another and what we share.
As memories of this holiday season begin to fade, it is worth looking around at this divided world that we currently live in, and remembering our shared desire to be respected rather than vilified for our respective faiths. Let us look at the differences among religions not as points of divergence, but as ones of convergence for people to explore with each other in order to learn, understand and respect, and to make peace for all.
May a day come when we start celebrating our events together, fully realising and appreciating the struggle and destiny we share. We can start by joining in celebrations with each other in a show of human solidarity around such symbolic events.


* Achmad Munjid is president of Nahdhatul Ulama Community in North America and an associate at the Dialogue Institute at Temple University in Philadelphia. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

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