x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Christmas reminds us of the role of mothers

When I was 3, I wanted to play Mary, the mother of Jesus in the nativity play. I was attracted to her beauty, dignity and serenity. As an adult, i still try to emulate those attributes.

Christmas is everywhere, at least that is how it feels in London this week. Pictures of snowmen and Santa Claus, flashing fairy lights and the frosty tingle of the wintry air show the festive season is in full swing.

I have just returned from the gloriously golden beaches of the Malaysian island of Langkawi, with its clear blue waters and bright white sunlight, where bizarrely Christmas is in full force as well. In the background ring the dulcet tones of Irving Berlin's famous Yuletide ballad White Christmas. Even more surreal was the constant playback of the song Let It Snow. Oh Lord, no, I prayed, having just managed to escape Britain's winter.

The story of Jesus has been all but erased by Christmas pop culture. It is a culture that has become homogenised around the world, of sparkling baubles on Christmas trees and cheesy songs.

The story of the birth of Jesus stands out in history for its transformational power - whether you are Christian or Muslim. Muslims believe in the virgin birth and Jesus's elevated status as a Prophet, but not in his divinity. It is a tale with messages of social conscience, equality and courage, which are at once universal and personal.

My relationship with the story of the birth of Jesus began when I was 3, when the roles at my nursery school's nativity play were being cast. I wanted to play Mary, the mother of Jesus. I was drawn to her beauty, dignity and serenity. But instead, I was put in the role of a background angel.

Next year, my status improved as I was cast as one of the three wise men, even though I had no idea what frankincense and myrrh were. But to my chagrin, I was still not Mary.

And when I finally thought my chance had come, I was too old to take part.

Now as a grown woman and a mother, I hope that it wasn't the limelight that attracted me to Mary. Rather, this is a hugely significant story for billions of people around the world in which a woman plays the pivotal role.

In the story of the birth of Jesus, it is Mary who is central to the story. Mary was a woman who broke social conventions by serving in the all-male arena of the temple. In the Quran, she tells of the difficulty of being a mother and the pain of labour. She raised a child who changed not just a community but the world.

Even though most cultures establish lineage - and therefore social status - through the male line, in the Quran, Jesus is constantly referred to as "Jesus, the son of Mary". His identity is established through his mother. In the Quran, he is referred to as "the Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary" no less than 13 times.

For me, as a woman, this is very powerful.

As a child I may not have had a chance to walk in Mary's shoes. But as a woman and a mother, Christmas is a poignant time to reflect on how women truly have the power to change the world in profound and significant ways. I hope I have the courage to follow in her footsteps.

 

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is the author of Love in a Headscarf and blogs at www.spirit21.co.uk