Advent 2023 newsletter
Joanne Miya, Tanzania
Advent greetings from Uzima Centre. I hope this letter finds you and your loved ones in good health. Right now, Christians the world over are preparing for Christmas.
In Tanzania, Christmas is very low key. A few shops put up decorations. Private homes typically are not decorated. On Christmas Day families attend church, visit relatives and share a meal together. (Could this be why I find Christmas in the United States totally overwhelming?)
As we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, it is hard to accept how unpeaceful and outright violent the world has become.
I am blessed to have spent almost 40 years in a country where approximately 63% of the population are Christian, 34% are Muslim and the remainder are Hindu or follow traditional beliefs. My family is made up of Christians and Muslims, as are my neighborhood and ministry.
I am by no means a scholar of Islam, but I have come to appreciate how much we have in common, starting with the recognition of Jesus as sent by God, and the place of honor given to Mary. Although we are all familiar with the biblical nativity story, please allow me to share with you another version, the Quran’s.
An entire chapter in the Quran is dedicated to Maryam, and it includes the story of the birth of ‘Isa ibn Maryam, or Jesus son of Mary. It is written that Maryam, the daughter of Hanna (Anne) and Imran (Joachim) was raised in the temple by her uncle Zakariyah. She spent her days in prayer. The angel Jibril (Gabriel) appeared to her, blew on her and she conceived.
As the time of the baby’s birth drew near, “Maryam withdrew to a remote place. Then the pains of labor drove her to the trunk of a palm tree. She cried, ‘Alas! I wish I had died before this and was a thing long forgotten!’ So a voice reassured her, ‘Do not grieve! Your Lord has provided a stream at your feet. And shake the trunk of this palm tree towards you, it will drop fresh, ripe dates upon you. So eat and drink, and put your heart at ease’” (Maryam 19:22-25).
This took place in the valley of Bethlehem during the spring/summer when the dates are ripe. Unlike the Christian version, there was no Joseph, no stable with animals. Muslims do not celebrate Christmas, but they believe that Jesus’ birth was a miraculous blessing from God.
Islam attributes many miracles to Jesus, including curing the sick and raising the dead back to life. Interestingly, most Muslim scholars declare that Jesus will come again to defeat the antichrist on Judgment Day. They await his return.
I share this with you to illustrate that although Muslims do not recognize Jesus as divine, he is a major prophet in their faith. Likewise, Mary is esteemed for her total and unwavering trust in God.
Although Uzima Centre is a ministry under the auspices of the Catholic Church, we offer assistance to anyone who is in need. HIV does not care what religion you follow, nor does poverty. When Ramadhani and Michael, Jamila and Elizabeth, come together at Uzima Centre, they pray, share, laugh and eat together.
Differences will always exist. Unfortunately, there will always be people who use these differences to create division and instigate violence. We each have a role to play in creating a more just and compassionate world. We can start by protecting the basic human rights of all people. Then and only then will there be peace on earth. I’ll close with my favorite scripture.
“God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 John 4:16).
It’s that simple! Abide in love!
May the peace of Christ be with you this Christmas and throughout the coming year.
Please consider donating to my fundraiser for our MKLM Match Campaign before the end of the year. Know that every Maryknoll lay missioner around the world is promoting nonviolence solutions and working for peace. Your donation to our Match Campaign will be doubled by a group of generous benefactors: $50 becomes $100. And $100 becomes $200, etc. Click the donate button below.