Vivienne Stacey discusses how Muslims will often have questions regarding Christian festivals like Christmas, Lent and Easter. These Christian festivals can be great opportunities to communicate the Gospel as both Muslims and Christians value religious celebrations. There can be an overlap between Islamic and Christian holidays.

These lectures were given at Columbia International University in partnership with the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies. The Zwemer Center was founded in 1979 and exists to offer comprehensive courses on Islam, facilitate research, foster dialogues, offer seminars, conduct training, and provide resources for effective witness and ministry among Muslims. We also have a course study guide for these lectures that you might find helpful.


Here starts the auto-generated transcription of Vivienne Stacey’s Lecture on Christmas, Lent, and Easter to Share the Gospel with Muslims:

We have looked at the communicating the good news through Muslim festivals, And before we think about Muslim rights, like burial, funeral burials, and so on, I would like us to consider practical suggestions about involving our Muslim friends in Christian festivals. You will be able to make some suggestions probably if you have, lived with Muslims or in Muslim sections of a city or in Muslim countries. So we’ll have a little input from you, I hope. But first, let me think of let’s think about Christmas, the second greatest festival of the Christian calendar. I remember some friends, missionaries, in Beirut who deliberately chose to live in a section of the city and in a particular block of flats or apartments, which were, entirely inhabited by Muslims.


And, I remember the wife telling me, well, when it came to Christmas, we sent our 3 children through the whole block of apartments, each to give some cakes and sweets to the each flat I mean, each, apartment. So the children, took these homemade cakes and sweets and I’m no doubt said happy Christmas. People Muslims are generally are fairly aware about the birth of Jesus. In Pakistan it’s a it’s a national holiday but it’s not to celebrate the birth of Jesus, it’s to celebrate the birth of the founder of Pakistan. But that’s an accommodating way to deal with minorities.


Christian is the largest minority, and so the day that they particularly celebrate, is made of a national holiday but commemorating somebody else and so everybody can have the day off. This is a good method and in the hospital where I lived in the northwest frontier province, a a meal, a free meal, was given on Christmas Day to all patients and relatives. Relatives tend to come to hospitals with the patients and look after them during their illness so it’s generally a family around not just one patient. But everybody was welcomed to this, few to this meal in honour of the birth of Jesus. And, this could happen with hospitals or clinics.


It might happen anywhere. Sometimes I’ve been involved in holding a tea party for Muslim women, to celebrate Christmas telling them that it’s our special festival and, would they like to come and have tea and join in learning a bit about the customs that go with Christmas and the meaning of it, and I’ve had several Muslim women in my home, and we’ve had special songs, Christmas songs and a Christmas reading, sometimes a filmstrip or in some other visual aid to explain the facts about Christmas and the customs. Sometimes you could hold a Christmas party, children’s party with games and songs and some religious content. Now I think it’s important that you explain to your Muslim friends whose children would like to come and do come, that it there will be some explanation of the meaning of Christmas. So they don’t think they’re just gonna go to a a fun party that doesn’t have anything else in it and that they would be surprised therefore for a Christian or a spiritual content.


But it doesn’t have to be very it has to be appropriate for the children. Children’s party with game songs and some religious content. Carol singing party in, in Banu. We used to get woken up at 4 o’clock in the morning because a carol singing party would go around and, they would sing to patients on the wards and they would come and sing to, some of the staff in outside in their homes or outside their homes. And that would be 4 in the morning.


Sometimes they’re special films the Jesus film very popular among Muslim women I know that’s in the town of Multan it was shown shown at the Christian hospital there and they had to have several showings because it was so popular. But on special occasions like Christmas it would be shown and it would be only women attending the showing it was a zenana showing, a women’s showing. Then other ways in which you might at some place, some places bear testimony to Christmas in Banu in this frontier. We it’s a tradition there there’s been a Christian hospital there for nearly a 100 years to put little lamps divas. That’s a clay pot with a candle in it and some no yeah.


No. With a wick in it and inside there’s some oil and there’s some oil and the wick and it it’s so you can make these very cheaply. They put them around the edge of these flat roofed buildings, the hospital, the homes, the staff, also the church. Church incidentally is built in, sort of Muslim style with 4 minarets but across over the door. It’s an attempt to contextualize in architecture, but these lights and I remember walking across the hospital courtyard and being stopped by a patient’s husband I think, he said why all these lights around?


So I came up with one of my popular one of my statements which I’m keen on as you’ve gathered. Well Jesus it’s the birthday of Jesus and he is the light of the world. See so we have all these lights So right every Christmas Eve for nearly a 100 years this has been the custom. Let’s think about, I like to think about Lent. I don’t know if you keep Lent but the run up to Easter fasting Christmas Christians and quite often in Muslim countries Christians do do fast partly because they’re so conscious about fasting in general and in some Christian traditions fasting is quite usual.


The Orthodox Church the in Cyprus where I live it’s the prevailing family Christian family is the is the Orthodox Church and the Orthodox don’t stop eating but they they don’t eat meat during Lent and there are various other things that they refrain from during Lent which is the 40 days running up to Easter and Anglicans some of them keep Lent and mark it in certain ways by abstaining but not a total fast. Muslims asked Muslims, Christians, yeah, we know you fast. So how do you fast? What do you do? And I’m constantly trying to think of new explanations about the about the Christian fasting and that would be help Muslims understand a kind of fasting that doesn’t earn merit because that’s what they are thinking and but it’s and I have I have got some Muslim friends who kept the fast of that the Muslim fast.


One in a strongly Muslim country, a man, felt he would come nearer to the people that he was responsible for in his job if he fasted. I don’t think I’ve met any woman who’s actually kept the fast. I know Phil Parshall has kept it several times maybe his wife has too. Don’t know about that, but anyway that’s the Muslim fast but fasting is one of the 5 pillars of Islamic practice. So so it’s a bridge in a sense say how do you fast?


What do you do? Or why don’t you fast? And what’s the purpose of the fasting? I like to say we don’t fast on a large basis because in fact some Christians won’t fast because the bridegroom is with us we are a people of celebration so we’re not fasting but it is a good idea I will tell my Muslim friends to set aside time more time sometimes for prayer and for a reading of the holy book, the Bible in our case. So but I try to think of other explanations, but it’s always gonna come down somehow or the other that we are not trying to earn merit by it.


It’s not required. It’s an optional extra if we like it and or if we feel God, by his spirit, is guiding us that way. But that’s a totally different idea that they have. But you’ll find if you’re doing your shopping, the shopkeeper may ask you, you’ll find that your Muslim friend will ask you, school kids will ask you about it. So each year I try to think of some more creative way of using this opportunity when they take ask a question about it.


And then Easter, the greatest of Christian festivals, I want to tell you about one thing that happened in the Sindh province of Pakistan. There’s a hospital in a village area or a rural area of Sindh, Christian hospital. It’s a sort of country town. A lot of people in that town belong to a sub sect of sub subsect of the Shias. They are Ahmadi.


They’re considered actually heretical by many Muslims. And Pakistan is one of the countries which has declared them non Muslim. Not all Muslim countries say they’re non Muslim. They regard some of them regard the their leader, Khulam Ahmed Khan, as their way think he’s, an a prophet. So that means that for them, Mohammed is not the seal of the prophets, the last of the prophets, but one other has come and that is the heretical point point.


So other Muslims in that town are not Ahmedi. There are a few Christians there and some tribal people who may be sort of animist. But, anyway, the Christians in the hospital who have a good relationship with their patients who come from around as well as the town itself, decided that they would have a bible reading, in the kind of and and some celebration with I think some songs, but they would do it in quranic style and I think I’ve told you before that you can have a Quran reading in which 30 ladies gather together to read in 1 morning the whole of the Quran, each taking a different section. If you look in my Quran here, you’ll find it’s divided up into 30 sections, a 120 sections, and 60 sections. So if there were 60 women you’ll get through it more quickly and if there are a 11020 it would be half the morning but, and for that they sit on the floor on a or on a cushion, and they put the their Qurans on a a rehel or a stand.


You’ve probably seen the stands, and, is that in front as they read. So the Christians in this hospital decided that, they would put 24, I think they didn’t go to 30 but it was something like that, in a circle in a comfortable room in one of the bungalows I think of that or in some large room on their hospital territory. And so they wrote very nice beautifully written, in Urdu invitations to this celebration about Jesus and his death and and his his resurrection, and, 23 women turned up. The 24th woman wasn’t able to come, but she spent sent a special message. In fact, I think she came and said came not at that time, but another time. And said, I’m so sorry I missed this, but couldn’t you have another one and they thought well we got 23 out of 24 and and the 24th wanted to come So why don’t we have another one? And so they put quickly put on another reading and celebration. And another 24 people came. So it turns out to be they had tea afterwards and cookies or whatever, cakes and some of the not very nice Pakistani sweetmeat which I am not allowed to eat and but anyway they it turned out to be a very, successful, I should think, kind of way of interacting and sharing. I should think part of the success of it was their relationship, good relationships that they built up in the area through their medicine and through individual encounters with patients and friends, but I think the efforts at doing it more like a Koranic style reading, was more familiar and people felt at home perhaps.


Well it was very popular that’s all I can say so perhaps to be copied somewhere. And then, this the same possibilities of sending, sweets and to neighbors and friends as as for Christmas and the possibility of including, Muslim friends in in special meals at Christmas time. Any other suggestions you might have? I’m rather in the business of trying to think of a few other festivals that we might celebrate. I sometimes I can think of, one brother who works in a Muslim country.


He decided to celebrate his 40th birthday, and it’s a very significant birthday for quite a number of people in the Muslim world. They don’t always celebrate it especially, but they’re used to this sort of idea. So so he worked it out very carefully, and he gave some testimony to God’s dealings with him and bringing him to his 40th year. But there was a meal and, the men were separate separated, but I think there was a curtain so they could the women could hear. You can, you know, as you So the women were there, but, they were women were sort of separate.


His wife was with them and he with the men, but the way they’d arranged it, certainly, they could eat at the same time and they could hear what because of the curtain, there they got the privacy the women needed. Is Chris it’s appropriate in many Muslim settings for Christians to go to Muslims to congratulate them on their festival, and then for Muslims to come to Christians and congratulate them on their festival. And this is what you are describing, really. I I know the the sheikh of 1 Muslim state, he goes to the Christians who have a hospital in his sheikhdom. He goes to see some of the staff and to congratulate them on their Christmas or on their Easter.


Both, I think he does. And they go to him, to his palace, and congratulate him and his family, on these 2 festivals, but particularly, the Eidl I think both Eidl Fitr and Eidl Azhar. It’s appropriate. And we used to sit up in where I lived in Banu in the northwest frontier. We used to receive people sometimes out on the lawn outside but some local people would come to congratulate us and then it’s as I say appropriate sometimes to get sometimes it’s the men who would go and congratulate but sometimes it would be in that time where I lived the women rarely we would rarely go to a Muslim home unless we were just going to see the women.


But in the in the Punjab it would be much freer. And then, also calamity or difficulty. In Cairo, I happened to be there staying with a an Egyptian family once, Christian family, when there was, there was rioting. And, so the my hostess said I’m I’m just going to phone my husband and and then and then she said I’m just going to go through the flats and see if anybody’s everybody’s got enough bread and enough this and that. So she was the only Christian the only Christian family in this block of 12, I think.


But the husband came back and offered to go. She she went round and said do you have enough bread? Do you have enough this and that? And then she said would you like my husband to go and collect your children? Because, this this curfew and maybe the husband was away.


And so this gave them a tremendous opening in those 12 homes because at a crisis point they offered help in food and in getting the children back before there was a total curfew. And actually, there was a 2 and a half day curfew, and my plane and to another part of the Middle East flew over Cairo because planes weren’t landing. But but the point is some crisis of this sort can cement relationships very well if you respond in some creative way. So there’s, room here for experiments and, for considering how in your particular cultural setting, you may involve Muslims in your festivals and, how we may deepen our relationships.