Dear reader, first let me wish all Muslims and other readers Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi, celebrated in commemoration of Prophet Muhammad’s birth (PBUH). The date is movable, like Ramadan and Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Azha, and they fall ten days earlier every year over as span of thirty years, when one starts afresh again. That makes many people remember the celebrations they experienced when they were children and teenagers when their own children are the same age. And when they grow old, it is the grandchildren that are around; one’s own or those of relatives. What a nice experience.

Today, it is also Christmas Eve, celebrated on the same date every year 24 December with Christmas Day on 25 December. Interestingly, Eid-e-Milad was begun being marked since Christians, in commemoration of the birth of Jesus, had become such a major religious event. Eid-e-Milad is an event with large gatherings in public, waving green flags as a manifestation of one’s religion. Other Muslim feasts are celebrated more like Christmas and other Christian feasts, and they belong first and foremost to the spheres of family, friends, and religious sisters and brothers. The major feasts are also for children, yes, young and old in harmony. To receive and give gifts, have meals together, and donate to the poor form part of traditions in Islam as well as Christianity.

In Pakistan, Christmas Day, is a public holiday, but it is Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s Birthday, the founding father of the land. This is very appropriate and a lucky coincidence in a Muslim land with large minorities, also symbolized by the white section in the green flag.

Furthermore, historically, 25 December was marked as the birthday of emperors and kings during and before the time of the Roman Empire, irrespective of whether this was the actual date or not. Jesus may have been born on that date, but he may even have been born in mid-January, as observed in the Orthodox Church, or even later, in spring. None of this is important; it is the message of Christ that is important – that all humanity knows, indeed Christians and Muslims.

Coming from Norway, a land where Christianity – and the Protestant Lutheran denomination – was absolutely dominant when I grew up in the 1950s and 60s, I am impressed by Muslim Pakistanis embracing the festivities connected to Christmas. This is especially so in Islamabad and the larger cities. I hope that Norwegians, too, now with a large percentage of Muslims and people of other faiths in the land, can appreciate the feasts and traditions of the newcomers, especially the large Muslim communities.

Wanting to be multi-cultural and multi-religious, tolerant and open, Norwegians have a debate before Christmas every year about how to mark the end of the school-semester. Should the government schools (and more than 95 percent are government schools) organize Christmas gatherings, and should the year end with a service in the church, in a land with religious freedom and minorities who are not Christian?

Personally, I think Norwegians should; after all religion and education are often interwoven, and that was, and still is the case in Norway.

But I would add that attention must be given to other religions, too, even at Christmas time. And the Eid feasts should be marked, too, especially in the cities with large Muslim communities. I would suggest that all Christians visit a mosque at least once a year, as part of the school programme, and other religions should also be included. Muslims, too, should be given the opportunity to visit a church at least once a year. Religion has to do with faith as well as culture and togetherness.

In Nairobi, Kenya, the top-class Starehe Boys’ School and Centre – established in 1959 for poor and gifted children, and some from wealthy backgrounds – can give us advice; the school’s main assembly hall has three large windows; if one turns in one direction, the symbols are Christian; in another direction, they are Muslim, and in a third direction, they are Hindu. What a great idea for an assembly hall for all, and for a house of prayer and reflection.

A few days ago, Aftenposten, the large and highly influential Norwegian newspaper, announced the name of the ‘Honorary Citizen of Oslo 2015’, in Norwegian, ‘Årets Osloborger’, chosen by the newspaper’s readers. In stiff competition from ‘big and famous names’, Mohsan Raja (30) was chosen. As the name reveals, he is of Pakistani heritage, but indeed a Norwegian citizen He won the prize for his care and help to Syrian and other refugees who arrived in Oslo in large numbers this year. The government-support is good but not always sufficient, especially not on the personal, psychological and social levels.

Mohsan has a big heart and he mobilized friends and volunteers to help. They went every day and night to Tøyen in Oslo to help, and some of them, including Mohsan, spent so much time on it that he lost his daytime job. For Mohsan, that means that he has had to ask for government allowances for himself, his wife and two toddlers. All this impressed the readers in Norway’s multicultural capital.

Let me add one other aspect, though, notably that Mohsan has earlier had his own behavioural problems, and he has also expressed some opinions which are outside mainstream and ‘standard Norwegian’ ones. For example, he has said he was against same-sex marriage, which is now allowed in Norway. Most Muslims and many Christians would agree with him, but it is no longer mainstream to say it in Norway.

Thus, in the all-inclusive city, there has been a storm of protests, not only support for the award winner. But the Chief Editor of Aftenposten has stood by the decision, and another paper, too, Dagbladet, has supported it. Personally, I would trust somebody who has his own opinion more than somebody who just flows with the tide, even if I disagreed. Mohsan doesn’t have to be politically correct in all fields; he received the prize for his actions and his heart’s feelings.

It is and honour that someone who is not an ethnic Norwegian has shown the way to all Norwegians in his care for the less fortunate, the Syrian refugees and others. I hope the ‘indigenous Norwegians’, the ‘old Norwegians’, can accept that we don’t always have to have the same opinions about everything. What Mohsan did and is doing for the refugees had made him and inspiration; let him have his own opinions on other things, and let him change and grow when that is natural for him. That is also part of being tolerant; it is part of diversity.

In Oslo, there is a man by the name of Aslam Ahsan Chaudhary. He is a known Pakistani-immigrant, now well into his 70s. Several decades ago, he became famous and a household name when he organized Christmas gatherings and food soup kitchens for the homeless in the city. What a great gesture from a man with a big heart, similar to what Mohsan is doing! Aslam is a Muslim, and that only made his voluntary work more impressive. He won the ‘Freedom of Speech Prize’ in 2002, and has also received the Norwegian government’s St. Olav’s Medal, equivalent to Sitara-e-Imtiaz, for his public advocacy work.

Is Aslam a saint, well, saintly? Probably not, and Mohsan is probably not either; very few are, if any. We all do what we can. And if we indeed can do good, the best we can, it is a gift to those whom we help, but it is also a gift to ourselves. ‘It is in giving that we receive’, one of the recognized saints said, Francis of Assisi (1181-1226).

If these messages weren’t enough to make us all get into a sacred and reflective Christmas and Eid mood, let me leave you with a few final thoughts: All travels start with the first steps. As we do good, we become better as human beings. But most of us, if we struggle hard, will just be decent human beings. In some fields, we may be good, so that people may say we show faith and God’s will; like ‘sons and daughters of God’. In other fields at times, we may fall short of it. All of us fall short of being saints, but we must try and do our best; that is no small task. And then, sometime, there may be peace and harmony on earth – first in our hearts, family and neighbourhoods. That is the Christmas promise, and the message of all religions, at all feasts, throughout the years.

Eid-ul-Christmas Mubarak.