Sunday, December 27, 2015

Do you know how strong you are?

Stars are amazing, wonderful things.

This is true even when a star is not a star.

When is a star not a star?

We will come back to that question in a moment.

First, I want to tell you a story.

It’s almost Christmas. At Christmas we will tell the story of the miraculous birth of Jesus of Nazareth. But did you know that there are other miraculous birth stories of other great religious leaders? Today I’m going to tell you about the birth of the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

When Muhammad’s mother Amina was pregnant with her baby, she fell into a dream. A voice said to her, “The child you bear is the best of all humankind, and he will be a leader of his people. When he is born, give him the name of Muhammad, which means ‘Highly Praised’.”

Now many legends have been passed down about the time when Amina was giving birth. My favorite is that as Amina was in labor, a white bird came and lay its wing across her, helping her to keep her confidence.

Most importantly for our story today, some people say that at the moment when Muhammad was actually born, the stars lowered themselves from the sky and made a light so bright that no one could see anything else. Or, maybe, that Muhammad himself shone with a light as bright as a star. And there are even stories which say that on that day there was a battle between devils and angels in heaven, and as the angels defeated the devils the devils fell out of the sky as shooting stars, falling down, down to their doom on the Earth.

Do you think that is really what happened?
Maybe. Maybe not. Stars cannot really come down out of the sky, as far as we know. When it looks like they do, they are really shooting stars, which aren’t stars at all but meteors, burning up as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere. Tiny babies are beautiful, but they don’t actually emit light! And shooting stars aren’t devils or angels, either.

Still, whether stars came to earth to see Muhammad or not, whether he glowed or not, whether angels cast devils out of heaven or not, the baby who was born that day grew up to be a great prophet who founded the religion of Islam. He taught the importance of doing right, of giving alms to those who were poor, and of praying each day so that we may keep our minds on that which is best in the world.

And it turned out that the stars were very important to the early Muslims who were trying to follow Muhammad’s teachings. At that time, studying the stars – doing astronomy – was the best way to keep track of time and direction – and Muslims needed to know the right times to pray, and the right direction to pray in (towards Mecca). So the work of astronomers was greatly valued. And as people in other parts of the world who practiced other religions became more curious about how the Universe worked, they turned to the books those Islamic astronomers had written to learn from.

So when is a star not a star?

When it’s a meteor.

The stars came to earth to see the birth of Muhammad. Perhaps there was a meteor shower the night he was born – they do happen, and why not on that night as opposed to any other night? Large meteors are very, VERY bright. When they break up in the air or land they make a huge, blinding flash. When we look at something else after seeing a very bright light, sometimes it seems to glow. And we make up stories about the things we don’t understand all the time – it’s part of what humans do. I can imagine wondering if maybe a meteor shower was somehow a battle between magical beings in a realm far away from the real world I live in, and telling a story about it.

So when is a star not a star?

The other time a star is not a star is when it’s a metaphor.

The stars came to earth to see the birth of Muhammad. All that was bright and beautiful recognized the importance of this one baby. Therefore, the people hearing the stories knew that they should, too. That baby was so full of positive, creative energy that people thought of him as glowing. And the message he brought to the world helped many people struggling with their own internal demons, working hard to cast them out and turn to the side of the angels.

May we recognize the starlight in each other’s eyes this season. And the starlight in the eyes of those seeking refuge from the storm in our world right now. May we allow our own lights to shine brightly. And may we struggle towards peace.

Do you know how strong you are?
Do you know how beautiful you are?
That you shine like a star in the night?
That you blaze with your own light?

With thanks to for a very small part of this story, adapted.  May be reused for non-commercial purposes with attribution.

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