Oh Holy Nights!

By Zeenat Kassam Mitha –

December is a holy month for many in the Fort Bend community due to important religious and cultural celebrations. Many see it as the most peaceful, giving and jovial time of the year because the spirit of goodness is at an all-time peak.

This gracious spirit, charitable offerings and the beauty that adorns the streets and shops make it my favorite time of the year. Many of my friends, who are of Christian and Jewish faiths, are also celebrating a special time, and I pay tribute to their celebrations as they pay tribute to mine.

When one lives in a county such as ours with significant ethnic diversity, high standards of education, a belief in law and order and a strong sense of faith and culture, it is a blessing, and it builds awareness. Waking up every morning in Fort Bend County exposes us to an environment that beckons us to get involved with a mixture of cultures and faiths. Every month, a different faith-based organization arranges a cultural event, inviting the public to join. By definition, culture is customs from our homeland passed down from generation to generation. Religion is the belief and worship of a superhuman controlling power. As neighbors and friends, when we do things for the greater good of the people, we are accepting of each other, understanding all cultures and religions at a conscious level.

Monotheistic Religions

The Dome of The Rock in Jerusalem is a sacred place considered one of the oldest works of Islamic architecture. The site bears significance for Muslims, Christians and Jews.

The Dome of The Rock in Jerusalem is a sacred place considered one of the oldest works of Islamic architecture. The site bears significance for Muslims, Christians and Jews.

The majority of residents in our community are part of monotheistic religions. Monotheism is characteristic of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, all of which view God as the creator of the world and mankind and the source of the highest good. The monotheism that characterizes Judaism began with embracing Yahweh, who created man in his image, and is the single entity of worship. Islam is clear in acknowledging one eternal, unequaled God, while Christianity accepts that a single God is reflected in the three expressions of the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit.

People of monotheistic faiths have various ways to reference God, such as Divine, Allah, Deity – one who is the Supreme Being. Monotheistic faiths share central values of family and charity. Throughout history, these religions have spread from their birthplace, crossing the boundaries of race and ethnicity, with followers in nearly every country in the world. All three of the monotheistic faiths began in what is known today as the Middle East.


Fort Bend resident Ian Scharfman in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, one of the holy sites in Judaism.

Fort Bend resident Ian Scharfman in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, one of the holy sites in Judaism.

Judaism, the oldest of the monotheistic religions, is over 3,500 years old. Abraham is considered the patriarch of the Jewish faith. The Torah is the holy book of the faith. Moses is considered their greatest prophet, as he led the exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt and across the Red Sea, after which they based themselves at Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments. Those who are part of the Jewish faith celebrate Hannukah this year from December 16th through 24th.


Islam is almost 1,300 years old, and it is also an Abrahamic religion. The meaning of Islam is derived from the Arabic root “Salema,” which means peace, purity, submission and obedience. Muslims, who are followers of Islam, believe that it is the same faith taught by others who they revere as great prophets: Abraham, David, Jesus, Moses and Noah. Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh)* role was to formalize and clarify faith. In Islam, the Quran is the holy book of the faith, and the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), due to his teachings and normative examples, is seen as the last and greatest prophet.

Fort Bend resident Anita Samuel at The Garden Tomb.

Fort Bend resident Anita Samuel at The Garden Tomb.


Christianity is approximately 2,000 years old. Jesus Christ is seen as the Lord and Savior to Christians. The Christian acceptance of the faith is that Jesus suffered, died, was buried, and he was resurrected from the dead in order to grant eternal life to those who believe in him and trust in him for the remission of their sins. Christ in the New Testament is known as the “Son of God.” Christ is described in the Old Testament as “Belonging to God.” The Bible is the holy book of the faith. Those who are part of the Christian faith celebrate Christmas on December 25th.

The Prophets

The actual place where Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem.

The actual place where Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem.

I thought about what God’s intention was when he sent approximately 124,000 prophets on earth at different times to speak His word. What was Allah trying to help us understand when he revealed messages to the prophets for the benefit of the people?  What was the Divine trying to help us appreciate when he brought race, ethnicity and color into our neighborhoods and in our lives through family and friends?

I am no theologian, so this is simply my humble reasoning. When God created diversity in human beings and species of all kinds, offered a means for us to stay alive through food, water and oxygen, and built a solar system that leads beyond earth, I believe He was providing the ability to use one of our biggest assets – knowledge – to understand Him.

To me, God created prophets to help people understand His existence; He also wanted us to understand our own existence and to be tolerant of each other. He wanted to guide us on how we should live, and due to His good virtues within us, to be accepting of others who are not like us. He wanted us to respect, obey and listen to the prophets He sent to us. He also wanted us to know He was the beginning and the end. He wanted us to know He was our creator; we come from Him, and we return to Him. Therefore, our ultimate loyalty is to God, Allah or however we choose to call a deity, a supreme power.

Shia Imami Ismaili Muslim

Iqbal (Ike) and Zeenat Mitha at the Ismaili Jamat Khana and Center in Sugar Land.

Iqbal (Ike) and Zeenat Mitha at the Ismaili Jamat Khana and Center in Sugar Land.

Sometimes, to understand other religions, you have to understand your own. To explain myself, I believe in God as the supreme being and the Lord of the Day of Judgment. I am a follower of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslim faith, and my spiritual leader is His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV. He is a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the 49th hereditary Imam (spiritual leader) of the Ismailies. Much of my religion is based on helping humanity, giving service, doing acts of charity and being tolerant. I was raised with this thinking, as was my husband, and we raise our children in the same way. We also believe the extension of service and giving go far beyond one’s faith, and with the Divine’s virtue in mind.

In our faith, The Aga Khan Foundation and Aga Khan Development Network was set up by our spiritual leader over 30 years ago to assist human beings in developing countries, and the organization is currently in 35 countries with over 80,000 staff. These organizations are non-denominational, conducting their programs without regard to faith, origin or gender. They work to improve the welfare and prospects of people in the developing world. The majority helped are not from my faith or culture. The humanitarian efforts of H.H. the Aga Khan, through his organizations, are in my mind, in sync with the Divine’s virtues. I joyfully celebrate H.H. the Aga Khan’s birthday on December 13th, and my Christian and Jewish friends honor my celebrations as I honor theirs.

Throughout history, there are people from various faiths doing the Divine’s work. They are excellent examples of what the prophets were teaching in the past. Where there is a meeting of the minds, an acceptance from like-minded people and an appreciation of all faiths and cultures, you are among friends. That is the beauty of living in Fort Bend County, where there is the opportunity to see past the differences! Salgirah Mubarak (Happy Birthday Blessings), Merry Christmas and Happy Hannukah! May blessings be bountiful for you this holy season!

*Pbuh means peace be upon him.  In Islam, when saying the Prophet’s name, it is customary to add this praise.

To share your ideas for upcoming cultural stories and events, contact Cultural Correspondent Zeenat Kassam Mitha  at zeenat@fortbendfocus.com.