A decade of primary and secondary education at an evangelical Anglican school was enough to get me addicted to church music. Each Christmas, I try to join friends at Midnight Mass at Sydney's St Mary's Cathedral. It is an extraordinary experience, with both organs playing simultaneously as the choir roams among the congregation in procession singing carols.
This year, I'm joining my partner and her family for Christmas on the Sunshine Coast. It will be my first Christmas in the land of the cane toad. It will also roughly coincide with Eid al-Adha, the most important feast of the Muslim calendar coinciding with the annual pilgrimage known as the Haj.
This year hasn't exactly been a bumper year for relations between the nominally Christian and Muslim sections of the planet. Muslims accuse Christians of taking hypocritical stands in the Middle East, and Christians accuse Muslims of behaving like drama queens in response to a dozen Danish cartoons and one papal speech.
Yet a recent report by a United Nations-sponsored High-Level Group of the Alliance of Civilisations has found that the apparently deplorable state of relations between Christians and Muslims has more to do with politics than theology.
And even the most cursory analysis of the message of Christmas and Eid will reinforce this simple point.
According to Islamic tradition, Abraham had two wives. He first married Sarah, who offered her Egyptian servant named Hajira (Hagar) to Abraham (Islamic tradition says Hagar was from royal stock and became Abraham's second wife). They had a son named Ismail (Ishmael). Eventually Sarah did have a son, despite her advanced years. The Koran describes this as a miraculous process, evidence of God's power to bend His own laws of nature to achieve His purpose.
Abraham's second son was Ishaq (Isaac). Sarah isn't exactly fond of Hagar. Poor Abraham feels Sarah's wrath and takes Hagar and the baby Ishmael into a remote desert wilderness named Bakkah.
Like all mothers, Hagar's primary concern is the survival of her toddler. But where will she find water in this wilderness?
That search for water is what provides the Muslim pilgrimage rituals with much of their meaning. Hagar heads for a hill, finds nothing and so heads in the opposite direction to another hill. She again finds nothing. In desperation, she runs back and forth seven times before setting eyes on her young boy kicking the dirt to uncover a rich spring.
Quickly she builds a makeshift well. Within a short period, the well attracts the attention of other travellers.
Hagar watches her son become a grown man, and receives a visit from Abraham again. The Koran says God orders Abraham and Ishmael to build a temple - a simple cubic structure known as the Kaaba. The temple was a symbol of God's throne on Earth, with humans circling it in the manner angels were believed to circle the actual throne in the heavens.
The valley of Bakkah eventually became known as Mecca . The Kaaba (an Arabic word which means cube) is traditionally draped in a black embroidered cloth. The well kicked to the surface by the infant Ishmael is known as the well of Zam Zam.
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