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Rochester, Minn. — It's shortly after Friday prayer at the Rochester mosque. A small group of men and boys kneel in a semi-circle on a red-patterned carpet. They've gathered to discuss the role of Jesus in Islam.
Eleven-year-old Mohammad Abdullhahi is here with his father and younger brother. He explains that according to his faith, Jesus is considered one of the main prophets. "Jesus is one of the prophets of God," says Abdullhahi. "He was sent with the message that there's one God down on earth for all of mankind just like all of the other prophets before him."
Muslims believe that God delivered the Gospel to Jesus, just as he did with Moses and the Old Testament, David and the Psalms, and Mohammed and the Koran.
Shareef Alshannawi's a younger man with a white crocheted skullcap. He's a professional, whose religion plays a large role in his life. Alshannawi has the distinction of having memorized the entire Koran.
He says Muslims believe Mary conceived Jesus through God. It's the same sort of immaculate conception espoused by Christians. But the Koran depicts Jesus as a prophet even from the cradle.
"Jesus is one of the prophets of God. He was sent with the message that there's one God down on earth for all of mankind just like all of the other prophets before him."
"The story of Mary is an interesting story, in that she came back to her clan and wasn't married. That was a very bad thing. It was a test for her and tribulation," says Alshannawi. "After she bore Jesus, God allowed Jesus, peace be upon him, to speak in his infancy. When people started pointing fingers at her (Mary), he said, 'I am the servant of God,' and that was a sign for people of the truthfulness of what she was saying."
Alshannawi says despite the many similarities between Islam and Christianity there are also some profound differences. Muslims do not believe that Jesus is the son of God. Instead the Koran says Jesus was a messenger of God. Alshannawi says to a Muslim the early followers of Jesus were their ancestors.
"We don't consider them as Christians as necessarily followers of Christ. But in the grand scheme of things they are Muslims or people who submitted to the orders of God and followed the prophet during the time that God sent him," he explains.
The religions see the birth and death of Jesus differently too. The Christmas season and December 25th hold no particular meaning for Muslims. Alshannawi says Muslims don't celebrate the birth of any of their prophets and he says there's disagreement about when Jesus was actually born. In addition, Muslims don't believe Jesus died on the cross. But they do think he will come again.
Alshannawi says it might help people of all faiths to understand what their beliefs have in common. And he says he wishes Christians well, as they celebrate one their holiest holidays.