CHICAGO (RNS) — The scene is familiar from many Nativity scenes arranged at this time of year: the Virgin Mary, cradling the newborn Jesus.
Then, the baby speaks, defending his mother’s innocence and declaring he has been appointed as a prophet.
That might come as a surprise to Christians in the audience of the new play “Christmas Mubarak.”
The play, an original production from the Chicago theater company Silk Road Rising, sets the story of the births and lives of both Mary and Jesus from the Quran and Muslim traditions alongside the Christmas music of Christian traditions, in hopes it will illustrate how much the two religions have in common.
“Christmas Mubarak” premiered last weekend in Silk Road Rising’s basement theater at the Chicago Temple, home to First United Methodist Church. The theater company was formed after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, to shape conversation about Asian and Middle Eastern Americans and became the church’s company in residence several years later.
With an ensemble cast of four playing all the characters and adding scholarly asides where Muslim traditions interpret stories differently, the show is — in its own words — the story of “a love affair” between Islam and Jesus, who is viewed as a prophet by Muslims.
The songs in the show, which range from a Byzantine Christian hymn to Christmas carols like “Oh Holy Night” to contemporary Christian songs like “Mary Did You Know,” are performed by several members of First United Methodist’s choir.
“This is a love letter to the Muslims we know and who come, that they’re going to feel like they’re incorporated in the Christmas holiday,” said Corey Pond, a Silk Road member who directed and adapted the play, working with a consultant on Islam to make sure it wouldn’t offend.