These Muslims gave Christians a Christmas gift – and went to the heart of the gospel

Look back on 2017, and one of the most alarming things about it has been the rise of the far right. Trump's America, Duterte's Philippines, and in Europe Hungary, Austria, Poland, and – may God help us all – even Germany have seen politics thrive on language that's fundamentally about identity. It's us versus them, and 'they' are usually of a different religion, sexuality, colour, income or ideology than 'us'. Because of this, we should fear and hate them.

In the so-called 'Christian' West, of course, the religion dog-whistle is tuned to Islam. Muslims are the enemy. They are relentlessly opposed to decent Christian people, and decency in general. Any evidence to the contrary just proves how duplicitous they are. The fact that they might speak with an accent, that their skins might be a slightly different shade from the majority's, and that they – or their parents, or grandparents – might have been born somewhere else is catnip to conspiracy theorists: it's just more (rather circumstantial) proof that 'they' hate 'us'.

Christians celebrated Christmas in Mosul for the first time in three years.Aid to the Church in Need.

Well, for people who believe this tosh and are prone to 'liking' and 'sharing' posts that reinforce it, here's something to think about.

Christians in the Iraqi city of Mosul were driven out by Islamic State three years ago. It's still not really safe for them to return, in spite of the government declaring the conflict over, though they are dribbling back. But at Christmas around 2,000 of them made the journey from camps near Erbil for a Christmas service, the first there since the war began.

What made it possible, according to Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, was a group of young Muslims.

These young people helped to clean the debris from the church, make it ready for the service, and even erected the cross that had been thrown down by ISIS.

That's right: 'they' did this for 'us'.

I'm right onside with telling stories about the persecution of Christians. I think we should pray for them in church every Sunday. Some of the stories I've read and heard are heartbreaking. And yes, it's often Muslims who've done the shooting or the bombing or the burning.

But let's not fall into the trap of telling these stories in a way that puts us on the side of the haters, the ones who want to build walls rather than tearing them down. Let's not define people by labels, as though 'Muslim' or 'Christian', 'gay' or 'straight' were the only thing worth noticing about them.

Time after time in the Gospels, Jesus undercuts the identity politics of his day. The tax collectors and prostitutes go into the kingdom of heaven before the conventionally righteous. A Roman centurion turns out to have more faith than any Israelite. A Gentile woman is commended for her faith and her daughter is healed. A Samaritan turns out to be 'good'; a Jewish priest and Levite are not.

They don't do the right thing because of their labels; in fact, just to make the point, they do it in spite of them.

Today's haters and dividers want to persuade us that Muslims are bad because they're Muslim, that you can't trust an immigrant, and that walls are a good thing because they keep out people who aren't like us. As well as reading the Gospels, they should read about the young Muslims who restored a Christian church in time for Christmas.

As the prophet Malachi says: 'Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us?' (2:10). Behind the labels, there are just human beings.

Follow Mark Woods on Twitter: @RevMarkWoods