The Friday Message – Issue No: 299 - Christmas: To celebrate or not to celebrate?

Salamun alaykum

It’s that time of the year again:

The shopping centres, roads and homes are adorned with Santa Claus, sparkling tinsel lengths, twinkling lights and festive decorations. Several rituals such as the Christmas trees, shopping sprees, parties, exchange of gifts, charity drives, pantomimes, carol singing and other events associated with Christmas holidays are ongoing. Everywhere there is the feeling of happiness and celebrations in the air. Christmas is all around us, and it is not something one can ignore.

What is Christmas?

This is an annual Christian religious holiday to commemorate the birth of Jesus; Isa a.s. in Arabic. Although there is no specific date of celebration of the birth of Jesus in the Bible, majority of Christians observe the nativity on 25th December. The practice for this date is based on the declaration by Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor, who on converting to Christianity replaced 25th December as the birth of Jesus instead of the pagan god Mithra. A few years later, Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th December. Some Christian denominations in the east have a slightly different date, placing the birth on 6th January. Nonetheless for practising Christians, Christmas really is about Jesus. It’s about spreading love and sharing with the needy in the society. For many, taking advantage of the work and school holidays, it’s the only time of the year when family and friends come together.

Nabi Isa: Prophet of great significance:

The person of Jesus is of great significance in both Islam and Christianity. As Muslims we do not believe in Jesus as in the same way that Christians do, but we do respect and love him. The Noble Qur’an venerates both Jesus and his mother virgin Mary by recounting the stories of miraculous birth, his way of preaching and his ability to perform miracles with the help of God. However, there are differences in terms of beliefs about the nature and life occurrences of this noble Prophet of Allah. We believe that Jesus was sent as a beloved Prophet of God to deliver the word to the people of his time. Narrations record that he was born on the 25th day of Dhulq’adah, the eleventh month in the Muslim lunar calendar.

Christmas: To celebrate or not to celebrate?

Muslims are not obliged to celebrate Christmas just as we do not expect non-Muslims to observe the Eids or Ashura. There are some Muslims who may take objection to the celebration of Christmas due to its pagan origins or due to their theological beliefs forbidding the celebrations of birthdays in general. However, for majority of Muslims the commemoration of births (and deaths), is not a new thing. Therefore, for us the joy upon the birth of this revered prophet in Islam is as normal as it is on that of Meeladun Nabi- the birth of noble Prophet Muhammad SAWW- or a personality from the Ahlul Bayt a.s.

Do we have to revere Christmas?

Early history of Islam records that the Noble Prophet Muhammad SAWW cordially welcomed a delegation of Byzantine Christians from Najran in Yemen to Madina. He held discussions with them and even allowed them to worship in the mosque. No matter how much one disagrees with the religious beliefs of others, the Noble Qur’an exhorts Muslims to stay away from mocking them (6:108). Therefore, one needs to treat Christmas with respect.
However, respect does not mean to compromise. In addition, it is vital to note that accepting Christmas is different from fully immersing oneself in all the cultures of its celebrations in the same manner adopted by the wider Christian community or people of no faith.
The challenge for us as Muslims, a minority, living in the West is how much to interact with these celebrations. We are living during challenging times where conflict, xenophobia and Islamophobia is ever increasing. As Muslims shouldn’t we be building bridges and peace making?

How to reach out?

One does not necessarily need to go to the Church, but just like we send Eid greetings through cards, text messages or telephone calls we can address Christmas greetings to our Christian friends, neighbours and colleagues. One could send a personalised greeting card /note to share the status of Jesus in Islam. This is a great time to relate or connect to our neighbours. Nevertheless, one should bear in mind that ‘relating’ does not mean ‘preaching’. Let us reach out, be sincere and use the opportunity to connect by exploring common ground during these holidays.

Just having fun:

Undoubtedly all of us are exposed to the hype for Christmas prevailing all around. Some especially children may feel left out, pressured or even confused about where they stand as Muslims. A number of people set up Christmas trees, hang Santa socks or participate in these festive celebrations without even understanding its history and the pagan connections. It’s done just because it’s fun; just because everybody is doing it! Will you follow the crowd to join this train?
We must be careful to preserve our identity and our own traditions. Can we allow ourselves, especially our children, to be corrupted by this seemingly "innocent" fun?

Holidays in Islam:

Holidays for Muslims are not excuses to indulge in extravagance and meaningless activities. In Islam our Eid holidays such as Eid ul Fitr, Eid ul Adhha, Ghadeer and other events, while allowing fun, games, rejoicing, celebrations etc, they do retain their religious importance. The core aim being to always attain taqwa; nearness to God. The celebrations need to honor and uphold our faith and beliefs. Let us save the celebrations, the fun and games for our festivals on the Islamic calendar.

What about our children?

It is vital that our children do identify with the holidays on the Islamic calendar just as Christians do with Christmas.
The challenge is what to tell our children about Christmas. The world we live in requires our children to be aware of different cultures and beliefs. Ignorance only fuels misunderstanding. Knowing the differences and similarities will enable our children to respect beliefs different from their own.
In addition to sharing the Islamic perspective of Christmas with our children it is crucial to make a big deal about the holidays such as Miladun Nabi and various Eids we observe on our Muslim calendar.
On this occasion of Christmas, I offer heartiest felicitations and best wishes to all our Christian brethren.

Khushali Mubarak.

Wa ma tawfiqi illa billah

Fazle Abbas Datoo
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Resident Alim
Wessex Shia Ithna Asheri Jamaat

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