Christmas. It’s not just for Christians, anymore.
I recognize that Christmas is a Christian, religious holiday- I love that it is! That the “Christ” in “Christmas” belongs there, unmolested. But as a non-Christian who has grown up celebrating the rituals and trappings- Christmas tree, gift-giving and receiving, Christmas card writing, carols, etc.- I also regard the holiday as universally accessible and not exclusive; and deeply embedded in American cultural tradition (at least of the last 60-100 years). I may not have accepted Jesus as my savior; but I don’t disrespect those who have; nor do I fear exposure to biblical stories (as a child, I enjoyed the Little Drummer Boy claymation, because it was so dark; and I enjoyed the Charlie Brown Christmas special- both of which are very religiously oriented). I also recognize that Christmas has an evolving history of traditions that reaches back into pagan practices. I think most reasonable Christians (I know Christians who don’t celebrate Christmas, because it’s not “pure” in its Christianity) are fine with this.
There is no reason why a Jew can’t have a Christmas tree in the home. There’s no reason why an avowed atheist needs to use the occasion to mock religion in general and spite Christianity in particular. And of course, there’s no reason why anyone should be forced to celebrate Christmas, either.
What I do believe, is that Christmas has enough religious and secularized aspects that it should be accessible and inoffensive to everyone. That it is a time to celebrate the universal message of “Peace on Earth and good will toward all men [i.e., “mankind”]”. As everyone knows, Christians who celebrate Christmas have embraced traditions that have their roots in pagan religions and traditions, and made it their own. Why not the reverse?
It’s common knowledge that Jesus figures as a prophet and a messenger of God in the Muslim faith; and his mother, Mary, is highly respected and figures more often in the Quran than in the New Testament.
Muslims believe that Jesus was born through an immaculate conception and that he performed miracles.
So there is no reason why Muslims shouldn’t feel excluded from participation in the Christian celebration of Jesus’ birth; or at least participate in the secular celebrations of the Season. Of course the salafists and wahhabis and hardline, puritanical Islamists would have a problem with this; but I’m not talking about them.
I was thinking about this when I saw a Facebook post from a college friend who lives in Singapore and had converted to Islam, on account of his wife. And his post showed a a beautiful traditional Christmas tree in their Singapore home, complete with presents.
I had also come across this Daily Beast article which had prompted me to post, as I found it interesting:
Many mentioned having Christmas dinner at the house of Christian friends. Even more spoke of putting up a Christmas tree each year (and sent me photos of their tree.) Many told me they exchanged Christmas gifts, while others shared that they put up Christmas lights on the outside of their house. A few even noted that they attend Christmas mass with Christian friends.
Are we just being nice? Trying to fit in more in America? Or is this a part of our dastardly plot to destroy Christianity and impose sharia law in America?
In reality, from a theological point of view, Jesus is extremely important to Muslims. The Koran states: ‘The angels said, ‘O Mary, indeed God gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name shall be the Messiah, Jesus the son of Mary, who will be a man of honor in this life and the life to come, and who will be one of the ones nearest to God.”
As New York City based Imam Shamsi Ali explained by way of email, “To Muslims, Jesus is considered one of ‘mighty’ prophets along with Moses, Abraham, Noah, and Mohammed.” Ali added, “Remembering Jesus’ birth and the teachings of Jesus is an important part of our Muslim faith.”
Linda Sarsour, one of the leaders of New York City’s Muslim community, echoed the Imam’s sentiment, saying, “Jesus is very central to Islam and is someone I take great inspiration from.”
Although I share in some of the criticism about Islam- and all of the criticism over political Islam and wahhabism, salafism, and jihadism- I think those who see a problem in this are simply misguided Islamaphobes:
Just look at the backlash Wal-Mart endured this year for selling a Muslim themed star for Christmas trees, which features a crescent moon and star. If you Google “Muslim Christmas tree star” you will see a list of right-wing websites wetting their pants over this. To be honest though, I can’t even put into words the joy I feel when these bigots get angry over this type of stuff. It’s like Christmas for me any day they get pissed.
Note that the author of the article is Muslim; and probably a liberal multiculturalist one, at that.
There are very few things that I agree with the political correctness police on; but if this is one of those things being pushed by the “Coexist” crowd, I say more power to them.
I left England 1987 when I tuned 8. I haven’t been here since I moved to London earlier this year. Back then there weren’t as many Arabs and other ‘ethnic’ people like myself where I lived. Most people were too friendly, a few were too rude and either way we didn’t fit in. My mother devised a genius plan to fit us in. Christmas.
Once a year we wore the Christmas jumpers and made cardboard cuts of the nativity scene with all the other kids at school. We went overboard with red, green and golden tinsel, lights and paper snow flake cuttings hanging on the windows and walls of our house. Every year we had a Christmas tree gleaming with decoration and fluffed cotton balls to mimic snow. We believed santa actually existed because my mother left us gifts under the tree.
We sent photos to my grandparents in Baghdad. In them we had wide grins on our faces, in our brand new pajamas, covered in Christmas prints and standing in front of the festively decorated tree. So my grandparents started to send us bright orange wool socks knitted from scratch. They were a little confused about what constituted Christmas theme colors.
When we went back to Baghdad we kept the Christmas tradition going. It was a time to be festive and optimistic of the year ahead. Most importantly it was just plain good fun. Once again, my siblings and I, became the odd ones outs.
Our neighbours would stare at us panting and sweating as we pulled a large log of pine tree and ask what on earth we were doing. ‘It’s a Christmas tree’ we’d explain. ‘But you’re Muslim?!’
We were too excited about planning our Christmas party to be bothered. We were done trying to fit in.
Merry Christmas everyone!
A generation or two ago, when America’s Muslims were new immigrants who made up an even smaller minority of Americans than they do today, the lights, trees, carols, gifts and festive spirit of Christmas were viewed by many Muslims as a threat to their children’s Islamic faith.
But these days, a growing number of Muslims celebrate Christmas, or at least partake in some ways, even if they don’t decorate their homes with trees and a light show. Indeed, many Muslim families have created their own unique Christmas traditions.
“I teach my three children, who attend public school and happen to be born into an interfaith Christian-Muslim family, that we absolutely do celebrate Christmas because we are Muslim,” Hannah Hawk of Houston wrote in an email. Rather than putting up a tree or lights, “we celebrate the reason for the season, Jesus, by studying all that is written about him in the Quran and by examining historical theories.”
The Hawks also give to charity, bake treats for neighbors, invite them to dinner, and wish friends, colleagues and teachers “Merry Christmas” with cards and phone calls. Hawk’s kids get together with Christian friends to perform various good deeds. This year, they will play songs (violins, viola, trumpet, cellos, bells) at a local community hospital for patients recovering from surgery.
But others see a new generation of Muslims born or reared in the United States who feel secure enough to view Christmas as another tradition they can relate to, and to celebrate it in a wide variety of ways — as do their Christian neighbors.
“Muslims should join their Christian neighbors to celebrate Christmas,” said Rizwan Kadir, a financial adviser who is active in his Muslim community in suburban Chicago. “We also believe in Isa,” Kadir added, using the Arabic name for Jesus, “and he has a very special place in Islam.”
Christmas time is a perfect end-of-the-year opportunity to celebrate things we share in common; even if we have shared differences in the details. There’s no reason why Santa Claus can’t deliver Christmas presents to good little Muslim boys and girls all over the world. All it takes is a willingness to believe and embrace. It’s never too late to jump on the bandwagon and hitch up your own cultural beliefs to enrich a pre-existing tradition further:
“I think there are a lot of Muslims that celebrate Christmas, but they do it quietly. We believe in not leading that double life,” says Zonneveld, 49. “Celebrating Christmas is not really a contradiction to Islam because Jesus is our prophet, too.”
As the most-commercialized religious holiday in the United States, Christmas can be a difficult time for Muslim families with kids who grow up surrounded by the holiday’s traditions, from Santa and songs to Christmas trees and gifts. It’s not uncommon for Muslim parents to take on some cultural aspects of the holiday to help their children feel included. Yet, Muslims such as Zonneveld are taking it further and celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.
This is the fourth year that Zonneveld — a singer-songwriter who was born in Malaysia and co-founded a national network called Muslims for Progressive Values — has hosted such a Christmas get-together for her 13-year-old daughter and family friends.
At her party, she says parents talked with their kids about the “similarities and differences between the Islamic and Christian Jesus,” to teach them that Islam is “not all about Muhammad.”
The comparisons and contrasts include Muslims believing in Jesus as a prophet and in his miraculous birth, but not seeing him as divine or the son of God. The Quran, in which Jesus is referred to in Arabic as “Isa,” also says that Jesus was not killed or crucified, but that God raised him to heaven. Similar to the Christian doctrine of the Second Coming, Islamic teaching also says that Jesus will return to earth near the end of time.
“It would be typical of mosques to have a sermon on Jesus at this time of year, praising him as one of the great prophets but distinguishing Muslim belief from Christian belief, as Muslims must believe and love Jesus Christ as a prophet and Messiah,” says Ihsan Bagby, an Islamic Studies professor at the University of Kentucky who researches American mosques. “But in terms of practice and observation of Christmas, that’s an on-going debate among Muslims.”
For Muslims such as Shireen Ahmed, a 34-year-old social worker and mother of four who lives in the Toronto suburbs, the holiday is a time to teach her kids about their religion and how to respect other religions. While Ahmed does not celebrate Christmas at home, she says she is “open and interested” in the idea. In recent years, she has observed Christmas by attending Catholic Midnight Mass at the invitation of friends.
“I love the Mass, I find it inspiring and uplifting,” says Ahmed, who doesn’t have a Christmas tree or decorations but does let her young children take photos with Santa. “I’m not accepting of Jesus as the Son of God, I don’t take communion, but I will attend, I will respect, and I will kneel when they kneel.”
“I look at it from a cultural tolerance perspective. We live in a society that’s diverse,” she says, adding that she recently used the Christmas season as a chance to talk about Jesus to her 7-year-old. “I explained the Holy Trinity, and my son said ‘What do you mean? Allah doesn’t have a father or son.’ I said “that’s what we believe, but others don’t and you have to respect that.”
Respect. Tolerance. Acceptance. Be a part of the beautiful American (and “universal”) celebration of a federally recognized holiday and have a Merry Christmas, whether you are Christian or not! If you’re a multiculturalist, embrace the culture of Christmas and not feel threatened by it.