Short Answer: Of course you can, and it’s good! Contrary to what some far-flung scholars who have little to no understanding of affairs in America say, Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday, but a cultural one, and one in which people in North America, from all faith backgrounds, participate. It’s about keeping family ties strong, enjoying delicious food with your loves ones, and about thanking God for his blessings. How could any of that be haraam? Islam is for all cultures. Use your mind and take your knowledge of these issues from scholars who actually live in and are familiar with cultural practices in the West.
Salam Dear Brother,
Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.
Welcome to Islam and may Allah keep you steadfast on His religion.
Seek Fatwas From Culturally Informed Scholars
Initially, the reason that you heard about the prohibition of celebrating Thanksgiving with non-Muslim family members, is mainly because the people who usually ask those questions come from faraway lands.
What’s worse, they pose them to scholars who never lived in a western society and do not comprehend fully what Thanksgiving is and what it stands for.
As a general rule, scholars should only issue rulings (fatwas) concerning cultural matters when they fully understand them because they have lived in the society and experienced the culture of the country.
Otherwise their cultural verdict should be confined to their own culture and society.
However, with today’s globalization and electronic age, it becomes easy to give a ruling on cultural issues at the global level.
The one posing the question usually insists on getting an answer to prove his viewpoint so the question is posed in a way that satisfies the questioner.
Therefore, in most similar occasions, the questioner receives an erroneous answer.
Respect Differences of Opinion
On the other hand, there are scholars who lived in the United States but still think that Thanksgiving shouldn’t be celebrated by Muslims, period; and as Muslims, we respect other people’s opinions, especially if they are Muslim scholars.
However, we should never accept a ruling blindly, we need to understand it and be convinced of why it is right or wrong.
I would completely understand that a Muslim family, who has always been Muslim, shouldn’t make it a point to celebrate Thanksgiving.
However, that should be left to their own discretion whether to do that or not if convinced that this is not Islamically prohibited.
Thanksgiving is Not a Religious Holiday
Some historians say that in 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies.
For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states.
It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November.
From the above description, we can easily conclude that Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday.
It is rather a cultural holiday or an American holiday since it is practiced by people of all faiths.
There is however, an implication that Thanksgiving is thanking God for His blessings and bounties.
As Muslims, we fully understand who our Lord is and we thank Him accordingly on daily basis.
It’s About Family, So Keep Your Family Ties
In America, Thanksgiving has become one of the holidays that is well known for most common family gatherings, even more than Christmas.
So it is a perfect occasion for a Muslim to meet with his non-Muslim family members to establish contact and sometimes indirectly influence them to better understand Islam.
This occasion shouldn’t be missed, it should be cherished and better yet to prepare well what to answer when asked about Islam and why you have become a Muslim.
Even during the Prophet’s time, he (peace be upon him) didn’t forbid Muslims from visiting and keeping good relations with their non-Muslim family members.
If he did so, then Islam wouldn’t have spread since one of the ways to convey the message of Islam to others is by our good behavior and best conduct.
From an Islamic perspective, we are accountable for our actions according to our intentions.
Therefore, one may intend to join this family celebration rather than celebrating Thanksgiving in order to strengthen family ties and to directly or indirectly convey the message of Islam.
An American Imam Says…
It would be grossly irresponsible to say that Thanksgiving, or any observance of it, is prohibited. Because to do so, is to say that people gathering to eat, to be amongst their family and loved ones, and to express their thanks to God, is an abomination, and something that angers God.
To render the holiday and all of the practices haraam would say that it is evil, an abomination, and something that God hates.
Thus, when a convert to Islam is now told that eating with his family, visiting his grandma, and keeping ties with his family is a shameful, hateful thing to God, is sends a dangerous psychological message that is antithetical to our faith.
It is easy for scholars from abroad to prohibit something when they have no direct experience upon the matter. This is why we seek to clarify the whole issue of Thanksgiving so that people will be upon clarity.”
You may share in the Thanksgiving celebration with your non-Muslim family and remember to focus your intention on what pleases Allah in order to reap the best reward.
And Allah knows best!
I hope this helps answer your question.
Salam and please keep in touch.
(From AboutIslam’s archives)