Short Answer: If you do not feel comfortable participating, then, by all means, you should not participate! But please note that it is generally harmless to be involved in a workplace gift exchange. (Happy hour, of course, is a different story, as the entire purpose of it is drinking alcohol, and I do encourage you to address that more firmly.)
Salaam alaykum wa rahmatullah, sister.
Thank you very much for submitting your concern.
Explaining your Islam
It can certainly be awkward in some situations when people are participating in normal cultural activities around you, which you feel are inappropriate for you as a Muslim. I can also imagine how frustrating it must be to have to explain yourself over and over again, though you have been working there for eleven years. It must be very annoying, but try to keep the mindset that – though you have to repeat yourself ad nauseam – insha’Allah you are gaining rewards for explaining Islam to non-Muslims.
I do wish I could give you some sort of secret trick that will make people stop asking you repeatedly, but unfortunately, all I can offer is my empathy.
As far as not participating in happy hour or events where people are drinking, if you are comfortable, I suggest asking your coworkers if they would badger a recovering alcoholic the way they badger you. There are many reasons a person may choose not to drink alcohol, and it is inappropriate to pressure them to participate.
Your Coworkers’ Intentions
I cannot know with certainty the intentions of your colleagues, but it might be helpful if you try to remember that they probably have good intentions. If people are asking you about participating in Christmas events regularly, they probably care about you and don’t want you to feel left out. That can be annoying, but it isn’t a bad thing. If you worked in a company with many Muslims and only one Christian, wouldn’t you want to invite the Christian to participate in Islamic celebrations? It’s a courteous thing to do.
How to Respond to such Invitations?
I encourage you to continue patiently explaining yourself to your coworkers. Insha’Allah you will be rewarded by Allah for explaining your deen to them and explaining in kindness. The Prophet was an amazing example of patience and kindness in the face of people misunderstanding Islam, and we should follow that example.
You might tell them that while some Muslims feel comfortable participating in secular holiday activities, you do not. Thank them for inviting you and courteously decline. It probably won’t stop them from asking, but you might think of it as being presented with multiple opportunities to spread education about Islam.
What’s the Deal with The Secret Santa Gift Exchange?
It is an opinion held widely across About Islam that participation in secular activities surrounding Christmas is not disallowed for Muslims. Unless you work at some sort of religious organization, it is extremely likely that any religious aspect of Christmas is not present in the workplace.
If you do not feel comfortable participating, then, by all means, you should not participate! But please note that it is generally harmless to be involved in a workplace gift exchange. (Happy hour, of course, is a different story, as the entire purpose of it is drinking alcohol, and I do encourage you to address that more firmly.)
Can Muslims Participate in Secular Holiday Events at Work?
You mentioned that you do not compromise in your deen because then others will think you do not respect the deen. Sister, I do not think that that is true. Do not worry about the impression you are giving to other people.
Again, I want to emphasize that you should not participate in holiday activities if you aren’t comfortable, but if the only reason you abstain is that you feel that your colleagues will think you don’t take your Islam seriously, I urge you to reevaluate. Even if they do think that it does not matter. The only opinion about your Islam that matters is Allah’s.
Allah knows best.
I hope this helps.
Salam and please keep in touch.
(From Ask About Islam archives)
Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links: