When the delegation of Christian leaders from Najran visited Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, in the city-state of Madinah, he not only gave them space in which to pray inside his mosque, but this was when the verse saying that it was lawful to eat the food of the people of the book, was revealed.
This tradition of mutual respect was shown throughout early Islam.
For example, after the Muslim General, Amr ibn Al Aas, fought off the Romans in Egypt, he granted the local Christian community freedom to practice their faith. There was also a statue of Jesus in a market in the Christian quarter of Alexandria. When its nose was broken, Amr ibn al Aas said to the Bishop, “I am deeply ashamed and pained at what has occurred. It is true, Islam disapproves of idol-worship. But, it equally disapproves of the profanation of the gods and goddesses of non-Muslim communities. Please have the statue repaired and I shall bear the entire cost.”
Contrary to certain misogynistic claims, God is not shy to mention women in the Qur’an; God refers to Sarah–the wife of Abraham, to Asiyah–the wife of Pharoah, to Bilqis–the Queen of Sheba, and of course to Mary–the mother of Jesus.
And while Muslims and Christians do hold differing interpretations on the nature of Jesus, we can at least come together and give thanks to God, not just for Jesus, but for his mother, Mary, who nurtured and raised her son, whose life impacted the world in the most wonderful of ways.
As the BBC2 production #MuslimsLikeUs in England showed, Muslims in the UK have adopted a wide set of opinions and interpretations of our faith. Some will celebrate Christmas with a tree in their home; others will simply wish their Christian neighbor a merry Christmas.
Here is a selection of British Muslims and thoughts on the season of Christmas:
“We, individually and collectively as a family, do not celebrate Christmas at all. There has never been a Christmas tree, decorations or presents. For us, they are extra holiday days. Sometimes we get together for a meal as a family and sometimes it’s a normal day spent catching up on stuff.”
“I celebrate Christmas just like a festive holiday though I don’t decorate my place, don’t buy a Christmas tree or something like that but yeah I do parties as I have a lot of friends and colleagues who are Christians and I think there is no harm to do get-togethers for having some good time or exchanging gifts for developing more love. We have some Christmas dinners with family in a positive way just to celebrate as a festive but not as a religious event. Plus I do some charity things on this occasion just to be a part of it as my way. So, in short, I celebrate it just as a festive holiday, as there are several rituals and activities associated with these holidays.”
“Christmas with my family has never been a big affair. We don’t “celebrate” in the traditional sense, so no trees or exchanging gifts. However, it is the one time of year when we are most likely to be able to spend some time together as a family so it’s still considered to be a special time of year for that reason.”
“We don’t ‘celebrate’ Christmas, but we do have a traditional lunch on the day with a roast chicken and trimmings. No tree, gifts or decorations though. Once we had some lights going up our stairs but it was to also coincide with bakra `Eid that year 😉 I do sometimes give out gifts to my colleagues who celebrate Xmas. They also give me gifts so I reciprocate. My son understands what we do, basically, we partake in the family togetherness of it all as everyone is off for Xmas.”
“We have always had a big family gathering, cooked a Halal Turkey with all the trimmings, and watched the Queen’s Speech. We don’t have a tree or gifts because that is going too far towards a Christian celebration.”
“As a family, we really enjoy the festive period and have no problem with our children participating in Christmas plays and concerts. We have found that it is a great way of generating discussion about the importance of Jesus in Islam and my daughter has often come home from school asking questions about him. We enjoy Christmas lunch with the family and often visit Santa’s grotto. However we don’t really buy presents as I try to emphasize that as Muslims we do not celebrate Christmas as a religious festival, it is more about enjoying quality time with the family. I also emphasize that we have our own religious festivals where we exchange gifts with friends and family. We enjoy Christmas very much but I’m just mindful that it doesn’t have greater importance in my house than Eid.”
“I just give cards to neighbors and friends/colleagues because it’s a special time of year for them… A few years ago my daughter wanted a Christmas tree so, after some discussion, she ended up with a little tree in her bedroom which she doesn’t put up every year.”
“Nope, we don’t especially celebrate Christmas to the extent of getting a tree, gifts, etc. We take advantage of the day to get family together and yeah we’ll cook a nice dinner, watch films together, etc.”
“Yes, we celebrate just as a holiday, not as a religious occasion. Opportunity to eat different food with the rest of the nation and indulge in chocolates and sweetmeats. It’s nice to celebrate, invite family or friends over to enjoy the day and have fun, otherwise, it passes as a dull day. We have a Christmas tree too and give the kids some small gifts so they don’t feel left out at school, but as they get older, we will probably wean them off the gift-giving idea once, they realize Santa is just a fairy tale.”
“No, we don’t celebrate Christmas. We enjoy the Christmas period just because it is an opportunity for the family to get together over holidays. It represents a family time for us and nothing more. We don’t exchange gifts or put up a tree, but we are respectful of those who celebrate. – I will take my staff out for dinner over Christmas because it is a special time for them and I respect that.”
“We don’t celebrate Xmas. I make a point of NOT having a tree or Xmas stockings in the house. We get Xmas cards from friends and family, however, and these tend to be displayed on the sideboard for a week or two but we do that for birthday cards and any other greeting card we get during the year before putting away the more sentimental ones and putting the rest into the recycling bin. We do tend to have a family gathering on Christmas Day just because everyone is available that day, though if another day in the holidays suits everyone better then we will have the family get-together then. We sometimes even have a Turkey (but only because halal turkeys are more readily available at this time of year). We do sometimes give gifts to the young children but we pretty much treat the children to gifts throughout the year and they get gifts almost every time we have a family gathering! My 5-year-old daughter understands that the Eids are our special celebrations (and she understands this because we very early on established a tradition of going to the mosque and then to meet and eat with family/friends and she gives gifts and receives them on Eid).”
Prophet Muhammad once said that the best of people are those who are best to their neighbors.
As Muslims, we should honor our Christian neighbors and wish them happiness on their days of celebration. And if we as Muslims can use this time to also remember Prophet Jesus, his life, his struggles, his contribution to humanity, along with honoring his mother Mary, then this is good for us all. Happy Christmas.
This article was first published in December 22, 2016.