NEW YORK – Every year, Muslims across the country from varying backgrounds have to decide in what ways they will spend time with friends and family during the holiday season.
From office parties to intimate family gatherings as well as requests to participate in ceremonies, many Muslims need to assess how they will participate in nationwide festivities that include numerous holidays (Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year) over weeks at the end of the year.
Celebrations may involve secular revelry as well as deeply-religious rites, making it important to consider which holiday season activities to engage in while maintaining faith convictions.
Millions of Muslims in the US have non-Muslim relatives resulting from conversion to the religion or marriage. During the holiday season, many Muslims must decide on the best ways to attend family events for celebrations not based in the Deen.
Wanting to maintain family ties and respect for parents are two primary reasons for attending celebrations.
Sabina Khan and her husband bring their children to visit his mother during the holidays. “My husband’s mother is a dedicated Catholic, and he is an only child,” Khan told About Islam. “We are constantly trying to teach kids that we have to be kind to Grandma rahmah since she is alone.”
Khan did express some concern about her young children’s attraction to the gifts and holiday trimmings. “A part of me fears that the glitter and the festivities surrounding the holiday may lure the children. That all my hard work is going to waste.
After some contemplation that came with the guilt (and conversations with my husband, a convert) I see that I have to teach my children the core values of Islam—about the deen.
In the context of my mother-in-law, who has no living siblings and one son, I had to think about more than my fears. I had to consider how lonely my mother-in-law would be on Christmas.
I want my children to learn that we need to go beyond what we are comfortable with to be kind to others. I don’t know the right answer. All I know is I’m trying to do my best with what I’ve been given.
Reverence for his parents is the main reason why Joe Milburn attends Christmas mass. “I will grudgingly attend Mass with my parents (who are Catholic) but I will not participate,” Milburn explained. “This means that while I will sit there in the church respectfully and silently, I will not sing with them, kneel when the Catholics kneel or recite any prayers with them.
My parents do insist that I physically enter the church with them, and I will out of respect.
I don’t agree with overtly participating in religious acts of other faiths but I do believe in being tolerant and respectful to the beliefs of others.
Connecting with Neighbors
Nadia Anwar was born Muslim, but her family participated in Christmas festivities. “My mom is from Guyana. Down there, everyone celebrates everyone else’s holiday, so we had a Christmas tree and expected presents from Santa Clause when I was growing up.”
Once married, Nadia decided not to continue her family’s tradition of celebrating Christmas, but she did maintain one. She still visits her neighbors for a meal on Christmas Eve.
“We’ve been going to my Catholic neighbor’s house for this big fish dinner since I was a little girl.”
Anwar told About Islam that she likes connecting with her neighbors. “They’re very nice people. I can’t say no to them, and we really enjoy eating with everybody.”