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US Muslims & Xmas: Struggling to Cope With Season

HOUSTON – About a month before Christmas, 12-year-old Faisal Alwazni asked his parents for a new video gaming system. About two weeks before the holiday, he received it.

Could that be counted as a Christmas gift for this young Jordanian-born Muslim living in the United States? Faisal explained:

“Well, I asked for it as a Christmas present, but my parents gave it to me before Christmas since we don’t celebrate Christmas,” he told

In many ways, Faisal’s experience mirrors how some American Muslims treat Christmas, arguably the world’s biggest and most celebrated holiday.

For many Muslim families, with no way to escape the overflow of tinsel, lights and general merriment of the season – not to mention the hordes of holiday ads for the latest “it” toy or the newest and shiniest tech devise – they’ve simply opted to go with the flow, exchange a present or two and otherwise not make too much of the holiday.

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For Faisal, he said that’s how his family has always gone about it, with the occasional gift if someone asks.

“We don’t celebrate it and I don’t really want to,” he said.

“My parents asked me if I wanted to but I don’t care. I don’t feel left out or anything.”

But not everyone is convinced, it’s as innocent as that.

In fact, despite Faisal and his family’s seemingly carefree attitude toward Christmas, many Muslim Americans’ approach to the holiday, meant by Christians as a way of celebrating Jesus’ birthday, is strikingly different.

For instance, in speaking with Muslims living in America, one soon discovers there are a myriad of ways of celebrating, not participating at all or something in between.

The distinction becomes even more blurred for families of Islamic converts or families made up of both Muslims and Christians.

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For Maria Hernandez, who is married to a Palestinian Muslim, she and her family headed overseas for much of the Christmas season and don’t have plans to return until after the new year.

She said avoiding Christmas festivities, including the inevitable family get together, and focusing on travel and other activities during that time, eliminates the stress she usually feels every Dec. 25 at home.

“Ever since I converted, we’ve never celebrated Christmas because I didn’t want the kids to get wrapped up in it,” she said.

“But now that they’re older they’ve become more and more aware of it, and I was feeling the pressure from my family to join in. We decided it was best to head out and remove ourselves from all of it.”

Other Muslims take an entirely different tack, and suffer the judgement for it.

One social media user – who did not want to be named – posted a picture of her festive Christmas tree, complete with presents underneath.

Nearly as soon as she shared the photograph, she was quickly accosted by fellow Muslims who scolded her, some even accusing her of “imitating the kuffar.”

Though this exchange became contentious and demonstrates some Muslims’ view on celebrating and even acknowledging Christmas, it’s clear that many Muslims revel in the holiday with many arguing that Jesus is a prophet in Islam and there is no harm in celebrating his birth along with their Christian neighbors.

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For converts, some say that to stay away from or even shun family gatherings is akin to going against the teachings of their faith. For that reason, they join their parents and siblings who look forward to the season each year.

“I studied a lot about whether or not I could go to my family’s Christmas celebration and still be a good Muslim,” said Amanda Boukhari.

“I was happy it was okay because I would have been sad if my religion kept me from being with my family because many of my brothers and sisters live out of town and sometimes that’s the only time I see them all year.”

Not only did Boukhari’s studies convince her she should be with her family whenever they gather, she discovered that not doing so would be, according to her understanding, against Islam.

“What I found was that if by not going I would be distancing myself from my family and even making my parents feel bad, then it’s not Islamic to do that, and my mom would definitely be hurt if I didn’t let her have Christmas with my kids,” she said.

“My husband, who is a born Muslim, has always been fine with it. We go and we give gifts to my parents and to the children of the family. It’s fun, and it’s definitely Islamic to give a gift in return for a gift you’ve been given.”

However, she said she makes sure to balance her kids’ Christmas experience with that of `Eid Al-Fitr and `Eid Al-Adha and teaches her three children why they attend family Christmas gatherings.

“I make sure they know that we are doing Christmas for our family, not for us. They know we are Muslims first and that’s the most important thing.”