It’s that time of year again where we discuss Christmas. I’ve been Muslim for 27 years now, and the same thing comes up every single year, and we get kind of confused about how to approach such occasion.
For new Muslims, it’s tough. I remember when I became Muslim, I had asked some Muslim friends about the matter of Christmas. Can I go? Do I not go? Where do I stand?
I was told that going even to see them on Christmas day is forbidden. So I thought that I was doing something wrong, so I avoided it and I really broke my parents’ hearts.
We need to think about what time of year actually is. Whether it’s Christmas, it’s new year, it’s Hanukkah… whatever religious background you are, this is the main holiday of the year for the people across the western world.
So where do we stand with this situation? Can we join our families on Christmas? Are we committing some kind of shirk if we say “happy Christmas” or “happy holidays”? Should we send cards or gifts to our non-Muslim neighbors?
Even participating in a religious celebration or a cultural celebration is something that is not debated by the scholars. There are some of the scholars who don’t live in the western context, who will make it forbidden to attend any kind of Christmas celebration, whereas there are different opinions of some contemporary western scholars who live in a mixed society.
When the companions have a slightly different opinion on things, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) would accept those opinions. Actually, there is a very famous hadith that Prophet Muhammad says:
If two scholars pass an opinion, one of the scholars is correct, he gets many rewards; and if one of the scholars is incorrect, he still gets reward.
When a scholar passes an opinion, they do it with the best intention and based on what they know.
And actually another thing about scholarly opinions, it is not incumbent for you or for me to follow any particular opinion; you don’t have to follow a particular madhab or a particular scholar. This is not what Islam is all about. But we have to have this medium way, the way of Prophet Muhammad, and this is what Islam is all about.
So, this is the context that we’re looking at today so the knowledge of living in a non-Muslim society is very different from having the knowledge about from somebody living in a majority Muslim society because they just cannot know the context.
1- Culture vs. Religious
Christmas festivities have really changed from a religious celebration into the really majority of cultural celebration. So, when you get together on Christmas Day, you pull crackers and you have sort of tinsel and lights up… But actually very little of it if any at all is about the religious principle of Christmas. And I know that the norms between America, Canada, and the UK are kind of similar, but when you look at other Christian countries, they will have completely different cultural habits that they do on Christmas.
I just want us to think about what Christmas actually means nowadays? Maybe your family is very religious and goes to church on the Christmas day, maybe your family is not religious at all but still celebrates Christmas as a cultural holiday.
2- What should our relationship be with non-Muslims?
Now, non-Muslim family in particular have a right to love, to respect, to kindness, to mercy… And the blueprint of a mixed society was created by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
When we look at the society in Madinah and when you look at approximately six years after the hijrah, Prophet Muhammad secured a special ruling. And this was done with regards to a group of Christians; and it was securing the Christian communities rights.
– The right of Security
The rights that these Christians at this particular time were that they were to be made to feel secure. So they were kept secure by the Muslim community and the Muslim authorities.
– They had the right to be given provided with and supported with facilities.
And those facilities actually also included the right to have a place of worship. Churches were protected to the point that a church cannot be knocked down in order to replace it with housing or with a Masjid even.
Yet, we see sometimes Muslims really disrespecting people of other faiths and disrespecting our Christian brothers and sisters and our Jewish brothers and sisters. And actually this is not part of our deen to do this. They have right over us and their right is that we protect them and we give them their right and we support them even to the extent that if a church was to be destroyed or damaged, then actually it should be the Muslim community that is as well helping to rebuild that place of worship.
A Beautiful Story
There was one time when a Christian delegation visited the Prophet Muhammad in Madinah. The Christians had actually come to have an interfaith debate with the Prophet (peace be upon him). And for one reason or another this debate didn’t actually take place.
The Christians needed to pray, Prophet Muhammad could easily when they asked for somewhere to pray, he could easily have ordered for a tent to be put up away from the masjid, yet he invited the Christian delegation into the masjid and let them pray in.
This is the way that we treat our brothers and sisters of different faiths.
These were strangers, so what about the family? Was Prophet Muhammad compromising his faith by allowing the Christians encouraging them to pray in the masjid?
He was giving them their right to practice whatever deen they choose even if he might have disagreed with it.
If we have to show this mercy to strangers, what about the mercy that we show to own non-Muslim families?
The action is but by intentions and everybody shall have what they intended.
This is a very major principle in Islam. Your intention is not to go and worship Jesus, your intention is not to go and convert to be a Christian, your intention is not to go and drink alcohol, your intention is not to go and do something Haram…
Actually, your intention should be something that has purity of faith; we are staying away from all things that Allah forbids such as alcohol, Haram meat and food, and staying away from another faith.
Even in cases where the family are oppressing us, maybe they’re trying to encourage us to do something Haram, even then we have to refuse, but we refuse with respect; we should cover something negative with something positive.
We should encourage our families in a way indirectly you know to think about Islam through our beautiful actions.
Actually, the holiday period when the family is all gathering together is a perfect opportunity for you to go there and to give them the most beautiful insight of Islam that you possibly could without compromising your deen.
Islam is Easy
Islam is not a hard deen. Maybe this is your first Christmas, your family has rights over you and they are scared of losing you. Don’t go all crazy on them and stop refusing to visit them and refusing to respect their beliefs which actually a year ago were your beliefs as well.
Islam is not meant to be hard. Allah says in chapter 2:185:
Allah intends for you ease and doesn’t intend for you hardship.
This is also reflected in some of the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) when he sent one of the companions to Yemen to teach the new Muslims their faith he said:
Make things easy for the people and do not make them difficult.
Allah has named the bond of kinship Rahim, and He says:
I derived from the root of my name Ar-Rahman (the Most Merciful), whoever joins this, I will join him; and whoever breaks this, I will break him.
Don’t make the Christmas period a time of breaking between families. Go see your families, go and join in and make their Christmas happy. It’s their celebration, it’s not yours anymore, but you’re still their family. Avoid the things that are forbidden and do the beautiful things that Allah has made easy for you.