“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” So the Andy Williams song goes.
If you’re living in the West, the Christmas tunes are played in every shop, every radio station and most workplaces from late November. There is no escaping it! But, you know what, that’s ok.
These songs are almost always about the good natured fun people have at this time of year, about the excitement of children eagerly awaiting the arrival of Father Christmas and very rarely about Baby Jesus (peace be upon him).
Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. I have so many happy family memories associated with this season. Everywhere is so prettily decorated, everyone is so happy and… the food!!
Like every family, we have our traditions and those mainly revolve around visiting relatives and spending time with those we love. This is our culture.
I converted to Islam in March 2007 and I celebrated my first Ramadan and Eid that September. So, I was completely, totally, entirely alone. I ate my suhur in the dark alone, struggled at work all day alone and broke my fast alone later that night.
Eid? It was just another day, I had no idea what to do.
As Christmas drew near, I was informed rather bluntly that as a new Muslim I was not allowed to partake in any of the festivities whatsoever or I would be committing shirk and my Islam would be null and void.
For my entire family, Christmas is a very big deal. Are they religious? Not at all. Do they love to get together and enjoy quality time with each other? Absolutely!
My first few Christmases, I have to admit, I muddled through them. Converting to Islam was a bit of a shock for my family so I wanted to cause as little disruption as possible, I kept a low profile. This approach didn’t feel right. There then followed a couple of years when I decided to be firm in my identity as a Muslim and I shunned the whole idea of Christmas. My family were heartbroken and I was miserable. So that option didn’t work out either.
I needed to find some middle ground.
Having my own family home this is now very easy Alhamdulillah. My parents and other relatives decorate their houses, both inside and out, so when I visit I can enjoy and admire their efforts. Fairy lights or candles are such a lovely way to brighten up the cold, dark winter evenings. So this is what I do. With a roaring open fire and some scented candles (cinnamon and spiced apple) I can enjoy a cosy atmosphere without compromising my beliefs in any way.
This was slightly trickier. It can be a bit of a social “faux pas” to be the only person in the family, or the office, who isn’t handing out or accepting cards. I did try giving out cards with a verse from the Quran printed on the inside:
(Remember) when the angels said, “O Mary, God gives you good news of a word from Him (God), whose name is the Messiah Jesus, son of Mary, revered in this world and the Hereafter, and one of those brought near (to God). (3:45)
This felt awkward. So I just stopped giving cards but politely accepted them. No one minds.
The giving and receiving of gifts is encouraged in Islam, as our Beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
Exchange gifts, as that will lead to increasing your love to one another. (Al-Bukhari)
Surely, there can be no harm in exchanging gifts if our Prophet recommended it? To refuse a gift, carefully chosen and given with love would be downright rude. And as Muslims, our manners should be exemplary. My intention is to exchange gifts to increase the loving bond, not to celebrate Christmas. That’s what counts.
Christmas is a notorious party season. But guess what? Not everyone enjoys an alcohol fueled month. Although most colleagues arrange a party night out, there is usually a Christmas lunch organized as well. I go for that option. People will surprise you with how understanding they are. If they know you do not take alcohol, that’s fine, a lot of Christians do not drink alcohol either. It’s really nothing to worry about.
Being truthful, this is what Christmas is all about for most families. It’s the one day of the year when everyone is off work and available to be together.
My only problem with dinner was that it wasn’t halal.
The solution? Halal turkeys are a thing! A very popular thing as it happens. Imagine my surprise when I had to join a very long queue at the halal food shop for a turkey.
Knowing that I am Muslim, my family omit any pork from their Christmas Day menu; so no pigs in blankets, a vegetarian stuffing and no roast ham. My family really don’t mind, we all enjoy a hearty meal and appreciate each others’ company. They don’t put any alcohol on the table either, opting for sparkling fruit juice.
If your family are aware of your requirements, they will likely oblige, if it means, the pleasure of your company.
Do I worry that my beliefs are compromised? Absolutely not. In fact, my beliefs are very much respected.
Are there any elements of Christmas Day that could be leading me to commit shirk? No way. I don’t go to church, I don’t believe Jesus (peace be upon him) was born on December 25 and I most certainly do not believe that Jesus was God incarnate.
Born Muslims really don’t appreciate the reality of what Christmas is for converts. Christmas is more of a cultural event than a religious one. For many people, there is no religious significance at all.
The Prophet Muhammad said:
He who believes in Allah and the Last Day, let him maintain good relation with kin. (Al Bukhari and Muslim)
And that is what I intend to do.