The Christmas Dilemma of New Muslims

Happy Holidays!

Muslims do not celebrate Christmas.

This is obvious.

Why would they celebrate a feast that centers around the birth of Jesus Christ, whom Christians believe to have come down from Heaven two thousand years ago as the Son of God?

Clearly in Muslim homes, there is no place for such a celebration. However, it gets a little bit complicated when those Muslims have only recently embraced Islam and their families invite them over for Christmas dinner.

What are new Muslims to do?

Should they reply to Christmas cards?

Should they give and receive presents?

As in everything to do with Islam, the answers to all of these questions are very simple.

Muslims do not celebrate the feast of Christmas because they believe that Allah alone is worthy of worship and that He has no partners and no equals.

He certainly does not have a son.

The only two feasts for Muslims are the feast which follows Ramadan, `Eid Al-Fitr, and the feast which comes at the end of the Hajj pilgrimage, `Eid Al-Adha.

These are very simple celebrations which center around the mosque and the family. Muslims gather on the morning of both feasts to pray the `Eid prayers at the mosque and they tend to spend the rest of the day with their families.

None of the frenzied shopping associated with Christmas is attached to the Muslim feasts. They are times to think of Allah and the ones we love.

For devout Christians, who take their faith seriously and who spend time in prayer and reading of the scriptures, the feast of Christmas is the second most important feast in the calendar. The most important feast for them is Easter Sunday, which they believe commemorates Jesus’s rising from the dead.

Christmas is a holy feast for them because it commemorates the love they believe God has for the world by sending His only Son to redeem it from sin.

While Muslims believe none of this, they nonetheless reverence the sincerely held beliefs of others and respect sincere Christians who do believe it.

Muslims also have a profound respect for Jesus, whom they believe to be a prophet of Allah, calling mankind to worship one God.

In Western society, though, the majority of people are not devout Christians. In fact, religious practice and even belief in God have declined to a great extent over the last years.

The Anglican Archbishop of York, in the United Kingdom, recently admitted that more Muslims go to the mosque in his country on a Friday than Christians go to church there on a Sunday. No matter what the level of religious practice is, though, Christmas still has a firm place in most people’s hearts.

In almost every home on Christmas day, the family will celebrate Christmas, whatever that means to them. It might mean chestnuts roasting on an open fire, or reindeer pulling Santa Claus’ sleigh.

It certainly is a family time when even the least religious man and woman are able to think of their childhood and parents who loved them, or a time when they once did have some kind of religious belief.

The Christmas Dilemma of New Muslims

Those who have recently embraced Islam are sometimes put in a dilemma because Christmas is still very much a part of Western culture.

If they refuse to take part in the celebration of Christmas with the rest of their family, they risk upsetting them and maybe straining even further the relations which became tense after they became Muslim.

If they do take part in the celebrations, they often feel guilty that they should not be doing so, since Christmas has no place in the life of a Muslim.

It is important to remember how important our family is to us.

If becoming Muslim made them feel that we rejected them or rejected everything they hold so dear, then we do not want to hurt them in any way.

Those who have become Muslim still love their families as much as they always did.

What is important in this case is this: If we celebrate Christmas with our families, what are we actually celebrating? What is our intention?

If we know in our hearts that we are not celebrating the religious side of the feast, perhaps even declaring this in our own du`aa’ on the morning of Christmas itself to reassure our newfound faith, we have nothing to fear by taking part in a celebration of family and friends.

We can very politely decline to accompany them to church, and maybe still help prepare the Christmas lunch at home while the others perform their spiritual duties.

Even this, though, might not be the problem we dread it to be, since so many people in the West simply do not celebrate Christmas as a religious festival at all.

What does “celebrating Christmas” really mean, anyway?

Is singing around a Christmas tree particularly religious?

Is the giving of gifts or of cards peculiar to Christians alone and reserved only for this day in the year?

As a matter of fact December 25th, far from being the day on which Jesus was born, used to be a pagan sun worship festival, deep in the heart of winter, which the Church took as the day on which to celebrate Jesus’s birth, the real date of which is not known.

Pine trees and mistletoe all date back to this pagan age, reminding people of life and fertility in the midst of winter.

So many of the traditions associated with Christmas are relatively new, like the Christmas Crib, with its small statues of Jesus’s family, which was only introduced by Saint Francis of Assisi in the Middle Ages.

The truth is that for most people, Christmas has become a celebration of family. If our relatives want us to celebrate it with them, there should be no reason to object.

We can make it clear, in a gentle way, that we do not believe in the religious side of the celebration, but that we want to share love and happiness with the people who are closest to us.

We could even head off a possible area for dispute by making the first move and suggesting a family outing to the circus or an evening of ice-skating.

Receiving a Christmas card with a picture of a reindeer in the snow could be well reciprocated with a similar card of a robin redbreast on a tree!

If our family is not religious, there is no reason to spoil their happiness by taking moral high ground and pretending that they are.

If they are religious and they do sincerely hold beliefs that Jesus was born on this day to redeem mankind, then we can show that we respect and love them and we honor their beliefs, but we simply do not share them.

Just as the late Pope John Paul II used to wish all Muslims in the world a blessed and holy Ramadan, so we can ask Almighty Allah to bless our Christian friends and wish them every happiness for their festival.

Islam is such a beautiful and such a sweet religion that we do not need to go off in a huff when others believe differently than we do, or condemn them for not being Muslim.

Allah knows the secrets of all our hearts, and He calls to Islam those He wants to at the time He sees right.

Who knows, the way we behave and the example we give at Christmas time to those who are not Muslim might very well be the first time they have seen how Muslims truly behave.

In a world deeply divided by misunderstanding, we might just be the ones to let others know what Islam is really like.

The way we act can show those in the West who are enslaved by consumerism and trapped in the relentless pursuit of acquiring more and more material possessions, that there is another way. We know that this way is Islam.

Perhaps this Christmas will be the time to let the world know about Islam.

Happy holidays!

(This article is from Reading Islam’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.)

About Idris Tawfiq
Idris Tawfiq was a British writer, public speaker and consultant.

He became a Muslim around 15 years ago.

For many years, he was head of religious education in different schools in the United Kingdom.

Before embracing Islam, he was a Roman Catholic priest.

He passed away in peace in the UK in February 2016 after a period of illness.

May Allah (SWT) have mercy on him, and accept his good deeds. Ameen.