Christmas is a favourite time of year for most people, parties, gifts, special foods and family traditions–what is not to like? But for most Muslims, this time of year always brings with it a host of issues to consider: should we participate? Should we join in the office parties and games of Secret Santa? Or should we avoid the celebration totally, writing it off as not part of our faith?
For those with children, the decisions we have to make require even more consideration. Do we contribute to the children’s school Christmas parties with gifts and food or ask for our children to be excluded from them? Do we turn a blind eye to our children learning Christmas carols for the school assembly or forbid them to be involved? Do we help our children learn their parts for the school nativity play and attend to watch them perform or discourage their involvement?
To some, this attitude may seem a little harsh but for many Muslim parents throughout the Western world these are real dilemmas. We want our children to be included and involved in the same things as other children and not feel left out but at the same time we don’t want to compromise our faith.
Much of what we believe is consistent with Judaism and Christianity (we have just commemorated Ashura by fasting for the same reason as Jewish people celebrate Pesach or Passover). We accept their holy books (the Torah, the Old Testament of the Bible and Psalms of David) as being of divine origin and we accept their Prophets as our Prophets. At the same time, for many of us it is important to stick to the roots of our faith and practice as it was originally practised–a clear guidance for us which demands a belief in only one God and rejects everything that alludes to anything aside from complete monotheism or to other faiths. An example of this is that we do not pray at sunset or sunrise to differentiate ourselves from those who worshiped the sun during the time of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Another example is that we fast for two days during the days of Ashura to differentiate ourselves from Jewish people who used to fast for one day during the time of the early Muslims. Similarly, Christmas and what it traditionally stands for in the Muslim consciousness–the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ as someone Christians believe to be the son of God–is an idea that is strictly forbidden to Muslims as monotheists.
At the same time, as I have written in the past, I don’t believe in banning everything in sight and if I do find myself uncomfortable with something, I believe in discussing the matter with my children and including them in the decision–a process called Mushwera or consultation and the ideal forum for decision-making in a Muslim family.
From what I have written above, readers could be forgiven for thinking that we are anti-Jesus in some way. Nothing could be further from the truth. Muslims love Jesus (whom we call Isa) as a Prophet and revere the Lady Mary. We believe in the virgin birth and in the miracles of Jesus. There is a chapter in the Quran called Maryam (the Arabic or Semitic origin for the name Mary) which details the birth of Lady Mary, confirms her chaste and pious nature, mentions the annunciation, the birth of Jesus and his ability to speak in the cradle:
At length she brought the (babe) to her people, carrying him (in her arms).
They said: “O Mary! truly an amazing thing hast thou brought!
“O sister of Aaron! thy father was not a man of evil, nor thy mother a woman unchaste!”
But she pointed to the babe.
They said: “How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?”
He said: “I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet;
“And He hath made me Blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live;
“(He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable;
“So Peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)”!
Such (was) Jesus the son of Mary: (it is) a statement of truth, about which they (vainly) dispute. ~The Quran (Maryam – verses 27-34)
These verses of the Quran guide me in how I should approach Christmas. I will not ban my children in joining to the parties and carols at school or even the nativity play, but I will treat this time of year as a good opportunity to share with them the story of Jesus as told in Islamic tradition.
When we learn about the Prophets we also learn about the traditions they bequeathed to their people. For instance, Abraham and his hospitality and Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) entire life are an example to us of how we should live. In the same way, what stands out for Muslims about Jesus is his rejection of materialism and greed for worldly possessions, the simplicity and austerity of his life and his love for God.
I hope I can encourage my children to learn about Jesus and his life and to use that knowledge to understand their connection to other religions while being clear and firm in their own faith.