Treating Christmas with Respect
by Abdul Malik Mujahid
Christmas is an annual
Christian religious holiday commemorating the birth of Prophet Jesus,
peace be upon him. For many Muslims who even do not celebrate the
birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, it becomes an issue
of what stand they should take.
There have been a number of
legitimate criticisms of the holiday from Muslims and non-Muslims based
on theological and cultural considerations. However, this cannot be used
to disregard the holiday as merely an exercise in ancient pagan
practices, for instance, or excessive consumerism. Muslims have to
remember that for practicing Christians, Christmas really is about
Prophet Muhammad, peace be
upon him, was so accommodating of Christians that according to the two
earliest Islamic historians, Ibn e Saad and Ibn Hisham, the Prophet even
allowed a delegation of 60 Byzantine Christians from Najran in Yemen to
worship in his own mosque in Madinah. Lead by their bishop (Usquf), they
had come to discuss a number of issues with him. When time of their
prayer came, they asked the Prophet's permission to perform this in the
mosque. He answered, "conduct your service here in the mosque. It is a
place consecrated to God."
God expects us to stay away
from mocking the religious beliefs of others, no matter how much we
disagree with them. He says in the Quran: "And insult not those whom
they (disbelievers) worship besides God, lest they insult God wrongfully
without knowledge. Thus We have made fair-seeming to each people its own
doings; then to their Lord is their return and He shall then inform them
of all that they used to do" (Quran, 6:108).
We also have to remember that
even if for many nominal Christians, the celebration is not really about
participating in religious traditions, Christmas is a time for families
to get together. In a number of cases it is the only time of year
families get together, either because family members are scattered in
different parts of the country or the world, because of communication
and relationship problems, or because in America today, the family unit
is becoming weaker and weaker.
Christmas is a great time to
relate to our neighbors. We should not forget though, that "relating"
does not mean "preaching". Dawa cannot be made in a
Allah says in the Quran: "Invite (all) to the Way of your Lord with
wisdom and beautiful advice, and reason with them by ways that are the
best and most gracious: because your Lord knows best, (those) who have
strayed from His Path, and those who receive guidance " (Quran, 16:125).
In particular, when dealing
with Jews and Christians, Allah says: "Do not argue with the People of
the Book unless it is in the politest manner, except for those of them
who do wrong. Say: 'We believe in what has been sent down to us and what
has been sent down to you. Our God and your God is [the same] One, and
we are Muslims before Him'" (Quran, 29:46).
This may not be an occasion
to emphasis the differences as much as the commonality of our beliefs,
unless someone is really asking you about them.
A starting point for a
discussion about Christmas could be the Islamic belief in all Books
revealed by Allah and all Prophets sent by Him. In this discussion,
special emphasis could be made on Prophet Jesus. Non-Muslims are often
surprised to discover that
Muslims also believe in this noble Prophet and his great mother Mary
(peace be upon her).
Remember that respect does
not mean compromise. This article is not asking you to compromise
anything. You have freedom of religion given by God to believe in what
you believe in. But in a world where conflict is increasing, a Muslim
should be a bridge- builder and a peacemaker. It was due to the Muslim
Islamic ideals of respect and tolerance that the key of the holiest
Christian Shrine in Jerusalem, the church of the Holy Sepulcher, remains
entrusted with a Muslim family, as it has been for over 1400 years.