It is that time of year again. The time of year as a Muslim where I am asked by co-workers and friends, “What are you doing for Christmas?” “Why are you not decorating?” and “Will you be attending any Christmas parties?” Usually my response is always the same, “I don’t celebrate Christmas.”
Well, I’ll start with the “why not?” I know Christmas has become such a cultural phenomenon for some, that the religious ties and historical background are sometimes forgotten. For many, Christmas is a fun and joyous occasion about being with family and giving.
I don’t argue that decorating, parties, receiving and giving gifts and time with family is not fun. These things are, of course, not inherently in contradiction with Muslim beliefs. However, Islam has it’s own unique practices and holy days.
Christmas is a Christian holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. The Qur’an venerates both Jesus and Virgin Mary by sharing their story of Jesus’ miraculous birth, his special gift of speaking from the cradle, and his ability to perform miracles with the help of God. Muslims believe that his mother Mary is one of the greatest women to ever live, and a chapter of the Qur’an is devoted to her. We believe Jesus was sent as a beloved Prophet of God to deliver the word to the people of his time. However, it is not the practice of Muslims to celebrate the birth of their Prophets.
So, what does it mean to not celebrate Christmas? Christmas is all around us, and it is not something you can ignore. There are several rituals and activities associated with the holiday, from the Christmas tree to the holiday charity drives. Do all these things fall in the realm of celebration?
As an African-American born to Muslim converts, most of my extended family members are Christian and celebrate Christmas. It was an ongoing question for my parents as we grew up on how to participate in Christmas traditions with their families, if at all. And, they also had to consider what and how they would teach their children about the celebration of Christmas as Muslims.
Growing up, my grandparents would send us Christmas gifts and my parents would save them for us to open on our religious holiday. Many times, my extended family would come together for the holiday season. My parents made the decision for us to attend some of those gatherings, as this was a good opportunity for us to see and spend time with all our relatives. Keeping ties and good relations with kin is an important concept in Islam and to my parents.
Like my parents, I know for many Muslims, determining what constitutes celebrating is often a topic of discussion. It typically comes down to individuals deciding for themselves how they define celebrating the holiday. That may look like different things for different people.
For example, I do not buy a Christmas tree or decorate my home. However, during the holidays there are often charity drives through different organizations. Because I would ordinarily give charity any time of year, I donate to these charities with the intention of giving back.
Often, when people hear I do not celebrate Christmas, they express their “condolences.” It may seem like many of us are missing out, but I don’t see it that way. Parties, giving gifts, and decorating are things that we do on other occasions.
Muslims have two major holiday celebrations a year called Eid, as well as the month of Ramadan, that come at different times of the year based on the lunar calendar. Our holidays are filled with spending time with loved ones, charity, worship and other festive activities. I use these opportunities to share my holiday with friends and co-workers of other faiths by giving gifts, bringing treats to work, and inviting others to have a dinner meal with me during Ramadan.