Picture from Michigan, courtesy of my friend MR
As soon as the month of December rolls in, Christmas sales, Christmas cheer, Christmas lights and decoration–everything Christmas-y starts to surround you. It is a festive-cheery-get together with family-be merry-be patient-be generous-be in the Christmas Spirit– time of the year–UNLESS you happen to be Muslim!
If you are Muslim, Christmas time poses more an existential dilemma than anything else. What this leads to is a crisis and it becomes a time of panic. An OH MY GOD-I committed Blasphemy-I am going to burn in hell-I fell out of the Folds of Islam because I wished my co-workers/neighbours/friends Merry Christmas-crisis of Faith- time of the year. Of course, this sort of thinking would suck the fun and cheer right out of anything festive, and Christmas is no exception. Usually, when Christmas month starts, I start to receive facebook tagged photos, text messages or emails outlining to me the million and one reasons for why Christmas is HARAM! No wonder so many of us look unhappy during the month of December.
Recently, I received one similar text message from multiple sources, outlining the pagan history of Christmas and making the following 5 claims; Santa’s choice of Red for his attire represents fire/hell; Santa Claus if rearranged spells Satan and Lucas (which is short of Lucifer); Merry Christmas actually means Merry Death of Christ (because Mass means sacrifice by death); the disagreement on the actual date of birth of Christ, which as per the Quran should be in April, or May or June; and instead of the birth of Jesus, 25th December happens to be the birth of 13 pagan Gods/Goddesses.Now, I have not done research on the facts claimed, but I am going to analyze the text on face value.
If it seems that red is the colour of fire/hell then perhaps none of us should own/wear/come near anything red. As far as rearranging the names of Santa Claus to get Satan and Lucas is concerned, well I can rearrange my name to spell Ham-een (Ham pluralized in Arabic) and since Ham is Haram in Islam, then that means–I am haram (wow, this got really depressing really fast). The one I can give some weight to is whether Merry Christmas really means Merry Death of Christ, it seems quite morbid to be celebrating the death of Jesus. In that case, perhaps we need to change the name of Christmas to something more appropriate like Christbirth, . So, this is then a question of semantics. Now onto the date of the actual birth of Jesus and the birth of other Pagan Gods coinciding on that date. I believe most Christians accept that 25th December does NOT represent the actual date of birth of Jesus. According to one theory this date was chosen as the Winter Solstice and an ancient Roman Pagan festival celebrations used to already take place around this time. It perhaps then seemed to be a date chosen out of convenience than historical authenticity. Quite frankly, I would be happier to have Christmas in April (coinciding with my birthday, giving me full rights to say I was born in the month of Jesus (beats sharing the month with Hitler). Who wouldn’t want an early Summer Christmas-the sun is out, the temperatures are well above zero, flowers are blooming-all in all it would be a much more convenient and happier time for Christmas Alas, we are stuck with December-cold-grey, below freezing-snowy-wet-weather is likely the forecast (in the northern hemisphere at least).
The point of my rant is not to undermine the decision of those who do not wish to celebrate Christmas. I respect individual’s and communities’ decision to not celebrate Christmas. If it is considered strictly a festival of the Christian faith, then all others do not have to celebrate just as the rest of the world doesn’t join in to celebrate Eid, Diwali, Hannukah, etc with the other faiths. My bone of contention is that such viral message undermine any good will that may arise out of the spirit of the season between communities, they create paranoia, suspicion and lead to bigger chasm between faiths. In a world that is fraught with so much war and hatred, there really is no need for more hateful messages. Plus, wishing someone a happy Christmas does not throw one out of the folds of Islam. One does not have to partake in the traditional festivities of Christmas if the desire is to preserve your faith and not emulate those of others.
I, for one am celebrating Christmas. I have not partook in putting up a Christmas tree, lighting up my home, dealing with the mad holiday rush or exchanging presents (although, I have done this in the past), nor does this mean that I believe Jesus to be the Son of God, (because I don’t, I accept him as a very revered Prophet of Islam). Nor does it mean I believe in the 13 Pagan Gods/Goddesses because that goes against my monotheistic belief system. But what it means is that I have taken the off day and decided to do spend some time with my family and friends, who were otherwise unavailable for a get together during other times in the year and London completely shuts down on Christmas day, thereby giving you no other option but to spend it with family. Christmas day aka December 25th if nothing else, presents me with a day off and I for one welcome any public holiday! It offers me a chance to spend some more time with my husband, whose work demands long working hours. In all fairness, I was equally overjoyed to know that he will be off on boxing day (December 26th) as well. In our modern busy lives, any time off provides an opportunity to unwind and spend it with our loved ones.
If Christmas provides that opportunity to reconnect with my loved ones, I will gladly take it. My husband was unable to take a day off on both the Eids this year, and our eid festivities ended shortly after offering the Eid prayers at the Masjid. I will gladly make up for those missed days with the day off on Christmas. No one said that one should leave the practices of their faith and just adopt other practices, however there is no harm in enjoying the atmosphere that is created. If Christmas guilt induces the spirit of generosity, happiness, good relations, politeness etc, how is that a bad thing? Doesn’t Ramadan tend to invoke similar good behaviour in us Muslims? If all it takes for people to be smiling on their commute home, be polite, be cordial, and be generous is Christmas then I would wish the entire year to be Christmas. If it takes one day out of the year for us to remember our loved ones, guilting us into spending time with our loved ones, wearing that ugly sweater knitted by our grandmothers-then why not? Any day out of the 365 days of the year which manages to awaken our sense of communal and familial relations is a good day in my dictionary and worth celebrating. I am of course not suggesting that we should only do these things once a year, but once a year sure offers a starting point.
So a very Happy Christmas to those who are celebrating and a happy day off to all those who are not celebrating. I wish everyone gets a chance to let loose, put their feet up, eat yummy food and share their love, generosity and laughter with their loved ones and their community at large.
Share with me how you are spending your Christmas/day off on my facebook page with pictures and anecdotes from around the globe. Join me on twitter @fieryfury1 and share your pictures #xmasaroundtheglobe.