Oh no Christmas! The Muslim Existential Crisis

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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.

THE MUSLIM STORY OF CHRISTMAS

Telling My Kids We Don’t Celebrate Christmas

My home used to be a Christmas-free zone. No longer

Some Muslim leaders still criticize Christmas celebrations as assimilation gone too far

 

Is that Santa at the door? No, its the Shia community of Multan

 

 

It is that time again!

It is that time again when I like to put my weight behind something or someone I believe is worthy of putting my weight behind!

From the early days of arriving in London, UK, I have been involved with an amazing organization. Pearl Education Foundation is an organization that provides FREE English, and IT classes to men and women of all backgrounds. Their motto is “From the margins to the mainstream”. What does being from the margins mean?

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There are many things I can be, but a major aspect of my life is that I am defined as an immigrant. No matter how much I try to escape that word, I am forever etched as an Immigrant-albeit a Modern Day immigrant. The modern  immigrant doesn’t necessarily look like the earlier generation of immigrants. I speak English, I am fluent in modern-day slang, well-aware of popular culture, I dress “Western” with slight ethnic adjustments, and have only a slight accent to clue anyone into my ethnic background. I have spent more years of my life in Vancouver, Canada, than I have in my birth country.  I went through the earlier stages of settling into my new life about 16/17 years ago when I first moved to Vancouver. At that time, unlike many others, I was very lucky to already be fluent in English, and did not have any need for ESL or TESOL classes. Of course the transition was not easy, but it wasn’t impossible.

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Since then, I have lived in New York City, and adjusted to the fast-paced life there. Recently, I moved to London, UK. At times I felt alien, often lost in translation-because believe it or not British Slang is a lot different than American or Canadian slang. I like to think I have adjusted well. I have often thought what if I was a woman in a foreign land, unable to speak English and had no family or social ties to my new land? It is a scary thought. Starting my life anew in New York City, despite the many advantages of an education, fluency in the language, complete capability of using the computer/internet and the courage and freedom to move around and find my own way through New York, I remember being scared. I depended  on my husband to help me plan out my routes. I would wait for him to approve of the destination as being “safe” in order for me to go and wander on my own. For an independent girl, this was a huge blow!

When I moved to London and started volunteering with Pearl Education Foundation, I met many women who came and attended our English classes. I saw how some of them had zero ability to speak English. Some of them had lived here for over 40 years and only now after their kids had grown up had the courage to learn English for themselves. I met women who were victims of domestic abuse, and Pearl Education Foundation was their first step to independence. I met older women who came to learn English after having put up a fight to attend the classes-just so they could connect with their grandchildren. I met men from countries like Afghanistan, who sat in the same room with women and came to learn the language. I saw young mothers with their new born children soaking up knowledge like a sponge. In one of the centers, I saw young students from European countries, with dreams of making it big in London, attending their English classes. What lures all these people to these classes is that they are ABSOLUTELY FREE! They are for anyone and EVERYONE to join. There are no tests, no limitations on who can join. People can bring their children. All they have in common is a desire to learn and become a part of the greater British community. They all want to be productive parts of a productive society.

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More dedicated than the people who attend the classes, are the volunteers. All of them committed to teaching their students. There is no monetary benefit to them from teaching these classes, They prepare and plan despite limited resources and teach their students. They are like a Fountain of water, pouring all their knowledge into the thirsty vessels -their students. Words are not enough to describe the emotions, and/or the power of seeing this organization in motion. Every time, I have attended a class, I have become teary-eyed. Every student is inspirational. Every time, I feel gratitude for not being lost in translation, for being able to get on the tube read the signs, ask the questions and get to my destination. I couldn’t imagine a life of being alone in a foreign land, unable to speak, share, or ask for directions or even go to buy milk at the grocers. I would be utterly depressed.

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Pearl Education Foundation has given hope to so many lives. It has brought the gift of language to these otherwise invisible people and made them visible! That is what it means to be From the margins to the mainstream. You don’t have to take my word for it. Her Majesty the Queen recognized the work Pearl and her CEO has been involved in and the difference it has made to hundreds of lives.  In 2012, Durdana Ansari, the CEO for Pearl Education Foundation was awarded the Order of the British Empire for her hard-work. Pearl needs Your support to continue its work and to keep its doors open to everyone. I urge you all to take the time to check this organization out at http://www.pearleducationfoundation.com or on twitter @pearleducation or on facebook and get to know the volunteers, the CEO, and the organization. Please look deep into your hearts and donate generously to this wonderful organization.