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Why, as a Muslim, I’ll be celebrating Christmas

“Maybe we should boycott Starbucks?” This was Donald Trump’s response to Starbuck’s plain red cups for the festive season this year. Whilst in the past, the coffee chain’s cups have featured Christmas trees, snowflakes and other “symbols of the season”, this year they decided to remove these “to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories”. As expected, the move triggered widespread controversy, with some exclaiming that Starbucks had joined “The War on Christmas” despite the fact that Starbucks continues to sell Christmas blend coffees and gift cards displaying the words “Merry Christmas”, obviously not putting all its energy behind this supposed war.

The historical particulars of the exact date of Jesus’ birth are of less importance than the messages and lessons that we obtain from his life.

In a time where fear is becoming increasingly prevalent within our society, it is disappointing to see some journalists finding ways to link this War on Christmas to Muslims. Parents in Blaine High School, Minnesota, launched complaints after students were taught to sing a Muslim hymn as well as Christmas carols and Jewish songs for a Christmas concert, with some claiming that this amounted to indoctrination of their children or reporting it to be insensitive given recent terror attacks by Muslims, and others even claiming that “no child should be forced to sing a song about the Muslims and the religion of hatred”. The Metro decided to report on the news with the headline “PANIC! MADNESS! Parents furious as ‘Muslim hymn’ to be sung in Arabic at school Christmas concert”.

In other news, the UAE government has been accused of launching an “attack on Christmas” by declaring 24th December this year as a national holiday. The Prophet’s birthday is an annual holiday in the UAE, and this year the Islamic lunar date happens to fall on 24th December, so the claim that the UAE are “looking to put a crimp on Christmas by marking the day before a Muslim holiday” is somewhat laughable – anybody who has visited Dubai during the festive season will know that Christmas celebrations are just as prevalent in the Emirates as in many Christian countries. As evidenced, the anti-Muslim rhetoric is being fuelled by a few isolated incidents, which are being made to represent the whole religion. When Brunei, the small nation nestled in the island of Borneo, issued an edict banning Muslim residents from participating in Christmas, the press had a heyday.

Lebanese people gather around a Christmas tree decorated at Martyrs' Square near the Mohammed al-Amin mosque in downtown Beirut on December 23, 2012. AFP PHOTO/ANWAR AMRO
Lebanese people gather around a Christmas tree decorated at Martyrs’ Square near the Mohammed al-Amin mosque in downtown Beirut on December 23, 2012. AFP PHOTO/ANWAR AMRO

Much less publicised are the numerous reports of Muslims promoting and celebrating Christmas. When an Italian school cancelled a Christmas concert for fear of upsetting Muslims, it was Muslim parents who joined Christians in criticising the decision. Muslim lecturer Riaz Khan’s video went viral when he refuted ideas that Muslims were offended by the festive season. Be it Christmas markets in downtown Amman, the Muslim Santa Claus in Sweden, or Muslim Christmas lights in Canada, the truth is that most Muslims, far from having a problem with Christmas, embrace it with open arms. The same goes for most of the 50 or so Muslim-majority countries – you may be surprised to see the extent of Christmas celebrations in Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, and Egypt, four countries that between them constitute around a quarter of the world’s Muslim population!

Even if some Muslims don’t celebrate Christmas religiously (mind the pun), they will still most likely visit the German Markets, make use of the outdoor ice rinks, and take advantage of the Boxing Day sales.

It is true that with Islam being the diverse religion it is, there are some Muslims who may take objection to the celebration of Christmas, but many of these take equal objection to the celebration of the Birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), usually due to theological beliefs forbidding the celebration of birthdays in general, to the extent that attacks have been carried out during such celebrations in the past. It is also true that 25th December in itself may not mark the actual birth of Jesus and may have pagan origins, that the celebration of Christmas wasn’t legalised in all states in the USA until 1907, and that the celebration of Christmas as we know it is a much more recent phenomenon dating back to the Victorian era.

But from an Islamic perspective, honouring Jesus (pbuh), a revered Prophet mentioned 25 times in the Qur’an, and remembering the nativity of Jesus, an account mentioned in depth in the Chapter of Mary in the Qur’an, is enough of a reason for me to celebrate Christmas. The historical particulars of the exact date of Jesus’ birth are of less importance than the messages and lessons that we obtain from his life.

In fact, even if I did not believe in Jesus or God, there is still so much goodness in the celebration of Christmas. The festival has become associated with generosity, sharing and love, which are only positive traits. Volunteering is a hallmark of Christmas, and for many, Christmas is the only opportunity in the year to gather with family, as this emotional German advertisement demonstrated. The occasion also has a legacy of peace, as shown by the Christmas Truce, where British and German soldiers temporarily stopped fighting, exchanged gifts and sung carols together on Christmas Day in 1914. As Janice Maeditere said, “Christmas is not as much about opening our presents as opening our hearts.”

Like any festivity, the celebration may have drawbacks – the commercialisation, the wastage, the calorie-inducing meals – but the same can be said about any celebratory occasion, and is certainly no indication to launch a War on Christmas. All my close Muslim friends and family grew up looking forward to Christmas – our childhoods were spent driving up to London to see the West End Christmas lights, giving and receiving cards to our friends, and sharing the jokes found in our crackers. Most of the Muslims I know have family round on Christmas, eat turkey and Brussels sprouts, and gather round to watch Christmas films when the evening sets.

Even if some Muslims don’t celebrate Christmas religiously (mind the pun), they will still most likely visit the German Markets, make use of the outdoor ice rinks, and take advantage of the Boxing Day sales. And will probably still get the post-Christmas blues once it’s all over. It is a time of happiness, warmth and unity. As Calvin Coolidge put it, “Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”

So Merry Christmas to you all, and a Happy New Year.

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