Because I do love Christmas time. Not in the Jesus being born to save all humanity kind of way but more the snuggling up with a hot chocolate whilst it’s snowing, or the fact that everything looks pretty and magical covered in fairy lights. Does this make me less Muslim? Was I confusing my daughter?
Mummy can I be a Christian for Christmas?
Tis the season to be jolly! Christmas is everywhere. From the moment Halloween ended, Santas, tinsel, and festive decorations have adorned and filled every shopping mall and high street. The season of Nativity plays, Christmas parties, Santa visits and yuletide celebrations is in full swing but for Muslim families, what is the appropriate attitude during this holiday?
It is a very delicate balancing act that we struggle to strike between wanting our children to be accepted in British society whilst not compromising our faith and identity. The season of goodwill to all men can be a difficult time for Muslim parents who choose to not partake in the festivities. When ‘because we’re Muslim’ does not cut the mustard as a satisfactory response to your child inquiring why Santa won’t be making any deliveries to your house, we need to look closer at how we can navigate a more successful conversation with our children about Christmas.
I thought I’d share a little gem of a memory that caught me off guard and rendered me momentarily speechless. A few years ago, my eldest daughter, then aged around 3, asked me why we don’t have Christmas decorations up or a mountain of presents under the missing tree. I explained that we don’t celebrate Christmas as we are Muslim – we love the Prophet Issa (as), we just don’t believe he is the son of God. I went on to explain that Christmas is for Christians and we are blessed that we have not one but two Eids to celebrate. She was casually colouring in when she stopped and asked “Mummy can I be Christian just for Christmas please?”
Subhanallah I’ll never forget what seemed like the longest 2 seconds it took me to collect my thoughts and respond with a gentle but swift “No I’m afraid not my love but why do you want to?” She did not pause and immediately launched into an enthusiastic tirade about how many presents she’d get for being so good all year round, how she would stay awake all night to make sure that Rudolph and Santa got the treats she would have left them, how the sparkly lights and decorations would make our home look so pretty and how much fun she’d have wearing a Christmas hat and jumper singing Jingle Bells…just like all her friends do! “Please mummy can I be a Christian for Christmas, please????!!!”
On one hand, I could see that this was purely driven by the desire for presents and an occasion for excitement but on the other, I saw this as another one of my mum fails for not instilling confidence and her love for being Muslim. I grew up in the same town, went to the same Church school, and lived pretty much in the same street as my children do now. I remember playing Mary in my junior school nativity play but purposefully not singing or saying any words that mentioned Jesus being the son of God because I knew it was not what Muslims believe.
Although I was brought up Muslim, I didn’t choose Islam for myself, by myself until a lot later. I felt as if I had let my daughter down by not offering a better Muslim mum role model. Had my PTA involvement in school plays, parties, and nativities given my children the wrong impression? My intention was to promote and show how positive and integrated this hijabi is, and that Muslims aren’t Grinches but are fun and cool and tolerant, to counter any issue of Islamophobia. Had my secret love of Christmas been rumbled? Because I do love Christmas time. Not in the Jesus being born to save all humanity kind of way but more the snuggling up with a hot chocolate whilst it’s snowing, or the fact that everything looks pretty and magical covered in fairy lights, or the way that perfect strangers who usually try to avoid eye contact, now offer ‘salams’ in the cheery and heartfelt salutations of Merry Christmas. Does this make me less Muslim? Was I confusing my daughter?
When I think about the reasons why I don’t ‘do’ Christmas I realise that I kind of actually do. If you look at the way this time is celebrated minus the ‘small’ issue of Jesus, it is a time when families and friends come together to overeat gluttonous amounts of food, that have taken hours to prepare, minutes to devour and then a plump man with a long beard and an ill-fitting suit falls asleep on the sofa…that’s just a normal Saturday night ’round uncle Ahmed’s really!
Whether one chooses to celebrate or not, partake or not partake in this festival is a personal matter but for me, the more pertinent point was how to explain to my children in the best way possible the reasons behind the choice we made to not mark Christmas in any way, shape or form.
So here is my 5-step Muslim parents’ guide to surviving the Christmas holidays:
1) Teach your children what Christmas is really about. It is the celebration of the birth and life of Jesus Christ and although attempts can be made to wash over the religious aspects of this day, a religious event it remains and absolutely is. You can’t take Christ out of Christmas. Christmas Day is all about Jesus Day. If Muslims were to celebrate anyone’s birthday with such festivity it would be for the Prophet Mohammad (saw), but despite our love and respect for him, we don’t celebrate it in the same manner.
2) Take the opportunity to teach your children the stories in the Quran about Prophet Issa (as) and how his mother Maryam has a whole chapter dedicated to her. His purpose as a Prophet to guide the people of his time with the revelation in the form of the Injil (Gospel) just like Mohammad (saw) with the Quran. The miracles he performed by the grace of Allah (swt) such as his virgin birth, speaking from the cradle, healing the sick and reviving the dead. How his compassion, kindness, humility and rejection of worldly possessions provide an amazing role model and example for all.
3) Teach your children the distinction between how Muslims and Christians view Jesus. Christians believe that the virgin birth naturally makes Jesus the son of God but as Muslims, we believe that Allah neither begets nor is begotten. Teach the Islamic account of Issa’s (as) birth which involves a lot less people than the nativity cast and of how his Mother Maryam was cared and provided for during her pregnancy and under what circumstances he was really born.
4) Teach your children the importance of respect for other faiths. Use the time off together to learn about other festivals and ways in which they are celebrated all over the world. Help them to see that not celebrating this holiday isn’t the be all and end all and that it’s just horses for courses. Encourage the beautiful Islamic teachings of tolerance and respect for all and no compulsion in Islam.
5) Make a BIG deal out of Eid. Go all out. Make the lead up enticing and exciting. Teach your children the direct command from Allah to celebrate and commemorate the two Eids. Anas ibn Malik (RA) narrated: “The Prophet (SAW) came to Madinah during two days in which the people played. The Prophet (SAW) asked: What are these two days? They said: These are two days we used to play in, during the time of ignorance. The Prophet (SAW) said: Allah has replaced them with two better days: Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr.” Make Eid celebrations a family affair. Get your children to make Eid wish lists. Help them make gifts or gift kind deeds. Reward their good behaviour and help them share the joy and love with non-Muslim friends and neighbours. Instil a love and celebration of Eid that will rival Christmas for your children.
My daughter was born on the fitra, witnessing and having pure faith in Allah (swt) already. My job was never to ‘make’ her Muslim. My duty as her mother is to guide her and help her return to her natural, God-conscious self In Sha Allah. If remembrance and love for Jesus is the true meaning of this holiday then for Muslims every day is Christmas day by our own declaration of faith in the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him (saw), and ALL prophets before him, Issa (as) included…let me just get my hot chocolate!
Peace, Love and Blessings!