I guess it’s not really a secret anymore since I am telling all of you. But for many Muslims, celebrating Christmas is something to hide.
I recently participated in an interesting Facebook conversation about Christmas. My friend Mansoor asked the group,
“In the name of God. Christmas time is coming, and I’m curious to know how our members will be spending Christmas. What will you be doing (or not doing) and how does it go? I want to wish a Merry Christmas in advance to those who are celebrating it with their families…”
Seconds later, people replied with how much they love Christmas, the joy, the time with families, the decorations, and of course: the food. Others discussed the traditions in their families.
Every convert in the group said they hated “giving it up”. Nearly every post had the caveat that, “I only celebrate with my Christian family and friends” or “I probably won’t raise my children with Christmas.”
Perhaps they give excuses because of two factors: Muslims celebrating Christmas seems to confuse Christians and anger more conservative Muslims.
For example, Wal-Mart experienced a backlash from Christian shoppers for selling a supposedly Muslim-themed star for Christmas trees, which featured a crescent moon. And Saudi Arabia has banned Muslims from celebrating Christmas at parties and from selling Christmas themed items.
The situation saddens me.
I not only grew up as a Christian, celebrating Christmas, but I also had Muslim relatives that celebrated the holiday as well. When I was young, my aunt told me Muslims believe in the virgin birth of the Prophet Jesus (Issa), and even though no one knows the exact day of his birth, taking time to celebrate such an important prophet is a good thing.
I did not think much of it until I was in high school.
My father had a holiday party at work. A Muslim man in my dad’s department told the group how proud he was that his 5-year-old son explained to his entire kindergarten class how Santa Claus isn’t real. Talking about how wrong it is to believe in things like the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, and other imaginary folklore characters.
The man was proudly smiling, telling the tale. All the parents in the room, however, did not seem to share his sentiment, including all the other Muslims in the room.
Afterwards, I asked my father about why it was not funny to people.
He said, “It hurts other people’s fantasies, traditions, and part of a child’s innocence. The little boy probably didn’t know what he was saying. He repeated something he had heard at home. His father showed no respect for the way that other parents where choosing to raise their children. The man did not think that this fairy tale was so important to a child, probably because he didn’t grow-up with Santa Claus himself. Imagine how hurt you would have been if you knew he was not real when you were only five-years-old? That sense of magic, that feeling of hope in the fantastical, would be gone.”
When I was in college, my Lebanese Professor told us how much he loved Christmas! He grew up celebrating every Christian holiday with his Christian friends and they celebrated every Muslim holiday with him.
He explained how it was joyous to share the fantasies of the pagan folklore, along with the sacred religious events and celebrations of Islam.
I realized that is how I viewed the holiday season too.
When I started seriously looking into converting to Islam, my priest and I discussed this idea of blending traditions. At the time, I said this was simply to help my parents understand my views on faith. Now I know it is really important to me. I learned never to hurt the traditions of my past nor disparage any religion I’m apart off.
As a child, I believed in Santa Claus in the literal sense. Now, as an adult, I continue to believe…only now he is a feeling that lives in our hearts. I love the idea of celebrating the birth of a prophet! Enjoying the traditions of my Catholic upbringing. I look forward to decorating the house for the holidays, baking, and having gatherings with friends.
I hope to have a large family that I can share all these traditions with, even as I raise them to be Muslim.
Yesterday, I went back to that Facebook conversation. More than 130 people joined in, a mix of converts and born-Muslims, mostly to say why they celebrate Christmas and just don’t tell their Muslim friends.
My favorite comment:
“You have NO IDEA how refreshing it is to be able to openly talk about how much I love Christmas. Especially to a group of Muslims who don’t tell me I’m going to Hell or I’m doing Shirk. I love you all for real”
No matter how or why you celebrate it (and even if you don’t), let me quote you some Charles Dickens: “Merry Christmas and God bless us, everyone!”