Friday, November 25, 2005

How Should Muslims Deal With Christmas?

Having recently blogged about the lack of Christian Christmas songs on two local Milwaukee radio stations, we think it worthwhile to discuss the issue of religious minorities (Jews, Muslims, atheists) and Christmas.

Much of the push for sanitizing all religious content out of the holiday is done in the name of “diversity.” We want, the argument goes, to be “inclusive” and not “marginalize” or make uncomfortable any non-Christian group.

Wanting to be “inclusive” is a a noble idea, but stifling the majority religious culture and traditions that have had a massively important part of forming Western culture is a high price to pay for “inclusiveness.” Indeed, it involves being intolerant of the majority culture so that minorities don’t have to feel like minorities.

How does this play out in practice, and especially how does it play out for Moslems, a group that (at least from a superficial persual of the news) seems to be sharply at odds both with the secularized culture of Europe and the Christian culture of the United States?

An interesting perspective on this can be found in an online discussion lead by Dr. Jamal Badawi, Famous Da’iyah and Member of the European Council for Fatwa and Research. The subject is “Our Kids & Non-Islamic Feasts.”

Badawi here functions as cross between Dear Abby and Dr. James Dobson, giving practical advice about child rearing and interpersonal matters from an Islamic perspective.

The dialogue shows a quite tolerant outlook. Nowhere is there the suggestion that Muslims should try to shut up or stifle any Christian religious expression. A cynic might say that Muslims would be willing to do exactly that if they had the political power, in Europe or the United States, to do so. This may well be true, although we can’t ignore the fact that, not that long ago, both Catholics and Protestants were willing to shut up and stifle religious expressions that they disagreed with.

But as it stands, these Muslims are quite a lot more tolerant than secular interest groups like People for the American Way or the ACLU. And indeed more tolerant than Jewish groups like the Anti-Defamation League.

Consider for example, the following question and answer:
As-Salam `Alaykum, I am new Muslim and I am living with my Christian family in a non-Muslim society. My family is celebrating Christmas and I want to ask if it is wrong for me to attend their celebration.


Participating in the non-religious aspect of Christmas such as family reunion dinner or visitation is Ok. Attempts should be made to avoid situations where alcoholic drinks are served on the same table. Kindness to parents and family without compromising one’s beliefs is an Islamic duty.

During socialization and whenever appropriate, one may share his or her thought with them preferably in answer to their questions or comments without being too argumentative.
One questioner seemed to have a problem with “Merry Christmas:”
Is saying merry Christmas similar to saying: “I wish you longer commitment to your pagan belief.”


I would rather use the term “happy holiday.”

[However] Social courtesies do not imply acceptance of the Person’s belief. Furthermore, it is unfair to call Christian belief “pagan”. The Qur’an never referred to Christians or Jews as pagans (mushrikeen). It distinctively called them “People of the Book” in spite of what we consider to be elements of Shirk. Yet, nowhere in the Qur’an were they given the title “mushrikeen” (see the Qur’an: 98:1).
If Muslims’ children are obligated to opt out of Christmas activities, isn’t this depriving them of something important? Badawi deals with this as follows:
. . . we should have a substitute interesting activities organized by the Muslim community, so that they do not feel deprived of legitimate entertainment.

Examples of these activities are: Qur’an competitions with awards followed by a pizza party, showing interesting Islamic video, or organizing a trip or camp.
Badawi does take a bit of a “hard line” about some things:
My 10 year old son was a narrator in the christmas play at school. He had to attend the church, take part in their prayers and narrate for the play. I advised my son about the differences in the our 2 religions. Is it prohibited for muslim children to take part in these nativity plays? Should I have spoken to his teachers and got him out of taking part?


You should have spoken to the teacher that you wished to preserve your child’s religious identity, as this play may not entirely fit with his belief. The teacher should be told that we believe in love and respect of Jesus as a great Prophet of God, but necessarily share the belief in his divinity.
Christian parents, or at least Christian parents who take their faith seriously, can only empathize with Moslem parents in situations like this. The former may find themselves in situations where their children are subjected to sex education classes which condone sexual promiscuity, and “diversity” programs that portray religious objections to homosexuality as bigoted.

The secular liberals want increasing religious pluralism in American society to be an excuse to sanitize religious expression out of public life. A more appropriate response is to have more, and more pluralistic, expression. Back to Dr. Badawi’s online dialogue:
My kids really have some inferiority feelings due to the fact that their school – they go to a public school – celebrates all kinds of occasions that have not to do with islam they celebrate even the Chinese new year and educate kids about festivities here and there with no mention to Muslim celebrities. How can I regain my kids pride of their Islamic identity.


Learning about other cultures without participating in purely religious or other forbidden activities is Ok. But you should also speak to the authorities in the school that Muslim children should also share their culture, which may be an indirect da’wah.
Of course, no tolerant policy can prevent religious minorities from feeling like minorities. Only rigorous suppression of majority religious expression can do that.

But being in a religious minority – whether it be Muslim or Amish or a Christianity that objects to teaching evolution – may not be a real spiritual disadvantage. It may be more conducive to a vital faith than bland acceptance of what “everybody believes.”

Our view is that American Christians should, in spite of theological disagreements, view these devout and moderate Muslims as allies in the Culture Wars.


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