I have been going back and forth on whether or I not I wanted to write on this subject because based on social media posts these last few weeks, it is a contentious subject. I am not giving any fatwas here but asking you to think clearly for yourself.
Living in a non-Muslim society, the holiday season is all around us. Stores hold Christmas sales, ABC Family runs their 25 days till Christmas special and every TV show has a Christmas episode before going on their Winter hiatus. Does being surrounded by Christmas mean you have to celebrate it though? Personally, I do not think that Muslims should celebrate the Christmas holiday or observe it in any way. I am not referring to simply wishing your neighbour Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays but going to the extent of putting up lights, decorating your household, having a tree and exchanging gifts.
When you observe Christmas, examine what it is you are celebrating. You are either celebrating the birth of Isa(AS) whom Christians believe is the Son of God or you are celebrating the pagan tradition of the Winter Solstice(which is actually what Christmas is derived from). Yes there are some people who argue that Isa (AS) is a prophet in Islam as well so there is nothing wrong with celebrating his birthday. While this claim might sound accurate you must remember that first, Isa(AS) was not born in December and that Christmas is not observed because he is recognized as a prophet or else Christians would observe the birth of other prophets. The birth of Isa(AS) is observed because of the beliefe that he is the Son of God, a belief that does not align with Islam and is seen as an example of shirk. Therefore when you are celebrating Christmas, regardless of how secular you consider it to be, you are commemorating the observance of shirk. Besides, surely if it was ok to celebrate the birth of Isa(AS), prophet Muhammad(SAW) would have endorsed the practice and made it a part of his Sunnah. Also, if Muslims are not supposed to celebrate the birth of any other prophets, including Muhammad(SAW), why would the commemoration of Isa(AS) be permissible.
Growing up in the US, my immigrant family did celebrate the Christmas holiday. As a child, I really did not understand why and one day decided to ask. I was told it was because it was an American thing and my parents did not want us to feel left out from all of the other kids in school. This is an argument that I have heard from mainly immigrant Muslims as to why they choose to observe Christmas with their families, for them it is seen as a method of assimilation. While the idea of not wanting your child to feel left out can be commendable, why is it that this is the one aspect of American culture that is chosen to be observed. My parents did not have us celebrate Halloween, Valentine’s Day, or Easter yet those are also ‘American’. Instead of observing Christmas so that your child does not feel ‘left out’, why not just teach them about why Muslims don’t observe the holiday. I am sure that teaching your kids the reasoning behind not engaging in haram will be better for them than engaging in it simply for social purposes.
There’s also the claim that Christmas is simply a family holiday and this is evident by the fact that Atheist, Agnostics and non-Christians celebrate it. I do have numerous non-Muslim friends and I am aware that for some of them, the birth of Isa(AS) is the last thing on their mind when Christmas arrives. Most of them do see it as a time to spend with family and receive gifts. Regardless of how secular Christmas might have become, the essence of it remains the same. Although, the holiday might have a more secular meaning now, the truth is that the origins are still there, regardless of how you would like to spin it, you are still commemorating the observance of Shirk. Also, Christmas should not be the only time that family gets together. Allah(SWT) has repeatedly told us how important kinship and family is. We should always strive to make sure we are visiting our loved ones. If that is accomplished, there is no reason to set aside Christmas as the “family holiday”. Alongside this, by choosing to set aside Christmas as a day to gather with family and exchange gifts, you are attaching a special meaning to that day. You and your family did not just choose a random day that happens to work for all of you, you chose December 25 because of all of the previously established attachments to this day.
For those who reverted to Islam, I can understand the attachments that they have to Christmas and other Christian holidays and I do not think that Allah(SWT) expects them to simply remove those emotions and withdraw themselves immediately upon reversion. As someone who might possibly be marrying a convert to Islam, figuring out how to navigate this attachment is something that I have been considering during this holiday season and I recognize that for some people, it might be hard to wholly give up the practice(Be sure to view Sister Halimah’s post on XMAS from a revert perspective). For those who were raised Muslim, I simply do not understand why the observance of such holidays are perceived ok. This is because you willingly chose to bring this observance into your life. Therefore while I definitely have compassion and make dua for my revert brothers and sisters who struggle with knowing what to do during the holidays seasons, that does not extend to those who were raised in the Muslim faith. For those who read this and think “well there is still no harm in celebrating Christmas”, think, what is the harm in NOT celebrating it? There is none, hence you should be fine abstaining from its observation.
I am not one for confrontation, and I do not expect people to agree with my opinions so unless you ask me or actively engage with me in conversation about a certain topic, I rarely share my opinion. I do not go around preaching my beliefs and opinions to family or friends. I prefer to let people do as they please unless it starts to affect me excessively. This is not from a lack of caring but simply due to hating being labeled as the “haraam police” or being accused as trying to be “too righteous”. As I stated above, my family does observe the Christmas holidays by exchanging presents, getting together, sending greetings, etc. For the last four years, I have refrained from participating. Alhamdulilah, I have always had other engagements on Christmas day(thanks to the abundance of Islamic conventions during this time period) so I have had excuses for not being present. Two years ago, I brought up the idea of exchanging presents during Eid instead of Christmas if that was so important, the idea was quickly shot down. Last year was probably the first year in which I did not buy anyone presents and simply feigned as if I’d forgotten but I did receive them. This year, when the subject of presents came up, I quickly mentioned that “I do not want a present for the observance of Shirk” and immediately changed the topic.
I am not saying that Muslims should bash Christmas or any other holiday for that would be rude, disrespectful and unbecoming of a Believer. What I am saying is that Muslims should not engage in the festivities. I do not get upset or annoyed when a non-Muslim wishes me Merry Christmas or asks what I will be doing on that day, simply because many do not realize that as Muslims, we shouldn't celebrate it. However, when Muslims do the same, I do not like it. Today alone, I have received more Christmas greetings from Muslims than Eid which is something that I find troubling. It is not hard to not celebrate Christmas. As Muslims who live in a non-Muslim society, we are constantly surrounded by things that we shouldn't engage in and for the most part, we refrain from doing so. Why can’t this same refrainment be extended to Christmas.
When you're considering celebrating Christmas or any other holiday remember that Prophet Muhammad(SAW) said, "my ummah has only two festivals(holidays) and they are the two Eids".
While there are many Muslims who live in Muslim countries, a large portion of the ummah live in environments that do not align with Islamic principles. The "Navigating Non-Muslim Society" section of SFC is geared towards discussing the challenges that occur in these situations.