Iffat Mirza, London
In the western world, Christmas is simply one of those things that just cannot be escaped. When you step out into the cold air from October onward, the smell of fir trees greets you, tinsel sparkles and the shops are constantly advertising the best presents that your grandchildren will eternally love you for. Schools begin performing their nativities, Christmas cards are made and Christmas parties celebrated. Not to mention the long awaited visit from Santa Claus. How does a Muslim navigate this? How do we explain to our little ones that Santa will not be visiting them and sit them down to separate the myth from the reality? The truth is, this is something that all parents should be doing.
Yes, Christmas is a momentous occasion in the western world but that is when the Islamic views and principles must be remembered. Quite frankly, the root of the celebration of Christmas is almost null and void; it has become nothing more than one big commercialised narrative, built on the idea that Jesus was born on December 25th. Here’s the thing; that’s not true. Both Islamic and Christian scripture suggest that Jesus was born in the summer time; after all, aren’t lambs featured in the nativity story? It is fundamentally true that lambs are born in the spring and summer time.
It has been noted by Christian Scholars themselves that “It was a custom of the Pagans to celebrate on the same 25th December the birthday of the Sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and revelries, the Christians also took part. Accordingly, when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnised on that day.”
In short, the true reason for Christmas to be celebrated in December was to convince the Christians that the Pagans’ own traditions weren’t being celebrated, rather it was the birth of Jesus (on whom be peace).
The celebration of a birthday particularly that of a Prophet of God, has never been prescribed in any Abrahamic religion. The decision to celebrate the birth of Jesus came from the Roman and Greek traditions to celebrate the birthdays of their gods. As the Roman Empire fell and Christianity quickly covered Europe, the tradition of celebrating the gods’ birthdays was replaced by celebrating Jesus’ birthday.
As a religious event, it must be respected as we would expect any other religion to respect Eid and the traditions that follow our religious celebrations. However, the issue arises that it is quite true Christmas has lost its religious significance. Muslims accept Jesus as a true Prophet of Allah, as exemplified by this verse of the Qur’an “…Verily, the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was only a Messenger of Allah…” Qur’an 4:172, yet we cannot allow this to be a reason for us to be involved in traditions of dubious origins. Atheists, Hindus, and even Muslims are all celebrating Christmas; why would those who don’t even believe in the existence of Jesus, celebrate his birth?
In the western World it is seen as a necessary event that is integral to the growth of families and the bonding of relationships. It is a time where friends and family gather, exchange presents and over a big feast celebrate absolutely nothing. Where it is a celebration of the birth of Jesus (on whom be peace), whilst debateable for Muslims, it is understandable and must be respected on the precept that we want our celebrations to be respected also.
Unfortunately, the popularity and cultural significance of Christmas has brought about the side effect of selfishness, not only in the very idea of a child writing a list of gifts that they want from an imaginary man, but also within governmental powers. It pains me to say that even in Muslim countries, commercial celebrations are given preference over practicing the true teachings of Islam. His Holiness Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V mentioned in his Friday Sermon of 1st January 2016 that despite the burning of a 63-storey building in Dubai the planned firework display would go ahead.
“Most Muslim countries are in a bad way these days but it is the way the wealthy show their materialism. Even if there had been no fire, it was the need of the time for wealthy Muslim countries to state that rather than spend on wasteful matters they would help the affected Muslims. But such is the state of affairs that a few days ago it was in the news that the most exclusive hotel in Dubai had the most expensive Christmas tree in the world at a cost of $11 million. These are now the preferences of wealthy Muslims.”’
There is nothing religious about the desire to spend $11 million on a Christmas tree, rather it is merely for show, and it greatly pains our beloved Khalifah that there are Muslims in the world that would dedicate more time and money in ensuring that their materialistic pleasures are fulfilled and shown off, rather than participate in the good and charitable deeds that our beloved Prophet (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) taught us.
However, when it is merely a celebration for the sake of celebration. A mere business tactic to boost profits, it loses not only its religious meaning it turns our society into a consumerist and materially hungry community; one where children are actively encouraged to write lists of everything they want to a man who lives thousands of miles away. Christmas, in its true essence is sadly dying and it has become like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, a ploy to increase sales.
 (cited in Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries, Ramsay MacMullen. Yale:1997, p. 155)