By Murtadha Gusau
…Muslims are permitted to offer kind words and good wishes to non-Muslims during their festivals with the only restriction being that we should not endorse specific acts in their religion that contradict Islam. We are called to be witnesses to the truth of our religion, while at the same time being kind, compassionate, and having good relations with all other people.
In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
The issue of whether or not to congratulate non-Muslims during their festivals frequently becomes a topic of controversy when the season arrives. Muslims have to balance the duty to bear witness to our faith, while at the same time cultivating good relations with our non-Muslim neighbours. These two concerns sometimes exist in tension and, as in all things, we ought to take a balanced and moderate approach to the issue.
Scholars are agreed that it is prohibited for Muslims to congratulate non-Muslims only regarding their religious rituals that express what Islam considers to be acts of unbelief.
Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim said:
“As for offering congratulations for rituals of unbelief specific to another religion, then it is forbidden by agreement, such as congratulating them for their holidays and their fasting… But if a man is tried by that and he anticipates the need to repel some evil from them, then let him walk to them and say nothing but good and supplicate for them to receive guidance and direction. There is no harm in that.” (See Ahkam Ahl al-Dhimmah 1/441)
The prohibition applies to lending support for specific religious doctrines and rituals that contradict Islamic teachings, but Ibn Al-Qayyim makes an exception for Muslims to say good and kind words to non-Muslims, even to pray for their guidance and well-being.
In fact, there are three classical opinions, all of them attributed to Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal, on the matter of congratulating non-Muslims on their holidays, visiting them, and offering condolences.
Imam Ibn Muflih said:
“It is narrated from Ahmad that it is forbidden to visit non-Muslims, congratulate them, or offer condolences for them in the same way it is an obligation to boycott a heretic, and it is narrated that he generally permitted these actions and also that he permitted these on the condition that there is a likely benefit in it, such as the hope they will embrace Islam. This last opinion is preferred by our Sheikh Ibn Taymiyyah as well as Al-Ajurri and it is the opinion of the scholars that they should be visited to be presented with Islam.” (See al-Furu’ of Ibn Mufliḥ 6/270)
Some scholars prohibited congratulating non-Muslims on their holidays, while others allowed it with or without conditions. The clear benefit of maintaining positive relationships with non-Muslims in an increasingly globalised world can no longer be ignored. For this reason, many modern scholars encourage Muslims to offer kind words to their non-Muslim neighbours during the holiday seasons, as long as we do not endorse their religious doctrines and rituals.
The basis for this opinion, among others, is that Islam encourages benevolence towards any non-Muslim that has not declared war on Islam.
Allah the Most High said:
“Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes, He does not forbid you from being benevolent towards them and acting justly towards them. Verily, Allah loves those who act justly.” (Surah Al-Mumtahina, 60:8)
Ibn Al-Jawzi comments on this verse, saying:
“This verse is a dispensation to maintain relations with those who have not declared war against the Muslims and permits benevolence towards them even if they are in a separate country from them.” (See Zad al-Masir fi ilm at-Tafsir, 8/237)
Muslims are generally commanded to speak good and kind words to people.
Allah the Almighty said:
“And speak to people good words.” (Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:83)
Many Muslims today live in pluralistic and multicultural societies in which non-Muslims express their good wishes towards Muslims during the two Eid celebrations. The rule, in this case, is to reciprocate this kindness by sending good wishes to them during their celebrations.
“When you are greeted with a greeting, greet in return with one better than it or return it in a like manner.” (Surah An-Nisa’, 4:86)
And Allah said:
“Is the reward for good anything but good?” (Surah Ar-Rahman, 55:60)
The scholars also draw a legal analogy (qiyas) between the issue of congratulating non-Muslims and other occasions in which Muslims are clearly permitted to be kind to non-Muslims. For example, Muslims are allowed to share food with the people of scriptural religions (Ahlul Kitab) (5:5).
Moreover, the Prophet commanded Muslims to respect the funerals of all people including non-Muslims.
Amir ibn Rabi’a reported that: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“When you see a funeral procession, then stand up for it until it passes or the deceased is placed in the grave.” (Sahih Bukhari)
Qais ibn Sa’ad reported that: A funeral passed by the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, and he stood up. It was said to him, “It is a Jew.” The Prophet said:
“Was he not a soul?” (Sahih Bukhari)
While Muslims are prohibited from praying for non-Muslims to be forgiven, as this matter is for Allah alone, any other good words of condolences and respect for the deceased’s family are encouraged.
Muslims are allowed to accept the gifts of non-Muslims during their festivals, even if they are idolaters celebrating an idolatrous holiday and particularly if this will establish diplomatic and peaceful relations. The only exception to this rule is that Muslims should not eat their meat if it was slaughtered in the name of a god besides Allah.
Ali ibn Abi Talib reported that:
“The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, was given gifts by Kisra (Khosrau) and he accepted them, and kings would give him gifts and he would accept them.” (Sunan At-Tirmidhi)
Abu Qabus reported that: A woman asked Aisha, “We have a nurse among the Majus (Magians) and they give us gifts on their festivals.”
“As for the meat they have slaughtered, then do not eat it. Rather, you may eat from the fruit of their trees.” (Musannaf of ibn Abi Shaybah)
Abu Barza reported that: He had neighbours among the Majus (Magians) who would give him gifts during their new year celebration and festivals. Abu Barza would say:
“Whatever they give you of fruits, then eat it. Whatever they give you besides that, then return it.” (Musannaf of ibn Abi Shaybah)
Ibn Taymiyyah comments on these hadiths, saying:
“These narrations demonstrate that non-Muslim festivals do not prevent Muslims from accepting their gifts. Rather, the rule during the festival is the same as other times since it does not involve support for their rituals of unbelief.” (Iqtida’ al-Sirat al-Mustaqim)
Furthermore, the Prophet encouraged the Muslims to be kind and gentle in all matters. Kindness is one of the best ways to be a good example of a devout Muslim and to open people’s hearts towards Islam. In contrast, unwarranted harshness makes matters ugly and pushes people away from Islam.
Aisha reported that: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
“Verily, kindness is not found in anything except that it beautifies it, and it is not removed from anything except that it disgraces it.” (Sahih Muslim)
In another narration, the Prophet said:
“Harshness is not found in anything except that it disgraces it. Verily, Allah is kind and He loves kindness.” (Al-Adab Al-Mufrad)
Based upon all this, today’s scholars encourage Muslims to be kind to non-Muslims during their festivals and to express good wishes for them on the condition that we do not support any specific religious ritual or doctrine that is idolatrous.
Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah, the Egyptian institution that issues learned religious judgments (fatwa), concluded their investigation of this issue by stating the following:
“As for what we have mentioned of noble verses, prophetic traditions, and opinions of the jurists, our view is that it is a matter of benevolence (ihsan) that a Muslim maintain good relations with non-Muslims in every circumstance including festivals, condolences, congratulations, giving gifts, hospitality, and accepting gifts. What is more, this is one of the ways to invite them to the religion of Allah by good character and noble manners. And Allah the Exalted knows best.” (Dar al-Ifta al-Misriyyah)
In conclusion, Muslims are permitted to offer kind words and good wishes to non-Muslims during their festivals with the only restriction being that we should not endorse specific acts in their religion that contradict Islam. We are called to be witnesses to the truth of our religion, while at the same time being kind, compassionate, and having good relations with all other people.
Lastly, I will end my today’s piece with Sir Ahmadu Bello’s (Sardauna of Sokoto) special Christmas message in 1959 as reported by Elanza Magazine. He said:
“We are people of many different races, tribes and religions, who are knit together by common history, common interests and common ideals. Our diversity may be great but the things that unite us are stronger than the things that divide us. On an occasion like this, I always remind people about our firmly rooted policy on religious tolerance. Families of all creeds and colour can rely on these assurances. We have no intention of favouring one religion at the expense of another. Subject to overriding need to preserve law and order, it is our determination that everyone should have absolute liberty to practise his beliefs. It is befitting on this momentous day, on behalf of my ministers and myself, to send a special word of gratitude to all Christian missions. Let me conclude this with a personal message. I extend my greetings to all our people who are Christians on this great feast day. Let us forget the difference in our religion and remember the common brotherhood before God, by dedicating ourselves afresh to the great tasks which lie before us.”
Wallahu ‘Alam wa bihi at-Tawfiq
Imam Murtadha Muhammad Gusau writes from Okene Kogi State, Nigeria.