Christmas In The Islamic World, By Usama Dandare

Christians protect praying Muslims January 2012 during Occupy protests against Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan


By Usama Dandare,

Christmas is the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, who is considered the Son of God, and the savior of mankind. With the birth of Christ, Christianity essentially begins; thus, Christmas also celebrates the beginning of Christianity.
Though Christmas is normally celebrated on the 25th of December, strong evidence suggests that Jesus may have in fact been born in the spring. Though many Christians date Christ’s birth as the end of the “Before Christ” or BC era, most believe Christ’s birth can actually be dated to 4 BC.

Christians all over the world commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ (PBUH) on December 25th by preaching peace, love, tolerance and unity. But to an average Muslim in this part of the world, celebrating Christmas is to celebrate the beginning of Christianity. To celebrate the beginning of Christianity is to celebrate Jesus Christ as lord and savior and at same time submitting oneself to the concept of the holy trinity. I live in a society where celebrating Christmas is more or less a taboo, a society where Christmas is observed only by public holiday. However, if Celebrating Christmas is unislamic and therefore a taboo as supported by most Islamic schoolers. Then I’d like to hear about the intention behind an action according in Islam. If I for instance, wish a non Muslim a Happy Christmas, have I committed any sin if my intention is to be humble and respect other people’s religion and days of celebrations?  How is the Islamic code of good ethics weighed in the eyes of others if I have to turn away from them or not answer them on their saying of ‘happy Christmas’?

Islam requires Muslims to respect the faith of others
Regardless of historical facts and theological differences that Christians may have among themselves or theological differences Muslims may have with Christianity, despite all these we cannot disregard the sentiments of practicing Christians who use this occasion to revere Jesus.

Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was always very respectful towards the Christians. According to Islamic historians, Ibn e Saad and Ibn e Hisham, once there was a delegation of Byzantine Christians, who were traveling from Yemen to Madinah. The delegation was lead by a bishop by the name of Zqyd al-Usquf, who came to discuss a number of issues with the Prophet. When the time of their prayer came, they asked the Prophet if they could do their worship in the mosque. He answered: “Conduct your service here in the mosque. It is a place dedicated to God.”

We should never ridicule the religious beliefs of others, no matter how much we disagree with them.
God says in  the Quran: “And insult not those  whom they worship besides God, lest they insult God wrongfully without  knowledge. Thus We have made  fair-seeming to each people its own doings; then to their Lord is their return and He shall then inform them of all that they used to do”. Quran (6:108)

Many Christians may be unaware that the true spirit of reverence which Muslims display towards Jesus and his mother Mary spring from the fountain head of their faith as prescribed in the Holy Quran. Most do not know that a Muslim does not take the name of Jesus, without saying Eesa alai-hiss-salaam i.e. (Jesus peace be upon him).

Many Christians do not know that in the Holy Quran Jesus is mentioned by name twenty-five times.
However, since it is a common knowledge among Christian scholars that Jesus was not born on December 25th. It is well known that the first Christian churches held their festival in May, April, or January.

Scholars of the first two centuries AD even differ in which year he was born. Some believing that he was born fully twenty years before the current accepted date. But regardless of all controversies, we (Muslims) must respect the religions of others and show them love on the occasion of their religious celebrations as they do to us during our Islamic festivals. Wishing Christians a happy Christmas, exchange of pleasantries, drinks, food (as long as it’s halal) and gifts are a way of respecting their religion not practicing it and as such, Islam teaches us to show love and kindness to all mankind irrespective of religious beliefs as a way of attracting their attention toward the good virtues of Islam.

One objection raised by many Muslims is that the Christians regard the Prophet Isa (peace be upon him) as their Lord and majority of them believe in the Trinity. Therefore, they utter such sentences in the Christmas ceremonies which are in conflict with the real concept of Oneness of Allah. What one can say by way of answer is that this view was also held by the Christians of the Holy Prophet’s (blessings and peace be upon him) times but despite all that, the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) inked agreements with the Jews of Medina, gave them complete religious freedom as head of the Medina state and decided matters according to their religious law.

In the same manner, despite the belief of Trinity held by the Christians, the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) meted out humane treatment towards them. So much so when Islam attained victory, a Christian delegation of Najran stayed in the holy city of Medina for twenty days and performed worship as per their religious law in the Prophet’s Mosque. It must be kept in mind that the Christians subscribed to the creed of Trinity at that time. But we do not come across any hadith or narration whereby the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) might have entered into debate with the Christians about their belief or placed such condition that they would not perform worship based on utterance characterized by polytheism in his Mosque.

That is why the Holy Quran has restrained the Muslims from castigating the false gods of others lest they should also speak ill of true God of the Muslims. Allah Almighty says:
And, (O Muslims,) do not abuse these (false gods) these (polytheists) worship besides Allah, lest these people should (also, in retaliation,) revile against Allah’s Glory wrongfully due to ignorance. (al-An`am, 6:108)

It becomes manifestly clear from the above-mentioned incidents and authentic traditions that Islam stands for tolerance, moderation and accommodation. Therefore in the present times when Islam is being castigated as promoter of extremism and terrorism in the world, the participation of Muslims and Islamic leaders in the religious festivals of other religions should not be regarded as something harmful. This would help project real face of Islam, which has otherwise been blighted by the scars of terrorism and extremism. We need to promote the real teachings of Islam in the world such as tolerance, endurance, peaceful coexistence, justice, fair play and love. In a globalized world where distances are of no consequences, reaching out to people of other faiths in a spirit of harmony is what constitutes the best service rendered to promote the cause of Islam in the world. It calls for employment rational and logical understanding of Islamic teachings. So exchanging pleasantries and gifts at Christmas ceremonies is neither to encourage Muslims to participate in Christians programs at mass-scale nor to start holding such functions of Christmas. The symbolism involved is to promote the interfaith goodwill and tolerance, these endeavours are geared to build bridges by plugging the gulf between Muslims and non-Muslims so that Islam is known as a religion which promotes peace, harmony and integration.

On this important day in the Christian calendar, permit me to convey to the Christian world a message from the beloved Prophet of Islam, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), contained in a letter He wrote to the monks of St. Catherine Monastery of Mt. Sinai in In 628 C.E:

“This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.

Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them.

No compulsion is to be on them.

Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries.
No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses.

Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.
No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight.

The Muslims are to fight for them.
If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray.

Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants.

No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).”

by Usama Dandare.