The Festive Season as a Muslim: Challenge or Opportunity?
By Chris Groves
The festive season is passing, and many of you probably found this to be a difficult time living in Britain; there may have been invites to work parties and pressure to take part in rituals that are linked to another religion. However, as well as bringing us challenges, the festive season also grants us opportunities to discuss different beliefs and invite others to Islam.
The UK has a long history and tradition as a Christian nation, and Christmas is a key date in the calendar. This is marked as a national holiday and most people have time off work to spend with friends and family. Customs include exchanging gifts with loved ones, putting up and decorating a tree in the home and enjoying a traditional dinner of roast turkey and all the trimmings. For many British people, it is seen as a cultural event more so than a religious one. Nevertheless it is grounded in celebrating the birth of Jesus, the son of Mary (AS) who is the central figure in Christian belief.
Despite the pressure to take part in the festivities marked across the nation, Muslims should avoid involvement in these celebrations and rituals due to their origins in another faith. Moreover much of the celebrations are associated with activities such as consuming alcohol and free mixing with the opposite gender, which Islam does not permit. It can be tough to avoid these, particularly for those who work with non-Muslims. Work Christmas meals, parties and social gatherings as well as rituals such as ‘Secret Santa’ are viewed as a key part of team building and it is important to seek to build good relationships with our colleagues. Nevertheless, we can, and should have confidence in our Islam. As Allah says in the Qur’an, “..This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion” (Qur’an 5:3).
The challenge for reverts and those with Christian family members can be even tougher. It is an important time of the year for families; very much like Eid, as well as being a religious celebration, it is also an important time to get together with family. It can be relatively easy to say no to work events but is much more difficult when it comes to family, bearing in mind the importance of maintaining family ties, regardless of whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim. Some of the rituals, such as present giving however, can be avoided. Nevertheless time can, and perhaps should, still be spent with family throughout the period to help maintain and strengthen bonds.
Although it may seem there is much for Muslims to avoid at this time of year, wisdom should still be used and there are chances to be pro-active and have mature discussions around Jesus (AS) and the origins and meanings of Christmas.
It may come as a surprise to many non-Muslims that the belief in Jesus (AS) and his immaculate conception, is also a part of Islam. The nineteenth chapter of the Qur’an is named after Mary (AS), the mother of Jesus (AS). It beautifully tells the story of Mary (AS) being informed that she will have a son, and then of her giving birth to Jesus (AS). We also believe that he performed miracles, such as healing the lepers, curing the blind, and raising the dead (with the permission of God).
Muslims believe that Jesus (AS) was a prophet sent by God to call people to worship Him alone, “(Jesus) said, ‘Indeed, I am the servant of Allah. He has given me the Scripture and made me a prophet’” and “(Jesus) said, ‘And indeed, Allah is my Lord and your Lord, so worship Him. That is a straight path’” (Qur’an 19: 30 & 36).
However, the main difference between the Muslim and the mainstream Christian teaching is that Muslims do not believe Jesus (AS) was the son of God, nor formed part of a trinity. As Allah says in the Qur’an, “Say, ‘He is Allah, (who is) One’” and “He neither begets nor is born” (Qur’an 112: 1 & 3).
What is interesting is that certain passages in the Bible also seem to indicate a similar teaching of Jesus (AS) to that in the Qur’an. For example, a man once came to Jesus and asked, “Which is the first commandment of all?” To which Jesus (AS) answered, “The first of all the commandments is Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Mark 12:28-29). Also “Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (John 20:17).
As touched on earlier, Christmas supposedly has its origins in celebrating the birth of Jesus (AS). However many Christians do not believe that Jesus (AS) was actually born on the 25th December; a conclusion they have come to using Christian sources. Moreover, it is argued that Christmas is based on a compromise made by the Catholic Church when seeking to incorporate Christian beliefs into the Roman Empire. Leaders swapped the festival celebrating the birth of the son-god Mithra for a celebration of the birth of Jesus (AS). Christian groups past and present, most notably Jehovah’s Witnesses, do not celebrate Christmas for these reasons.
A key strength of Islam in comparison is how its practices are based on the Qur’an, which exists today as it was revealed over 1,400 years ago, and on the authentic traditions of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAW). As Allah says in the Qur’an, “We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption)” (15:9).
The festive period may have provided a test for Muslims living in Britain. However by having confidence in Islam, and using wisdom and maturity to look at the similarities with other beliefs, it can provide an excellent opportunity for positive engagement with our communities, inshaAllah!