It’s that time of the year again: the holidays. If you live in a Muslim country, you probably don’t face this little problem. But, if you’re currently studying abroad, or a North American Muslim like myself, you may find yourself in a bit of an awkward situation every time someone says “Merry Christmas”.
There’s the occasional impulse reaction in which I automatically utter “Merry Christmas to you too” and then proceed to get scolded by my Muslim friends: “Astaghfirullah Tasneem! We aren’t Christian! You shouldn’t say that”. And then there are other occasions where I don’t reply, or simply say “yeah you too”, and get scolded yet again by Muslim acquaintances: “wow Tasneem, they say Eid Mubarak to us, we should say Merry Christmas to them” or “that’s so rude, it’s just a holiday; us Muslims have to respect them if want to be respected as well”.
I’d just like to disclose that there are bigger and more important issues in this world to dwell on than “who said what and why”. But, I’m really interested in how we should address this issue of whether or not we should say Merry Christmas to non-Muslims. So, I decided to conduct my own little research on how to go about this little dispute.
I started by looking up clips on YouTube regarding Muslims and Christmas. I found a talk by Dr. Zakir Naik, in which a young boy asks why it shouldn’t be allowed to wish Merry Christmas; he wonders how we can build relationships with non-Muslims if we don’t allow ourselves to wish them well on their own holidays. This is where Dr. Naik goes on to say:
“When you’re wishing Merry Christmas to them, you’re agreeing that Jesus Christ (PBUH) was born on the 25th of December, and you’re agreeing that he is the son of God, which is shirk” (you can watch the rest of Naik’s video here).
According to Dr. Naik, wishing Merry Christmas is a means of associating the holiday with the idea that Jesus is the son of God, which does not at all correlate with Islam. Same goes for giving Christmas gifts, in which Mufti Menk states that when we partake in gift-giving, “we are taking a gift and saying ‘my brother, you have associated partners with Allah. Allah says it is the biggest blasphemy against Him, but take this gift, it’s okay I’m a Muslim’”, essentially stating that you agree with this form of shirk.
Okay, so the option of a shirk and blasphemy is BIG NO-NO FOR ME thank you very much. While Naik and Menk’s points make sense (a bit extreme, but they make sense), they do not address how Muslims should go about building relationships with non-Muslims and only inform us on the negative side of why we shouldn’t say Merry Christmas.
So while we’ve addressed that we probably shouldn’t be saying ‘it’, what about all those non-Muslims who proceed to wish us Eid Mubarak; is it not fair that we don’t wish them the same for their religious holidays? How do we expect to bring people to Islam if we don’t show the same tolerance that non-Muslims show to us? For example, how do we plan to give dawah to our non-Muslims brothers and sisters if we have not been kind and reciprocated the tolerance and acceptance they have shown us?
I needed more answers, but this time, I tried to find information on how everyday Muslims should treat their fellow non-Muslims, even with regards to Christmas.
I came across a lecture by Nouman Ali Khan regarding tolerance towards Non-Muslims. While he doesn’t address Christmas directly, some of which he mentions – even with relation to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) – is worth considering. In this segment, Brother Ali Khan is explaining a story about Christian men who came to visit the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in Medina. These men stayed in the Masjid as guests and continued with their Christian acts of worship while in the Masjid. Yes, you read that right: Christian men, praying to Jesus, while in the Masjid, all allowed by the Prophet’s command.
“[Allah’s] wrath [towards blasphemy] cannot turn into our wrath. We still have to deal with our neighbor with love, and what they believe, that’s between them and God, not between them and us… We don’t have the authority that take that rage and convert it into ours” (watch more of Nouman’s dawah session here).
He continues with another story in which the Prophet (PBUH) stood at the funeral of a young Jewish girl. When the sahaba inquired why, given that she is not a Muslim, the Prophet said “Is she not a human? Is she not a child of Adam (PBUH)?” and proceeded to make them stand as well.
I cannot say what the Prophet (PBUH) would do today with regards to wishing Merry Christmas, but I do know that the Prophet taught us to respect all religions. And I don’t think sitting with my arms crossed and lips pursed as other Muslims wish Merry Christmas, is a way to respect other religions. But at the same time, I don’t want to imply that by saying it, I’m associating Allah with a son.
In my twenty-one years of life, I have found a loophole to avoid this awkward “should I say it or I should I not say Merry Christmas” by simply replying to others with “thanks” or “enjoy your holidays”! After reading this article, you can formulate your own judgments about what to say or what not to, but I can leave you with this: the religion of Islam teaches and preaches us to respect others. Whether we want to or not, we need to follow the teachings of the Prophet and treat other religions with respect just as he did. We should not deface the name of Christianity or how they chose to celebrate their holidays, but we don’t need to go out a buy a Christmas tree and presents either.
So if you want others to treat you and Islam with respect, make sure you do the same as well.