By: Dr. Aref Assaf
Do Muslims celebrate Christmas?
A taboo subject for some and a given for others. While Christians, practicing, relaxed or casual, are hurrying up to buy gifts for their loved ones, attend masses, and send greeting cards, Muslims, will not share in the temporal manifestations of the day, but rather focus on the powerful meanings and interpretations of the act of the Virgin Birth, the message of Jesus (PBUH) and the purity of his Mother Mary. The range of views runs the gamut of those who have not considered it at all, to those based on cultural motives, to those firmly placed in Islam’s view of Jesus (PBUH). (PBUH) stands for “Peace Be upon Him”, the appropriate Muslim greeting for the prophets mentioned in the Koran.
The personality of Jesus (PBUH) plays a central role in Islam. Muslims believe that God delivered the Gospel- Injeel to Jesus (PBUH), just as he did Ta’wrat with Moses (PBUH) and the Old Testament (Zabur) to David and the Koran to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). It is critical for Muslims and non-Muslims to understand that a person is not considered a Muslim unless he or she believes in Jesus (PBUH), and Islam is the only religion that testifies to Christianity.
Islam also assigns a very high degree of respect to the mother of Jesus (PBUH), Mary (Maryam). So stated Imam Mohammad Qatanani, Spiritual Leader of the Islamic Center of Passaic County and a recognized authority on Islamic jurisprudence, “Islam commands us to recognize the birth of Jesus (PBUH) as a divine miracle from God to humanity.” Each prophet was sent down with a miracle and Jesus’ virgin birth is his miracle just as the Koran, as the absolute word of God, is Prophet Mohammad’s (PBUH) miracle. And as Muslims, we believe Jesus (PBUH) was conceived and born of the Virgin Birth.
There is nothing wrong with Muslims sharing and extending their sincerest greetings to their fellow Christian friends, neighbors or coworkers, the appropriate greeting, Merry Christmas.” Of course, Islam does not ascribe any divine qualities to Jesus (PBUH) as we view him as a noble prophet sent down by God like those before him and those who followed him.”Observant Muslim accept this as a fatwa, a religious ruling as it comes from a recognized religious authority.
The Imam’s basis for this view can be ascertained from a close reading of an exclusive chapter in the Koran on the mother of Jesus by the name of ”Surat Maryam.” What the Koran says: The Koran teaches that Jesus (PBUP) is “a word from God” (3:45) and “a spirit from God” (4:171), conceived and born of the Virgin Mary (3:47 and 19:16-23), who has been taught “the Scripture and wisdom, and the Torah and the Gospel” by God (3:48). The Koran also reminds us that Jesus comes to “heal him who was born blind and the leper,” to “raise the dead” (3:49 and 5:110) and to “confirm that which was before [him] of the Torah” (3: 50). These teachings parallel much of what Christians believe about Jesus (PBUP), offering us common ground as we enter into the Christmas season – a season of hope, fellowship and, most of all, peace on earth.”
The life of Jesus Christ is a momentous event for Christians and non-Christians alike. Jesus Christ’s birthday is a signpost, and of all the great people born through the ages, imagine that Jesus (PBUP) is so important that his life divides time between B.C. and A.D. The story of his birth is told twice in the Koran. In addition, the Koran recounts how Jesus spoke in his infancy, healed the blind and those stricken with leprosy, and raised the dead back to life. The Koran even mentions that Jesus used to fashion birds out of clay and breathe life into them, all by the permission of God, the Almighty, and as well, it recounts the story of the Last Supper.
The Koran describes Jesus (PBUH) as being “honored in the world and the hereafter and one of the intimates of God” and “in the ranks of the righteous.” He is also described as a “Word, from God, which God sent down to Mary and a spirit from Him), and a man “strengthened with the Holy Spirit.” Well-respected Muslim scholars have interpreted the “Holy Spirit” to mean either divine inspiration or Angel Gabriel.
“Average” Muslims we spoke to seem to all accept the Virgin Birth story and find it rather unbecoming of a Muslims not to wish Merry Christmas to fellow Christians they encounter. More to the point in multi-faith homes, Claire R wrote, “My husband was born a Muslim and I’m a revert. We celebrate Christmas traditionally as a family celebration rather than religiously. When I reverted I did not want to lose my identity, therefore, I have always celebrated Christmas with my side of the family and when I was not a Muslim I celebrate Eid with my husband, we now celebrate both.” While Larrisa said: “I’m the only Muslim in my family, and I’ve never celebrated Christmas religiously. I participate in order to be with my family, to share a holiday with them.”
While others who felt either uncomfortable using the proper greetings or had an issue with its use by a Muslim preferred the generic greeting: Happy Holidays. Nabil A. prefers to greet Christians with “Happy Holidays only because the term Christmas has implications that are contrary to what the Quran states. In any case, we should greet them and wish them happiness and joy.” Jawed A believes that Muslims should share in the greetings, not the actual celebrations such as going to mass or exchanging gifts.
On the opposite side, we have some ‘strict’ Muslims who surprisingly find no reason for appeasement or even congeniality towards anyone who has ‘altered’ the message of God. This group rejection of sharing the greetings is based on the view that Christians have altered the Bible and the true teachings of Jesus (PBUH). “Jesus (PBUH) never said he was God or the Son of God,” Commented S. Hirabi. We believe in the oneness of God and we believe Moses and Jesus (PBUH) advocated only this message to their peoples. When the followers of Jesus (PBUH) speak of the Trinity, I cannot find a common ground on which to share my faith and my true understanding of Jesus.” A. Somali wrote, “To wish the non-Muslims with Merry Christmas or any of their religious festivals is haraam (forbidden), by consensus of the scholars, as Ibn al-Qayyim, may God have mercy on him, said. The pagan origin of December 25 and the uncertainty about the exact birth date of Jesus are mentions to this group’s unwillingness to exchange greetings.
A rather ‘relaxed’ Muslim, who confessed to not being a practicing Muslim (performing daily prayers etc) said, ‘I wish everybody whatever greeting appropriate for their holiday. I actually like Thanksgivings for example because I can get a free turkey, I like Christmas because of the after Christmas sale.”
The Assaf family, like, I believe the majority of American Muslims, loves Jesus (PBUH) as a great prophet and see no doctrinal contradictions in recognizing his birth and sharing the joy this brings to our fellow Christians. We simply take pleasure in meaningfully wishing our Christian friends a Merry Christmas. My children have always given greeting cards on this holiday to their Christian teachers. I have done the same with my co-workers and employees. One day soon, my Christian friends will calendar my two big holidays and remember us. This is after all the true spirit of any holiday: sharing in the bounty of our Lord, remembering the needy and committing to doing better for the life hereafter.
My 7-yr. old Summer shared her Christmas greetings
she gave to her second-grade teacher.”I wish you a Merry
Christmas and a Happy New Year. I love holidays because
I get lots of gifts and hugs!”