Thoughts on Christmas and Muslims
We have seen yet another Christmas. And some senseless reactions have, again, come from our Muslim world. Three Muslim-majority countries, Tajikistan, Somalia and Brunei, banned Christmas celebrations, declaring them “un-Islamic.” (As if one should ban everything that is “un-Islamic,” as if people should not have a freedom of choice.) And in several Muslim-majority countries, including Turkey, certain Islamic groups protested the celebrations of “Christmas and New Year,” which was for them somehow the same thing: Elements of a foreign culture that erodes and even replaces our own values.
Yet all of this was based on a lot of ignorance and confusion, not to even mention authoritarianism.
First of all, Christmas and New Year’s Eve are separate things. While the former is specifically Christian, the latter is secular and somewhat universal – at least if you do not have an objection to the Gregorian calendar that most of us use. So, a Muslim, a Jew, a Hindu, or anybody else can well skip Christmas and celebrate New Year’s Eve as the beginning of a new round of our lives.
But what about Christmas? Isn’t it a tradition of a different religion that all Muslims should find totally alien and objectionable?
Well, not really. Christmas is the celebration of the birthday of Jesus Christ. (We, of course, don’t know the real date, but Christians have established two traditions about it, in late December or early January, and there is no reason to oppose them, claiming to know better.) And the celebration of the birthday of Jesus Christ must be respected by Muslims for a very simply reason: Jesus Christ, or Isa al-Masih, is a very holy figure for Muslims as well.
The “Son of Mary,” as he is sometimes called in the Qur’an, indeed has a very special place in the Islamic faith. A very long chapter of Muslim scripture, the “Sura (Chapter) of Mary,” is devoted to the praise of his mother and the virgin birth she gave. In this chapter and also others, the preaching and miracles of Jesus are told in detail. In the sura named “Saff,” Muslims are told to take his apostles as examples to follow. Jesus is even referred to in the Qur’an as “the Word of God,” a term which has a curious resemblance to the introduction of the Fourth Gospel of the New Testament.
To be sure, the Qur’an rejects that Jesus is God, or “Son of God,” and denounces the Doctrine of the Trinity. But this does not change the fact any festival that honors Jesus must be respected by us, Muslims.
That is why Christmas does not deserve to be opposed, demonized and banned by Muslims, even from a purely theological perspective – let alone perspective of tolerance, co-existence and pluralism. The birthday of Prophet Muhammad is widely celebrated in the Muslim world as “Milad an-Nabi.” In Turkey, it is called the “Mevlid Kandili.” Why not welcome the birthday of another prophet, a most revered one in the Qur’an?
I know some Muslims will say, “But with all those fancy themes of Santa Claus, colorful trees and nice presents, we are subject to cultural imperialism. The attractive cultural icons of a foreign civilization is taking us over. This is a matter of culture, not theology.”
Well, in return, I would ask them: Why don’t we have our attractive cultural icons? Why don’t we have our version of Santa Claus that makes kids happy? And, while we actually do, why have we not been able to introduce them enough to our children, let alone the children of the world?