The Cost of Imitation – A Muslim’s Guide to Christmas
As Muslim families in Canada are getting ready for their winter break, we are bombarded with advertisements, movies, shows and music all geared towards the celebration of Christmas. As believers we are caught between non-Muslims’ genuine desire for us to share in their festivities, and the desire of many Muslims to not be seen as isolationists.
To begin it is essential to remember that Allah (swt) has distinguished and honoured the Muslim Ummah by Islam. He (swt) made Islam our way of life, the source of our unique concepts and rules -a comprehensive and complete system for all of our life’s affairs.
He (swt) has prescribed for us (Muslims) a Deen (Islam) to live by that is pure and based on evidence that convinces the mind. This distinguishes us from the culture of Capitalism, which encourages people to indulge in their own personal whims and desires, which result in confusion and misery. As Allah (swt) said in Quran:
“Have you seen he who has taken god as his (own) desire, and Allah has sent him astray due to knowledge and set a seal upon his hearing and heart and put over his vision a veil? So who will guide him after Allah? Then will you not be reminded” [TMQ 45:23]
This warning not to follow one’s personal desires given by our Creator, the All-Wise, indicates that in Islam, it is prohibited to do any action or deed that can drag us toward sin, thus disobeying the Commandments of Allah (swt) and the teachings of our beloved prophet Muhammad (saw).
Imitating in Disobedience
The Muslim is the one who is clear in his proofs, avoids falsehood, rejects illusions, and stamps out superstition.
This Ummah doesn’t follow innovations in our Deen, nor do we participate in the religious activities of non-Muslims like the Diwali of Hindus, Vesak of the Buddhists, or the Christian celebration of Christmas. Muslims have their own identity and celebrate their own events.
Our Beloved Messenger (saw) arrived in Madina during two days in which the Ansar were celebrating, he asked them, “What are these two days?” They said, “We would celebrate these two days in the time of ignorance.” he replied:
“Verily, Allah has replaced these two days with two better days: the day of sacrifices (Eid al-Adha) and the day of breaking fast (Eid al-fitr).” [Sunan Abu Dawud 1134].
He (saw) also warned us:
“Whoever imitates a people is one of them.” [Al-Tabarani and Abu Dawud]
Imitating other traditions in their festivals implies that one is pleased with their false beliefs and practices. This is why our pious predecessors, and the scholars of this Deen have always prohibited the celebration of non-Islamic festivals.
It is reported that ‘Abdullaah Ibn ‘Amr (ra) said: “Whoever lives in the land of the non-Arabs (non-Muslims) and celebrates their New Year and their festivals, and imitates them until he dies in that state, will be gathered with them on the Day of Resurrection.”
Ibn Al-Qayyim (rh) said in Ahkaam Ahl Al-Dhimmah: “Congratulating the non-Muslims on the rituals that belong only to them is Haram by consensus, as is congratulating them on their festivals and feasts by saying: ‘A happy festival to you’ or ‘May you enjoy your festival,’ and so on. Even if the one who says this has been saved from disbelief, it is still forbidden. It is like congratulating someone for prostrating to the cross, or even worse than that.”
Honouring Prophet Isa (as)?
The Prophet Isa (as) is one of the greatest Prophets of Islam, and Allah (swt) for all to hear:
“And peace is on me [Prophet Isa] the day I was born and the day I will die and the day I am raised alive.” [TMQ 19:33]
But where Allah (swt) has affirmed the miraculous birth, wondrous life, dedicated preaching and heavenly ascension of the Prophet Isa in the Quran, we know there is no honour in disobedience, and none can truly be honoured by anything that has been made impermissible by the Creator.
Allah has revealed to us through His Messenger that we may not imitate the religious practices of the other religions, and are to maintain our distinctness from them, and His is the final Word.
The Cost of Imitation
Imitating the kuffar in their celebrations comes at the cost of our dedication to our Deen. At the outset, this is because we are disobeying a direct command from the Messenger of Allah (saw) to differentiate ourselves religiously from the kuffar.
This disobedience costs us a strong relationship with Allah, and weakens the concepts of truth and falsehood in our children. While it is important to teach our children to treat everyone with dignity and respect, the problem with accepting other people’s faiths and values merely on the basis of respect and tolerance is that genuine debate and discussion as to what is right and wrong is abandoned.
In fact, questioning and debating religion is one of the last taboos within the West. On the basis of not offending another person’s religion, greater questioning or scrutiny about one’s beliefs never occurs. For example, the lack of any serious debate around the whole festive period masks the fact that there is no evidence to suggest that Isa (as) was born on December 25th or that Christianity has anything to do with Christmas at all.
We do not want our children, in the name of tolerance and engagement, to lose their reverence for the Commands of Allah (swt) or to blur the lines for them with regards to what is true and what is false.
“And say, “Truth has come, and falsehood has departed. Indeed is falsehood, [by nature], ever bound to depart.” [TMQ 17:81]
What Should Muslims do During the Holidays?
To knowingly celebrate Christmas whether accepting invitations or saying greetings, exchanging gifts or doing anything of this sort is to fall into sin, even if it is done out of politeness, or shyness.
But rather than acquiescing to haram out of shyness, or seeking isolation during the holidays, it is better to engage our non-Muslim co-workers and neighbours. Explain to them Islam’s position on celebrating Christmas; clarify the place of Isa (as) and the high status his mother Maryam (as) in Islam.
This approach is best shown by Jafar Ibn Abi Talib (ra) when RasulAllah (saw) had sent him with a group of Muslims from Makkah to seek protection in the land of a Christian king, the Negus. When asked about his beliefs on Jesus, Jafar read verses from Surah Maryam, and explained the high status of Isa (as) in Islam, while also speaking against the Christian notion of Isa having any part in divinity.
The gentleness of his approach, but his commitment to principle made the Negus decide to continue protecting the Muslims from their tormentors in Makkah.
Making Islam our Mission
With this in mind, it is important to make Islam our mission. That is, we should be ambassadors of Islam. We must first be confident in the Deen and be open about our practice of Islam. For example, we should be open about the fact that we need to leave work for Juma prayer but can make up the time later.
We should openly tell people we can’t attend alcohol functions, share the fact that we are fasting and so on. This will help us to establish dialogue with our co-workers, so that we can openly discuss our Deen with them.
This will give us an opportunity to show how Islam is a comprehensive way of life that provides an alternative to the Capitalist system. For example, we could discuss how the Islamic economic system focuses on the distribution of wealth, forbids riba, but encourages entrepreneurship through small businesses and partnerships.
By taking this approach, it becomes easier to tackle such situations where people invite us to holiday parties, etc. because they know where we stand.
Steering Away From What Displeases Allah (swt)
It is therefore the duty of Muslims not to take part in the holidays of kufr and be the people that reminds Canadian society about the true message of Christ, to obey Allah alone, and to strive for a society in which truth can liberate people from their bondage to men, and where each person can be treated with the dignity with which their Lord created them.
“They have certainly disbelieved who say, “Allah is the Messiah, the son of Mary” while the Messiah has said, “O Children of Israel, worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord.” Indeed, he who associates others with Allah – Allah has forbidden him Paradise, and his refuge is the Fire. And there are not for the wrongdoers any helpers. They have certainly disbelieved who say, “Allah is the third of three.” And there is no god except one God. And if they do not desist from what they are saying, there will surely afflict the disbelievers among them a painful punishment. So will they not repent to Allah and seek His forgiveness? And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” [TMQ 5:72-74]