Salaam and Merry Christmas!

muslim christmas tree3

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I was raised in a conservative Muslim household. We prayed five times a day and we read the Quran daily. We fasted during Ramadan and we didn’t celebrate Christmas.

We celebrated Thanksgiving, which as thankful Americans and Muslims, my parents didn’t hesitate to embrace. Halloween was an annual debate- some years, we celebrated it wearing costumes, joining parades and even trick-or-treating. Other years, we stayed home, watched movies and ate candy we bought from the store.

Christmas was never part of the debate. Jesus was not the son of God and, although Muslims revered Jesus (AS) as a Prophet, celebrating Christmas was seen as the acceptance of a Christian belief.

I followed this model and it made life easy not having to think about it.

Then I married a man who was born a Catholic and who was an only child. His conversion to Islam twenty years before was a big deal to his staunch Catholic mother.  Initially, he went through his bout trying to convince his mother that he was right and she was wrong. He finally stopped, realizing he was in danger of losing his mother and leaving her alone with no family. By the time he met me, he had matured in his faith and in his relationship with her. He understood that his mother’s need for him and his duty to her superseded the haram-ness of “celebrating” a non-Muslim holiday.

I married my husband because I felt he brought me closer to Allah. So when I spent my first Christmas with him decorating his mother’s tree, I felt conflicted. I talked to my husband about the guilt. I told him about what some Muslims  (and even some scholars) would say:  the celebration of Christmas– or just going through the motions —  was haram (forbidden).

My husband asked me if my belief in Allah had changed and if I believed that Jesus (AS) was more than a Prophet. Of course not, I said. He explained to me that he had dealt with all of the complexities of being a convert and had come up with his own set of beliefs that, in his opinion, didn’t contradict with Islam. His Aqidah (creed) was strong. He still believed in one Allah, who was not begotten and did not beget. He disagreed with the fundamental basis of Christmas and even questioned the pagan rituals. Therefore, we didn’t celebrate Christmas in our little house. But, as an only son to his single mother, he owed it to her to be kind and to honor and respect her beliefs. He did what his mother expected him to do on a superficial level because he did not want to hurt her.

She knows that he is Muslim but he is still her little boy. He helps her haul the tree into her house. He helps to decorate it by putting on the lights and by placing ornaments on parts of the tree that she can’t reach. He even places the angel on the top.  I help her with the Christmas dinner by preparing the appetizers while she cooks the turkey.

His mother fills the stockings and puts the gifts under the tree and smiles and laughs in anticipation as he opens them. Her happiness is worth a day of being frowned upon by those Muslims who do not have to think about it these things; those lucky enough to forget about the nuances that American Muslims face daily.

Now, four years and two kids later, I watch as my son dances and my daughter crawls near the Christmas tree. I know that I am doing this for Allah. My Allah is loving. I cannot abandon my mother-in-law, who I love just as I love my own mother, during a season she believes is for family and love. My actions would therefore be haram. And who knows, maybe my love and respect for my mother-law may be what it takes for her to one day love and respect my religion? And I ask God to forgive me for my shortcomings because I don’t have the answers and I am always learning.


Some other perspectives:

Michael Muhammad Knight: Being the Muslim at the Christmas Party

Omid Safi: It’s a Yoda-Muslim Kind of Christmas

Dr. Faheem Younus: Why (or how) should Muslim Americans “celebrate” Christmas

Sabina Khan-Ibarra is a freelance writer and editor.  She regularly contributes to her blog, Ibrahim’s Tree which  she created after the loss of her infant son in 2011.  She created Muslimah Montage as a platform for women to share their stories and inspire others. Sabina is also the editor of Hijabulous: Seeing the Veil through the Eyes of American Muslim Women

Read more from Sabina: Paths To My  Heart,  Finding My Spirituality Birth, Loss & In Between, and Raising a Confident Muslim Child in America.

This post originally appeared at IAmThePoppyFlower.


8 Comments on “Salaam and Merry Christmas!”

  1. Beautifully written…

  2. S says:

    This is beautiful and brought tears to my eyes. Navigating being a Muslim and being an American is indeed tough. May Allah bless and reward you for your sincere efforts in striking a balance.

  3. My thoughts on this will be, as usual, distinctly conservative 🙂

    On one hand, I can understand and deeply empathize with your husband’s situation. It is one that many converts (and even ‘born’ Muslims) go through, and is something that they have to face and choose how to deal with.

    However, I personally do not believe that celebrating a non-Muslim ritual (and Christmas is one of those holidays that does fall under the category of ritualistic) is at all permissible for Muslims. There are the obvious Islamic texts which forbid this, but I prefer to look at them (and the issue overall) from a more compassionate, spiritual, and holistic perspective.

    1) The explicit texts forbidding an action (e.g. celebrating Christmas/ Thanksgiving/ what have you) are never there because Allah wants to make life difficult for us, or turn us into cold, cruel, hard people with no love or respect for others.

    Always, when an Islamic text states that something is forbidden, it is with a higher purpose in mind: to purify ourselves and our actions from anything that could be construed as worshiping other than Allah, or distracting our behaviour and spirituality towards actions that He has deemed unsuitable or inappropriate for Muslims to partake in.

    2) The prohibitions in Islam, which we are required to abstain from as much as possible, mean that values such as goodness to parents, compassion, respect, and so on are thrown off to the wayside.

    Islam emphasizes wisdom in all things, and that means employing it even when we are disagreeing with someone or choosing to abstain from something for the Sake of Allah. Unfortunately, a lot of people make the mistake of conflating the prohibition of celebrating or partaking in Christmas with being harsh towards their non-Muslim family and friends. This is, of course, ridiculous and goes against Islamic ethics.

    What needs to be emphasized is that one can be principled, and loving and respectful at the same time. There are many people – even non-Muslims – who make drastically different life choices (for the sake of argument, veganism) from their parents and others close to them, which does create some kind of friction and distance… yet they also manage to handle the differences with respect, without compromising their beliefs.

    As Muslims, we need to remember that this is also the Sunnah of RasulAllah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). He himself had beloved family members (such as Abu Talib) who were non-Muslim and engaged in behavior that he personally found reprehensible. Yet he neither alienated them, nor did he partake in what they did. He respectfully kept his distance when it came to those moments/ events, while politely explaining his reasoning for doing so, and reassuring them of his affection for them.

    I truly believe that as Muslims, we need to realize that there doesn’t need to be a compromise of our principles for the sake of our loved ones. We can remain close to them and maintain deep, loving relationships with them, without engaging in behaviour that is at best disliked and at most prohibited by Allah.

    It’s all about our attitude 🙂

    • The Happy Hijaabi. says:

      I agree about you comment of not permitting our Muslim principles being thrown out in regard to our duty to the parents who brought us up.

      I am a British female revert to Islam. I don’t “do” Christmas, as a Muslim, but to honour my father, as we are told to do as Muslims, I do get him a gift of sorts, which coincides with the needs of the time of year. I am disabled, myself, and live a distance away from him, so could not get over immediately if there was a problem.

      I make my father up a decent-sized hamper of dried, and tinned, and bottled goods of my own selection, which I know he likes, and I take this over to him, as a sort of “Xmas present”. My father is now elderly and has started to become frail after severe ill-health.

      Rather than leave him stuck, and without food in his store cupboard,over the Holiday, particularly as bad weather has been forecast, I ensure that he has a full store-cupboard to protect against any difficulties preventing him getting his provisions from the supermarket.(such as him being ill, God-forbid, or severe weather)

      I know he appreciates my concern, and is pleased to receive the goods, knowing they are going to be helpful, and I am doing my daughterly duty by Allah Almighty, in caring for his needs to the best of my own abilities. I don’t see doing this as a compromise of my faith, nor is it a demand that my father follow mine.

  4. Fatima says:

    My parents are both reverts to Islam, and almost all of my extended family is Christian. I spent one Christmas with my maternal aunt in England a few years back, and it never occurred to me that I was doing anything haram. They went out of their way to prepare fish and other dishes that fit my dietary requirements. And we even exchanged gifts.

    My immediate Muslim family has always observed Christmas as a cultural tradition – we always have a feast on Christmas day and watch “The Sound of Music” lol. I love the Christmas season. And I don’t think it makes me a bad Muslim…

  5. deonnasayed says:

    I see it as a non-issue if Muslims casually observe Christmas with neighbors and family, particularly as Muslim and Christians have historically lived, intermarried and created culture together.It seems to be more of a contemporary issue that some Muslims have deemed “difficult” or something that “compromises” Islamic identity, regardless of the long geographical and historical legacy of Muslim-Christian cooperation and joint futures. Forgive me, but I can’t help but to think these discussions emerge from Muslims not feeling secure enough to just…be in a contemporary, global world.

  6. deonnasayed says:

    And, of course, the way Christmas is celebrated now is very different than Christian communities of the past and in Levant/Muslim world, but culture (even Islamic culture) is never stagnant, nor can we assume it to be, therefore our discussions can’t be lodged in one place, either.