Christmas Season as a New Muslim

Not so long ago, I loved Christmas.

I was the one in my family who would play Bing Crosby’ and Jim Reeves’, all through December.

It was me who baked mince pies by the car load delivering to family and friends.

It was me who turned the inside of our home into a dazzling, frenzy of tinsel and lights.

Now this season is an ordeal. All my social and cultural conflicts come to the fore. The security of being able to put the past away, to become a new, improved, moral, person, shudders under the weight of nostalgic Christmas medleys in the packed shopping mall.

When we lived in France, my daughters and I attended church (fairly) regularly. On Christmas Eve, we would join the whole village for the atmospheric, candle lit, Midnight Mass.

The ‘big lesson’ I sought to give my children each December, was; ‘Christmas is not just presents and food, it’s about gratitude and love of God’. Like many middle class parents, I had started to move away from the hyper-showy, consumer frenzy of the Happy Holidays.

One year, our family fled to the Western Desert of Egypt and the heady luxury of – a tent. The girls presents were: a wooden animal, a regional instrument and a traditional Arab-style dress (with fake coins dangling from scarves), each. Waking up on the floor of a hut near an oasis, the children, singing on a sand dune, dressed like Arabian princesses, contentedly playing with their humble toys, was a joyful escape from the excessiveness of the 21st Century Christmas.

How ironic then, that I have somewhat confused my daughters by now telling them that; “Xmas is just about food and family, there is nothing religious about it,” in order for us to survive this month.

For a large number of ‘born’ Muslims who live in Europe, North America and Australia, Christmas is just a time when the cities in which they dwell become prettier for a short while. When work colleagues are more cheerful. When shimmering lights and tinsel enter homes without any religious, self analysis, at all.

I know Muslim families in the UK who happily have Christmas trees in their homes and fairy lights twinkling from every awning.

‘What’s the big deal?’ I hear. And ‘the children like it so it’s harmless.’

And maybe it is – for those who haven’t come from my background; where alcohol was breakfast (at least) three days of the holiday. A background where as a Christian we were nicer to strangers and family and decorated our home in the belief that Jesus was the son of God.

So is it ‘no big deal’ to take part in all the ‘fun’ stuff around us?

I was fascinated to read this warning from the Bible against a habit of the Pagans (worshippers of many gods), thousands of years ago.

“Hear the word that the Lord speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the Lord: “Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them, for the customs of the peoples are vanity. A tree from the forest is cut down and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move. Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good.” (Jeremiah 10:1-25)

Having a tree inside the home is disliked by God as it is a practice linked to shirk. The hanging of objects on the tree, not so harmless as it seems. As for the star on top, every four year old knows that is linked to Christian teachings.

Then there’s the question of how and where children spend time during the holiday period. Like many adult reverts to Islam, my children are from a former marriage and have relatives who are not Muslim. This means that for a week each December, my practicing, daughters leave home to stay in households filled by the smell of alcohol, listening to Christmas Carols praising Jesus, and (perhaps worst of all) stuck to a sofa for days of unlimited, largely inappropriate, TV.

Removing Xmas from the calendar hasn’t been an easy thing. Why you may be asking does it matter at all? Why not just go with the flow? After all Allah Almighty accepts us on our intentions and if we put up a tree because it looks pretty, then the intention is to enjoy beauty right? And Allah loves beauty.

Reverts like to know ‘chapter and verse’ how to please Allah Almighty. It is common for us newbies to avoid the ‘grey areas’ of fiqh in which danger lingers, with staunch determination, at least for a few years. Our clumsy, yet well meaning attempts to stay true toTawhid, can put us out of synch with our new brothers and sisters, who wear their faith, shall we say, more, lightly?

Christmas is one such example.

{And behold! God will say [i.e. on the Day of Judgment]: ‘Oh Jesus, the son of Mary! Did you say unto men, worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of God?’ He will say: ‘Glory to Thee! Never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, You would indeed have known it. You know what is in my heart, though I know not what is in Yours. For You know in full all that is hidden. Never did I say to them anything except what You commanded me to say: ‘Worship God, my Lord and your Lord.’ And I was a witness over them while I lived among them. When You took me up, You were the Watcher over them, and You are a witness to all things’} (5: 116-17)

The Quran is the ultimate argument against decorating my home.

Writing this, I sit in a house that looks the same as it does all year round.

No ‘White Christmas’ is playing merrily in the background.

No mulled wine is bubbling on the hob.

And (for the first time ever) NO Christmas tree is blinking in my living room.

Christmas day, I will be as far away as possible from nostalgia – and temptation. I am joining tens of thousands of brothers and sisters at the Al Ansar Souk in Durban (inshaAllah).

So, if you see Santa, please tell him I’ve moved.


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