Published in  
Matters of the Heart
December 29, 2021

Christmas: Beyond Celebrations

Urf (culture) plays a very very important role in Islamic legislation and jurisprudence. Islam is a universal religion that encompasses all cultures. That being said the key point is: Islam accepts all cultures as long as it does NOT contradict any teachings of Islam.

It's Mawlid Season this week. We just passed one and we have another one waiting for us. 25 December is knocking on our doors and we are in the ‘festive season’ – Christmas time. Many Muslims around the world will be actually taking part in these festivities. They will do this without really questioning what they are doing, without even asking themselves if, as Muslims, they should be partaking in this at all.

One of the major problems is not the youth but the parents and their approach to it. They may not have taught the kids that it is wrong to partake in this and slowly it becomes a norm. It all goes hand in hand with what people call “Being Progressive” and that want of being “accepted” into the folds of the western society they so want to become a part of. Parents need to explain to the schools that their children attend, about Islamic values and why their children shouldn’t take part in Christmas celebrations.Sheikh Asim Khan said, "When the Israelites crossed the sea after witnessing the most iconic miracle of all, they saw a people who they felt were superior to them worshiping their god. They turned to Musa عليه السلام and asked him ‘make god like that for us’. Shockingly treacherous. Fast forward today and the main issue I see with Muslims celebrating Christmas so openly is the desire to be part of other people’s festivals. Allah blessed us with 2 Eids, a weekly Jumuah Eid and beautiful brotherhood. Let us not be like those people who say to our Prophet ﷺ  ‘make a Christmas like that for us’".

Urf (culture) plays a very very important role in Islamic legislation and jurisprudence. Islam is a universal religion that encompasses all cultures. That being said the key point is: Islam accepts all cultures as long as it does NOT contradict any teachings of Islam.

“Soon the bonds of Islam will be loosened bit by bit, because people will enter into Islam but will be unaware of the Jaahiliyyah (ignorant practices that Islam opposes).” - Umar Ibn al-Khattaab رضي الله عنه

How true is it in this day and age. Culture is seeping in and taking a stronghold and many people have taken it to be a part of Islam, when Islam is free from all the filth they attribute to it. This goes to show the importance of education and tarbiyah that is much much needed amongst us. Its not just abut the numbers and quantity, rather its about the quality. Deep insight from Ameerul Mumineen.

Dr.Bilal Philips mentioned to us, "We use the term Sunnah all the time. But if we look at our lives, we don't really see the Sunnah. Rather a lot of us are following the culture with a bit of Sunnah sprinkled on top of it. We cannot even differentiate between the Sunnah and the culture. We need to teach our children the difference between culture and Sunnah. Today you might say what you are doing is courtesy and just culture. But tomorrow your kids might think that it is some part of the religion and might look down upon others who don't do the same. This is problematic in the long run."

Our Sheikh, Ibrahim Nuhu حفظه الله in his commentary of Riyadhus Saliheen said, "Innovation is basically adding to the religion that which is not part of it. If there is some cultural practice then that is fine provided that it doesn't contradict the Shariah and you don't say that this is part of the religion. Because if you do then you have to bring forth proof of this."

Coming back to Christmas, the concept of getting gifts and presents, the surprises, the suspense the night before is enough to turn any kids head. I remember asking my mom to also get some toys for me as my Christian friends in the neighbourhood were getting so many on that day. Problem is we don’t actually enjoy the 2 Eids that are actually made to be celebrated. Kids can be given presents on those days, so much can be done to make them look forward to Eid. If not then of-course, every kid will look towards another kid who got new toys.

The fact is that Muslims should not be taking part in Christmas or other festivals that are not based in Islam, that do not uphold the principles that we have been taught by the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم . But many Muslims do. This is one topic we go one after year in and year out.  A sad fact and one that undermines the establishing of Islam and a united Ummah.

Some Muslims say that it is a sign of respect/courtesy to say “Happy Christmas” as their friends and neighbours wished them during Eid. I put myself in their shoes and I can say it very easily that not doing so would look bad and most probably even rude. But we have to control and suppress our ego at times and submit completely to Allah, isn’t that what being a Muslim is all about? Just to look good in the eyes of our colleagues we are ready to be shunned in the eyes of Allah. Who is more deserving of our respect? It is Allah! Surely it is a greater deed to show respect to Allah than to misguided servants of Allah? We could smile as the Sunnah is at all times, no need to go jumping around like the haram police but the exact opposite is also true, we don’t need to go throwing Christmas parties either. Let's take an example for it to make more sense. You would never see a Pakistani cricket supporter wear the Indian cricket jersey no matter what. Likewise, you would never see a United supporter wear a Liverpool jersey. Every sports follower understands this. Many fans even go to the lengths to make sure none in their family support the rival team or wear its colours and jerseys. All of this is completely acceptable and looked upon as having strong loyalty and passion towards something that you love. Why then suddenly does it become an issue for something greater, our religion?

By celebrating Christmas you are actually following something else and this undermines the strength of the Ummah. This is one of the reasons why the Ummah is weak – we do not adhere to Islam and only Islam. There is nothing wrong with saying that you are a Muslim and so do not celebrate Christmas. Non-Muslims respect this but it seems that Muslims do not want to feel like they are upsetting others. How cute, aren’t we? Awwww…..

Allah mentions in the Quran,

They say: “(Allah) Most Gracious has begotten a son!” Indeed you have put forth a thing most monstrous! At it the skies are ready to burst, the earth to split asunder, and the mountains to fall down in utter ruin, that they should invoke a son for (Allah) Most Gracious. For it is not consonant with the majesty of (Allah) Most Gracious that He should beget a son. Not one of the beings in the heavens and the earth but must come to (Allah) Most Gracious as a servant. [Surah-Maryam, 88-93]

Allah takes such an offence, such a stance against this and we take it so lightly. Just imagine the skies tearing apart…

The Origins of Christmas

Prophet Isa عليه السلام aka Jesus Christ is commonly considered to have been born on the 25th of December. However, it is common knowledge among Christian scholars that he was not born on this day. It is well known that the first Christian churches held their festival in May, April, or January. Scholars of the first two centuries AD even differ in which year he was born. Sheikh Dr.Waleed Hakeem writes, "Orthodox Christians believe that Christmas occurs on 7th January and not 24th December. This difference occurs because Orthodox Christians follow the Julian Calendar, and not the Gregorian calendar which is followed by the rest of the world. The Julian calendar is named after 'Julius Caesar', and is a full 16 centuries older than the Gregorian calendar, and was the only one followed in most of Europe until the 16th century! It was only in 1582 that we started to follow the calendar of today (Gregorian), which was issued by and named after Pope Gregory XIII."

Sheikh Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Tarefe rightfully observes, "The Date of Birth of Isa عليه السلام isn't exactly known and there is a difference of opinion between Orthodox and Catholic Christians to this day. They didn't preserve their Book so how about the date of birth of the one who brought the Book!"

Long before December 25th was associated with the birth of Jesus Christ, winter celebrations have been observed in various ways around the world. From the Norse celebrating Yule to the ancient Romans celebrating Saturnalia in honour of their pagan god Saturn or Sol Invictus (Unconquered Sun). During this time, some also celebrated the birth of Mithra- the pagan god of unconquerable sun- on December 25th. To the Romans, this was the most important day of the year.

Interestingly, Sheikh Abu A’la Mawdudi in his tafseer of of Surah al-Hadid mentions, "When Christianity started achieving successes and spreading rapidly among the common people, the Church in its zeal to attract more and more adherents went on imbibing every evil that was prevalent in society. Thus, saint-worship replaced the ancient deities. Images of Christ and Mary began to be worshiped instead of the idols of Horus and Isis. Christmas took the place of Saturnalia. Christian monks began to practice every kind of occult art like curing the sick by amulets and magic incantations, taking omens and fortune-telling, driving out spirits, etc. as were prevalent in ancient days."

Let's begin by looking at the history of this day and also how ancient pagan practices have been left behind for centuries.

In 325AD, Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman emperor, introduced Christmas as an immovable feast on 25 December. He also introduced Sunday as a holy day in a new 7-day week, and introduced movable feasts (Easter). In 354AD, Bishop Liberius of Rome officially ordered his members to celebrate the birth of Jesus on 25 December. However, even though Constantine officiated 25 December as the birthday of Christ, Christians, recognising the date as a pagan festival, did not share in the emperor’s good meaning. Christmas failed to gain universal recognition among Christians until quite recently. In England, Oliver Cromwell banned Christmas festivities between 1649 and 1660 through the so-called Blue Laws, believing that Christmas should be a solemn day. In the early 4th century, Catholic leaders decided to institute the celebration of Jesus’ birth. They had a problem though, no where in the bible does it say the actual date of Jesus’ birth, nor does it say we are to honour this day at all, but Pope Julius the 1st chose December 25th, the same date of Mithras birth, keeping all the evil traditions alive anyway.

When many Protestants escaped persecution by fleeing to the colonies all over the world, interest in joyous Christmas celebrations was rekindled there. Still, Christmas was not even a legal holiday until the 1800s.

So as any rational person can see, there is no sound basis for Christmas, nor did Isa عليه السلام or his true followers celebrate Christmas or ask anyone to celebrate Christmas, nor was there any record of anyone calling themselves Christians celebrating Christmas until several hundred years after Jesus عليه السلام. So were the companions of Jesus more righteously guided in not celebrating Christmas or are the people of today? We see the traces of how the Muslim world tried to copy and come up with the concept of Mawlid for our own Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم.

Allah relays the part of the story of Prophet Isa's عليه السلام birth in Surah Maryam by saying:

قَالُوا كَيْفَ نُكَلِّمُ مَن كَانَ فِي الْمَهْدِ صَبِيًّا
قَالَ إِنِّي عَبْدُ اللَّهِ آتَانِيَ الْكِتَابَ وَجَعَلَنِي نَبِيًّا

They said, "How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?"
He said, "I am a slave of Allah, He has given me the Scripture and made me a Prophet" [Surah Maryam, 29-30]

Commenting on Prophet Isa's عليه السلام statement in this second ayah, Imam Ibn Kathir wrote, "The first thing which Isa said was to exalt the honor of his Lord, declare Allah free of having any son, and affirm his own state of servitude to his Lord." [Tafsir ibn Kathir 5/228]

Interactions on the Occasion of Christmas

To wish the Non-Muslims with Merry Christmas or any of their religious festivals is Haram, by consensus of the ulama (ijma’), as Sheikh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah رحمه الله said, “Imitating them on some of their festivals implies that one is happy with the falsehood they are following, and that could make them (the non-Muslims) take this opportunity to mislead those who are weak in faith. This is not a condemnation of celebrating Christmas as a matter of disrespect to Christians. In reality, it is out of respect for Allah and Prophet Isa Ibn Maryam عليه السلام and the teachings of our Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم that we spread this.

His student Imam Ibn al-Qayyim رحمه الله further said, ““Congratulating the disbelievers during their rituals; their rituals which promote disbelief, which are exclusive to them, is forbidden by consensus. This is because congratulating the disbelievers during their festival and during the times they fast, by saying ‘Merry Christmas to you’, ‘have a blessed festival’ or any other greeting similar to this. If the one who says this has been saved (i.e., excused) from disbelief, it is still forbidden! It is like congratulating the disbeliever(s) for prostrating to the cross, rather, that is an even greater sin and is more hateful to Allāh than congratulating someone for drinking alcohol, murdering someone, or having illicit sexual relations etc. Many of those who have no respect for their religion fall into this error; they do not realise the offensiveness of their actions. Whomsoever congratulates a person for his disobedience, innovation or disobedience exposes himself to the wrath and anger of Allah, the Almighty and Majestic.” [Ahkam Ahl adh-Dhimmah, 1/441]

Imam adh-Dhahabi رحمه الله said, “If the Jews and Christians have a festival, then that is exclusively for them, no Muslim should participate therein, just as he does not participate with them in their religion nor in their direction of prayer.” [Tashbeeh al-Khasees bi-Ahl al-Khamees, 391]

Another doubt that is raised is buying and selling on Christmas. There is nothing wrong with buying clothing, furniture and so on during Christmas, on condition that one does not buy things that are used to celebrate the festival or to imitate the disbelievers. As for selling, Sheikh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah said: “A Muslim should not sell things that will help the Muslims to imitate them (disbelievers) on their festivals, such as food, clothing and so on, because that is helping in doing evil.” He further added, ‘As for Muslims selling to (disbelievers) on their festivals the things that help them to celebrate their festivals, such as food, clothing, herbs and so on, or giving those things to them, this is a kind of helping them to establish their haram festivals.” [Iqtida’ al-Sirat al-Mustaqim]

Imam Ibn Habiib al-Ilbiri al-Qurtubi رحمه الله said, “Do you not see that it is not permissible for the Muslims to sell to the Christians anything that has to do with their festivals, whether it be meat, condiments or clothing; they should not lend them mounts or help them in any part of their festivals, because that is like venerating their shirk and helping them in their kufr. The authorities should forbid the Muslims to do that. This is the view of Malik and others, and I do not know of anyone who disagreed with that.” [Iqtida’ as-Sirat al-Mustaqim]

Also, the sayings of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم  are very clear that we should not imitate non-Muslims:

مَنْ تَشَبَّهَ بِقَوْمٍ فَهُوَ مِنْهُم

Whoever imitates a nation is one of them. [Abu Dawud]

لاَ تَقُومُ السَّاعَةُ حَتَّى تَأْخُذَ أُمَّتِي بِأَخْذِ الْقُرُونِ قَبْلَهَا، شِبْرًا بِشِبْرٍ وَذِرَاعًا بِذِرَاعٍ

The final hour will not come until my followers copy the deeds of the previous nations and follow them very closely, span by span, and cubit by cubit. [Bukhari]

The erudite companion Abdullah b. Amr b. al-Aas رضي الله عنهما said, "Whoever settles in the lands of the infidels, celebrates their [Nowruz] and [Mahrajan], and emulates them in their ways till he dies, he will be with them on the Last Day." [Bayhaqi, Sunan al-Kubra]

Muslims should heed this warning and refrain from copying or imitating the kuffar in their celebrations. Islam has strongly forbidden Muslims to follow the religious or social customs of the non-Muslims, and especially of the idol-worshippers or those who worship the devil. This is not about Muslims being segregated from society but more the opposite. This is about Muslims standing up and being identified as Muslims – not as though they have some confused fusion of identities. Islam is clear and Muslims need to be also. By being identified as Muslims, what Muslims stand for, what Islam stands for, you will gain respect from other Muslims, gain understanding and respect from non-Muslims and start to create societies where Muslims can be seen to have their place. This is about societies welcoming Muslims and Islam – it isn’t about eating into Islamic identity, which is what those Muslims are doing who are taking part in Christmas, Easter, Diwali, Hannukah and other non-Islamic festivals.

It's sad seeing some Muslims and even Muslim majority countries spending millions on Christmas celebrations which are so grand that such celebrations are not found even in Non-Muslim countries. Wallahi this is absurd and rings a huge alarm bell for all those looking for a revival, to rectify ourselves before blaming the Non-Muslims for all our problems. Allahu Musta’an!

The Hanbali Stand

Some people say that Imam Ahmad and the Hanabilah allowed congratulating non-Muslims. This is incorrect and represents the madhab out of context. The permissibility is only in the context of non-religious occasions such as marriage, the birth of a child etc. When it comes to congratulating them on their religious festivals, the madhab categorically state it is forbidden.

Imam Mar‘i b. Yusuf in Ghayat al-Muntaha writes, "And it is prohibited to greet them, give condolences to them, visit them, or partake in their religious celebrations." Imam Al-Bahuti in Sharh Muntaha al-Iradat stated, "It is prohibited to initiate [greetings of] salams to them - It is forbidden to congratulate them, offer condolences to them, visit them, or partake in their religious celebrations … However it is not forbidden for us to trade with them during it; i.e. their religious festivals, since it entails no respect (ta‘zim) of it." What does this mean? For the Hanabliah, the prohibition on the issue isn’t because doing so entails an acknowledgement or approval of Christianity’s correctness. It is impermissible because it involves a form of respect forbidden by the Shariah.

Moving Forward

Now I get for some it's kinda hard thing to digest as to why our scholars have taken such a strong stance. It's just a few words and a kind gesture right? That’s what we may tend to think but our scholars who have studied the matter in-depth see that and warn us because though it may be easy on the tongue but its implications could be very heavy for us having a large impact from a religious perspective.

I’m not saying we boycott or stop interaction with our Christian friends and colleagues. That would be absurd. As Br.Abdul Latif wrote, “For four hundred years, half the Christians on earth lived with us under the Caliphate.Three Catholic Popes came from Syria when it was governed by the Umayyads. The Christians of the Middle East used to fast Ramadan with us, decorate the minarets of Damascus out of belief in the Prophecy of Muhammad about the descent of Jesus.” We can still work together and yet draw the line as and when required.

To be honest, Sikhs make me respect them. I mean just look at how committed they are. Be it school uniform or anything, the turban is there, no compromise in religion at all. Does anyone say anything to them? No, they don’t, in turn they actually respect that and give them even more breathing space, unlike us who have to please every human that walks under the shade of the sun for some reason.

As Muslims, we have to be kind to non-Muslims but we don’t have to start celebrating their festivals which have polytheistic origins. Honestly, bearing witness to لا إله إلا الله محمد رسول الله‎ is a serious matter! So, we can’t throw around justifications like “We have to be kind to non-Muslims” or “We should welcome all the celebrations, what’s the harm?”. It is very important to note that Islam is a complete way of life and it suffices Muslims. At the same time, we should be interactive and proactive. We should not forget our role in the society. We should be a good example to others. Islam urges us to be kind with all people without any kind of discrimination due to differences in faith or race. But then again we don’t compromise our ideals and religion just to fit in.

Read, ponder, reflect, and remember the words of Umar Ibn Al-Khattab رضي الله عنه who powerfully said, "Verily, we were a disgraceful people and Allah honoured us with Islam. If we seek honour from anything besides that with which Allah honoured us, Allah will disgrace us.”" [Al-Mustadrak]

We pray to Allah and ask him to make us Muslims feel proud of our religion, to help us adhere steadfastly to it, and to make us victorious over falsehood. Ya Allah guide those from amongst us who are astray to the right path so that we do  not incur your wrath and follow the teachings of your beloved Messenger Muhammad Ibn Abdullah صلى الله عليه وسلم.

قُلْ هُوَ اللَّهُ أَحَدٌ. اللَّهُ الصَّمَدُ .لَمْ يَلِدْ وَلَمْ يُولَدْ . وَلَمْ يَكُن لَّهُ كُفُوًا أَحَدٌ

Say: He is Allah, One. Allah is As-Samad. He neither begets nor is begotten. And there is nothing like Him. [Surah al-Ikhlas]

Praise be to the One God, who begets not, nor is begotten.

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