A Dilemma Between Sacred Law
(Muslims and Christmas)
So, jingle bells, everyone. It’s December, and if you are living in a Western and/or largely Christian country (at least, Catholic Christian and all of it’s Protestant off-shoots, since many Christian sects in Africa and the Middle East celebrate Christmas in January) then you know it’s about time for Christmas. Tis the season for the fundamentalist Muslims to tell us we’re all kufaar (disbelievers) for visiting our families during their religious festivities, the day when the conspiracy theorist loons remind us that December 25th is actually the birthday of the pagan Roman god Mithras, and the day when the secular-liberal Muslims put Christmas trees in their own houses to placate their inferiority complexes. What is an American-born Muslim convert to do? Is there no middle ground?
“I AIN’T CELEBRATIN’ NO KAFIR HOLIDAY!”
Let me back up for a second. For those newly initiated into the “Muslims celebrating non-Muslim holidays” fiasco, the general rule in our religion (at least, for those of us that are reasonable) is that any national (read: secular and not inherently “un-Islamic” in principle) holidays such as 4th of July, Thanksgiving, etc., are fine. Any nutjub fundamentalist whacko that tries to tell you otherwise is, well, a nutjob fundamentalist whacko. Refute these loons with one simple fact: All Muslim countries have non-religious national holidays as well; this isn’t something unique to non-Muslim countries. A few examples: In Egypt they have Sinai Liberation Day, Labour Day, Revolution Day, and Armed Forces Day. In Saudi Arabia, September 23 is Saudi National Day. May 25th is the “Independence Day” of Jordan, and May 1st is their Labour Day. The Independence/National Day in Malaysia is August 31st. Etc. Etc. You get my point.
Now, occasionally, this will not shut up the fundy’s (who, contrary to popular opinion, actually take the “fun” OUT of “fundamentalist”), and they will carp, “Well, the Muslims aren’t on anything these days, so we can’t take these countries as our model.” This is usually followed by strange words and phrases like, “daleel“, and “if there were any good in these holidays, then our Prophet would have…” and “Islamic identity…” etc. It’s best to point such people to this fatwa by Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayyah (A leading Maliki scholar, perhaps THE leading Maliki scholar, of our time), and this follow up explanation on Suhaib Webb’s website, which provides all that “daleel” they were carping about. These references prove a simple fact: National, non-religious holidays, generally speaking, are fine, and a certain little group of nuts need to get over it.
“CHRISTMAS” IN THE AMERICAN CONTEXT:
So, where does Christmas come into play? It’s a little bit more complicated. It IS a religious holiday, there is no getting around that. I don’t really buy the whole secular-liberal Muslim argument that “it’s a consumer holiday” or “it’s a family holiday” or “it’s not really about Jesus” or “people don’t really associate it with Christianity anymore” blah blah blah. Nativity scenes are everywhere, Religious holiday cards sell out, and people fill the Churches to watch passion plays. It’s a dadgum religious holiday, and the secularists who celebrate it are just making excuses to get some presents. You know it, I know it. The end.
But, again, it’s problematic from a convert-Muslim standpoint. Despite it’s religious overtones, to our families it is a sort of requisite of filial piety to show up and engage them on this holiday. To not do so is, in their mind, to be an undutiful son or daughter. It’s an aspect of American culture that I don’t think the heritage Muslims fully grasp (and it is CERTAINLY not grasped by some Saudi cleric sitting on his manhaj high-horse in KSA issuing English-language fatwas online). Even though it is a religious holiday, and it’s all about the birth of the God-man version of Jesus, it is ALSO about family. It’s a lot about family. It’s the only day Wal-Mart gives it’s employees off, for Pete’s sake! You know it’s a family holiday in America if Wal-Mart lets you have a day off! Those capitalist swine even make their (slaves) employees work on Thanksgiving!
THE TWO EXTREMES:
So, in order to deal with this rigamarole and confusion, the Muslims of our day and age, in predictable fashion, go to extremes. The pedantic pseudo-intellectual fundy-Muslims denounce the holiday altogether, refrain from visiting family and friends, and seclude themselves in their houses in protest. They might post a few things on Facebook about how totally awesome they are and how they love Jesus way more than anybody else because THEY don’t celebrate Christmas, because it’s not his birthday. It’s really the birthday of some other guy named Mithras. You’ve probably never heard of him. Pfft. Christmas is so mainstream.
But then you have the inferiority-complex-laden, Starbucks-drinking, fake-glasses wearing, super-expensive-car driving secular liberal Muslims (or the fake-it-till-you-make it wannabe’s that mimic them) that put up Christmas trees in their own houses, give their own (Muslim) kids gifts, and try to tell you it’s Jesus’ birthday.
So, for those converts that don’t know where to turn to, and wonder if there is a middle ground, let some of us older and wiser converts who have been in your shoes (and subsequently lived through the fallout that happens when we go to either of these extremes) be the wind that guides your sails. Here is the basic rundown:
LAW VS. PRINCIPLE:
The whole question comes down to one dilemma: Are we to obey the Letter of the Law, or the Spirit behind it? Obviously that requires explanation, so allow me to make my thoughts a little less inchoate: In the Monotheistic tradition, there were, until Islam, only two basic archetypes. The Rabbinical archetype, and the Essene archetype. The Rabbinical archetype is the archetype of the religious fundamentalists who adhere to their Sacred Law most meticulously, often missing and/or ignoring the reasons those Laws were revealed in the first place, which was to heal society and make things better for people. The Essene archetype is the archetype of the religious people that give significant merit to the spirit behind the revealed Laws, sometimes even going to an extreme in this and ignoring certain aspects of their Sacred Maxims and Statutes to achieve greater empathy and spiritual heights. We could also call these two phenomena the “Moses” archetype, and the “Jesus” archetype.
But Islam brought the Sacred Middle Way (Qu’ran 2:143). We have a Sacred Law, and to have scrupulousness (in Arabic: Wara’) with regards to it is highly meritorious. Yet the religion also has certain principles that those Laws came to fulfill, and those principles are so highly valued that our scholars sometimes even use those principles in preference to clear texts if they feel the principle is more strongly conveyed within the religion than an isolated Law or Maxim (This is called “qiyas” in Arabic). To put it a way a layman can understand: Sometimes the Law itself is more important, and sometimes the basic principles of the religion (the “spirit behind the Law”) is more important, and it depends on which scholar you are consulting as to which of the two “interpretations” you’re gonna get.
WHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL SITUATION?
The question is, when to use which? In the case of Christmas, it appears to me (And Allahu ‘Alim -God knows best), that it comes down to the specific situation of each individual, and each person knows their own circumstance better than an outsider. If you come from a family that will be deeply hurt and offended that you don’t show up and visit them on Christmas, then to not show up will actually do more harm than good. It is definitely NOT conducive to good dawah, as it will make our families hate Islam. We don’t want them to feel like they’ve lost a family member, a person that used to be human, and for them to subsequently feel that they have gained nothing but a rigid, Rabbinical, judgmental automaton in place of the “former you” that they knew and loved. Rather the goal -especially in those early years of our conversion, is to assure them that we are still the same people, that we have only underwent a few minor changes (for the better, insha’Allah). To compromise a little bit and visit your family on a day that is so special to them is more in keeping with very serious principles and themes of Islam, such as honoring the ties of kinship, dutifulness and honoring of parents, empathy and compassion for our fellow human beings, and being good ambassadors of Islam.
On the flip side of that is, if you come from a family that isn’t very close knit, that doesn’t make a big deal out of Christmas, or, perhaps that would only be slightly miffed/annoyed that you didn’t show up (i.e., irritated, but not enough to justify you compromising your deen), then it is always best to err on the side of caution, obedience, and assiduousness in following the Sacred Law when it is possible to do so, as the Holy Apostle Muhammad ﷺ said in a well-known hadith, “That which is permissible is clear and that which is forbidden is clear, and between the two of them are ambiguous matters about which many people are unsure. Thus he who avoids ambiguous matters clears (protects) himself with regard to his religion and his honor, but he who falls into ambiguous matters (eventually) falls into that which is sinful (forbidden).”
But, -and this needs to be said-, following the more lenient/compromised view of visiting family on Christmas does NOT give us license to fall into the snares of the ignorant Secular-Liberal Muslims who celebrate Christmas in their own homes with their own Muslim children. We call it a compromise because it is exactly that: A compromise. It is not “giving in” or “selling out.” We don’t understand such compromises to be carte blanche to hang up the Christmas lights and nail in the stockings over the fireplace in our own residences. Suffice it to quote the Holy Apostle Muhammad ﷺ in this regard, who said, “Whoever imitates a people is one of them.” Without doubt, we want to be true, practicing Muslims, especially in our own homes and around our own children, even if we sometimes have to compromise certain things outside of our houses for the greater good and in order to live up to the profound principles of our religion.
So this, brothers and sisters, is the correct balance, the middle way, as I have come to understand it. I hope that God blesses all of us to be among those believers described by our Prophet ﷺ as “… easy-going, gentle and kind…” (Hakim). If I have made a mistake in my judgment, then I ask for God to forgive me, as my intention was nothing other than to address the needs of my fellow Muslim converts facing unparalleled difficulties and confusions in the Western world. If there are any mistakes in this, then they are mine alone, and if there is any benefit, then it is from God, the Perfect, Living, and Sublime!