Why (and How) Should Muslim Americans ‘Celebrate’ Christmas? (The Washington Post)

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Every December, Muslim youth, parents and converts in the Western countries face a familiar dilemma: Why (or how) should they “celebrate” Christmas?

On this issue, Muslim scholars are divided. Integrators like the British Cabinet Minister, Baroness Warsi admonish immigrant Muslims to “celebrate Christmas in traditional style, with carols, Santa … and Nativity plays.” Instigators like the Indian televangelist Zakir Naik caution British youthagainst saying “Merry Christmas” as it would be haram (religiously forbidden) and be like “building your place in hell.” Innovators like the Egyptian scholar Ahmad Deedat shrug off the controversyaltogether. “Since we believe in Jesus and if we knew his date of birth” — the only sticking point for him — “why would we not commemorate the birth of Christ?”

Now if my head is spinning, imagine the dizziness of a Muslim convert whose family might still be decorating a Christmas tree.

For Muslim Americans, craving for pragmatic solutions, such theological gridlock is frustrating. Does it provide for a juicy discussion? Absolutely. But nothing fruitful comes out of these discussions.
So let me share the practices of five devout Muslims and true blue Americans — known to me — who join the holiday spirit with their communities in positive ways.

One: A hijab wearing Muslim women told me how she gave $20 gift cards to her garbage collectors before Christmas, thinking about the prophets who used to embrace the “untouchables” in the communities.

Two: Three years ago, a young Muslim youth leader urged me to support him in adopting Christian families. He collaborated with Muslims communities and local churches and ended up adopting nearly 150 families over two Christmas seasons.

Three: The vice president of a mosque sent an e-mail to his congregation yesterday seeking volunteers to “visit area Churches/Christian organizations before Christmas to deliver a gift basket and wish them Happy Holidays.”

Four: A students writes over a dozen greeting cards to her Christian friends, every year, wishing them season’s greetings and a new year of health and wellness. Her dad gives gift cards to his employees.

Five: A Muslim convert who collects good qualities coats and jackets every year and distributes them for free, before Christmas, to the folks at local shelters.

If these five people were “celebrating Christmas,” then yes, I support all American Muslims to celebrate Christmas in the same vein.

But it’s becoming fashionable for some American Muslims — generally upper class — to hold Western style Christmas parties ”honoring Jesus.” I wonder if that’s a desperate attempt to assimilate — because you can’t honor a hallow figure with a shallow festivity.

Imagine if an alien were to visit such a Christmas party, knowing the party was in the honor of a famous personality, would he be able to guess the attributes of that personality? Looking at a largely upper class crowd dressed in designer clothing, would he reckon Jesus as the liberator of the poor? Listening to the small talk would he fathom Jesus to be a great ethical teacher? Looking at a dinner table with 20 food choices for 10 people, would he believe Jesus urged his followers to feed the hungry?

Halfway into the discussion, such folks say: Can’t we just celebrate Christmas because it’s fun? You can, I say. Just don’t put the label of religion over it.

Even if Muslim Americans agree with the service approach of “how to celebrate,” the question, “why to celebrate” remains. Why go out of the cozy comfort zone? Why not stay home and unplug?

The answer is simple. Serving mankind is a part of a Muslim’s faith. Like Jesus, Prophet Muhammad’s life is replete with acts of helping the poor, feeding the hungry, embracing the outcast and serving people — indiscriminately. The Prophet also urged his followers to exchange gifts in order to remove the rancor between hearts.

Muslims Americans: Go be a part of the joy of the season. But as you send your children to embrace the garbage collectors and adopt neglected families, remind them that we don’t celebrate Christmas seeking worldly gain or social acceptance. “We feed you for Allah’s pleasure only. We desire no reward nor thanks” (Quran 76:10).

Dr. Faheem Younus is a clinical associate professor at the University of Maryland. He is the founder of Muslimerican.com. He can be reached at faheem.younus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @FaheemYounus.

This article was originally published in the Washington Post, On Faith Blog

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13 Responses to "Why (and How) Should Muslim Americans ‘Celebrate’ Christmas? (The Washington Post)"

  1. Khan says:

    Hey, it’s Qur’an 76:9.

    • FYQ says:

      Yes. But some Muslims count Bismillah, the opening verse as verse 1 while others don’t. That is the reason behind this discrepancy.

  2. john james says:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/craig-considine/an-unlikely-connection-between-the-prophet-muhammad-and-george-washington_b_2439940.html

    How do you reconcile this call to civility with your founders rather exhaustive usage of sarcasm, insults, and slander.

    • FYQ says:

      First of all, the call to civility is a result of my founders teaching. Please be more specific in your point and I will be happy to share as to where the disconnect ( there’s got to be one) lies.

      • john james says:

        I have read many of the writings of the founder of the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam. Although intellectually curious, and at times reflecting the profundity of Sufi mysticism in 13th and 14th century south asia (and perhaps earlier), there is, without a doubt, a tendency of the founder to be rather uncivil in his discourse. I am not making a moral judgement here, so please understand I do not think such language either proves or disproves his claim. Rather, it is a factual observation that the founder uses insults, satire, sarcasm, in rather extreme forms. His insults to his religious opponents can be found in all of his books. The sarcasm is very deep, particularly with regards to the “hypothetical” jesus.

        This article comparing the call for civility between the founder of Islam (Mohammed) and George Washington is interesting, and not without merit.
        What I am simply pointing out is that your founder (Mirza Gholam Ahmed) is anything but, civil, when it comes to words.

        • FYQ says:

          Thank you for your comments and thoughts. I appreciate the time you took. Before I respond, just provide some more clarity to the equation for me please.

          Kindly share your personal standard of civility. Someone who brought massive change to people of his time, someone who confronted an unimaginable barrage of insults, someone who is now revered by millions of people, someone who claimed to be divinely appointed, someone who claimed that God spoke to him.

          Then it might be easier for us to compare the two. Because otherwise we will be comparing apples (an actual person) with oranges (in this case, an abstract idea or standard).

          • john james says:

            So i’ve asked you to reconcile what it is argued to be uncivil behavior with what we would probably both consider to be “civil” behavior reflected in the personality of the founder of Islam as argued by the linked article above. Its not my definition of civility that I’m asking you to consider. So let us turn to this article:

            “Muhammad and Washington advised their peers to keep their mouths free of foul language. In the Holy Quran, offensive name-calling is forbidden: “Let not some men among you laugh at others … Nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames: Ill-seeming is a name connecting wickedness” (49:11). In “Rules of Civility,” Washington said “[u]se no reproachful language against anyone, neither curse nor revile” (Rule 49). He added: “[s]peak not injurious words, neither in jest nor earnest” and “[s]coff at no one, although they give occasion” (Rule 65). Muhammad and Washington taught their peers to improve relations with others by using kindness and positive words. Both men hoped that using civil language would help groups avoid misunderstandings and create a more harmonious society.”

            So lets keep this simple. Defamation, sarcasm, and calling each other by nicknames. Any reasonable person can find countless examples of the founder of your sect doing precisely this, defaming others and using profound sarcasm.

          • FYQ says:

            I am happy to learn more from this dialogue if/once you share your gold standard of civility with me – with the qualifiers I previously mentioned. Washington wouldn’t meet those qualifiers. So is it Prophet Muhammad (saw)?

          • john james says:

            Faheem,

            I should be clear about a few things before carrying on further discourse. Your personal blog is precisely what is needed in a philosophical sense for most Muslims as I see them today, admittedly anecdotally. The problem of harmonizing Western modernity with Islamic ideals is not an easy one (I recommend the writings of Muhammad Assad and his son, Talal Assad), and your attempt seems to be carried out with enthusiasm and sincerity.

            You are a successful physician in a system which provides an abundantly prosperous and fulfilling lifestyle, both intellectually and monetarily, to those who pursue specialty medicine. This is one of the many “fruits” of American (Western) society. The West harbors technological breakthroughs, engineering, and advanced civil architecture that make our lives so much more comfortable than say, in Pakistan. These “fruits” are a product of scientific, artistic, and technological progress and mastery. I would define this as the quintessential “West” that Muslims need to better understand and incorporate into their lives. As an aside, the “West” has a component which promulgates the most violent and inhumane policies as well. Millions of Iraqi babies murdered through devastating sanctions which targeted common medicines, etc.

            The point, again, is that some form of philosophical identity reconciliation is needed between Muslims and the West. It’s a complex question which I do not intend to address. Suffice it to say, the very name of your website here is a good spirited forum for dialogue and thoughts on the issue.

            The reason why I am reaching out on this forum to you is because I have heard an altogether different side of you which is antithetical to the forum you have placed here. I have heard you speak about things like “Curses” and “Death duels” and “Plagues which were predicted” on youtube.

            Seriously ?

            On the one hand you are a respected physician studying infectious diseases. If a new medical therapy is offered, how do you go about verifying its efficacy ? Do you read scientific papers ? Do you make sure that the proper controls were in place ? Do you rely upon verification after verification ? These are rhetorical questions, of course you do.

            So how can such a scientific and well educated mind, such a keen intellect, sucuumb to something so stupid as claiming a “plague was predicted”. Really ? Was it ? Ok, where is the evidence ? Show me scientific evidence. Show me when the claim was made. Show me scientific evidence of the plague. Show me numbers and figures, that have been verified.

            What about these death duels ? For God’s sake, any such “duel” off the back has a 50% chance of success. Hardly miraculous odds. Moreover, I’ve read through these supposed “death duels” and there were a WHOLE lot which went the other way. In other words, he got some right, he got some wrong. And you know what ? Scientifically, that’s about the odds you would expect.

            So this is the point Dr. Faheem: you’re intelligent, good hearted, and compassionate.

            Use your brain when it comes to Ahmadiyyat. It’s a cult, which has tyrannically controlled your mind. Question the deepest truths you hold so dear.

            You are so close.

            God bless you.

          • FYQ says:

            Thank you for your generous comments. They only “prove” (now I use the word with tremors:) your goodness.

            Trust me. I have fought a lot of questions all through my life. But then we all reconcile truth differently. I wish belief was as simple as a double blind randomized trial.

            My respect for this country and its systems is sincere. You know that. I truly, Allah knows, truly respect you for taking the time to engage in this dialogue.

            You are alluding to my recent West Coast Jalsa Speech. I mean and I believe everything I said there. Thats MY truth.

            I come from a country where civility, honesty, integrity, compassion, sincerity, or love is almost non-existent in the public discourse. Masih Maud as has created thousands and millions of compassionate people (I know you may dispute that) out of such a society.

            Deep down my heart tells me that we have met before. If thats the case, why bother the small joints of our hands with all this typing. May be we should have a meal together. Not to convince or convert the other – but to exchange a glimpse of those innate attributes of Allah, which to some degree, every human beings carries with him.

            Yes? No?

          • john james says:

            “I am happy to learn more from this dialogue if/once you share your gold standard of civility with me – with the qualifiers I previously mentioned. Washington wouldn’t meet those qualifiers. So is it Prophet Muhammad (saw)?”

            I think you’re making this too complex. Civility here is being defined as abstaining from nasty language, for lack of better term. So civility = not so much name calling. I’m sure we all do it a bit now and then.

            This is not hard :)

            I am not a student of Islam, so I cannot say with certainty how the historical records would illuminate the issue. My assumption is that he refrained from name-calling (Muhammad).

            As far as Washington, as far as I can tell, there are heated letters and debates, but contextually, there is very little name-calling.

            So I would classify these two individuals as being quite civil, for their time.

            On the other hand, Mr. Gholam Ahmed was quite astute as a name-caller.

          • john james says:

            I’m humbled and honored by your invitation. Perhaps one day soon.

            In the meantime, please enjoy this:

            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLBFmA87tyg

            read every word, every single one.

            This is my truth :)

          • FYQ says:

            Awesome. I love Nusrat Fateh Ali. It just started playing in the back ground…so gotta run:)

            Will listen tonight inshallah.

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