Holiday tensions: War on Christmas?  Don’t blame Muslims

Christmas mubarak!

In recent years, there has been much talk of a so-called “war on Christmas” that seeks to eliminate all references to the religious nature of the holiday from the public sphere. Stores have dropped the traditional “Merry Christmas” greeting in favor of the generic “Happy Holidays”, nativity scenes are being prohibited from public lands, and some cities have even tried to rename Christmas to the more generic “Winterval”. While some put the blame on political correctness run amok, others pin the focus on religious minorities and the perception that they may be offended at overtly Christian references. Jews may have Hanukkah to protect them from getting coal in their stockings, but Muslims are making an easy target for those looking for a scapegoat. Not, mind you, because of anything Muslims are doing, but because some of those attempting to secularize Christmas cite the fear of offending Muslims as their reason. “We cant go out and give a Muslim child a Jesus doll,” explained Marine Sgt. Paul McCawley, spokesperson for Toys for Tots, which passes out gifts to needy children every December (and which refuses to accept donations of Jesus dolls). “Itd be like giving a boy a makeup kit.” Retailers are hiding behind Muslims as well. “We would definitely not say ‘Merry Christmas’,” said Crate & Barrel spokesperson Betty Kahn, citing Muslim customers as an example of those the store wishes not to offend. A British school even tried to make their Christmas dinner halal (while 20% of its students are Muslim, none of them asked for it), but parent complaints forced them to reconsider. And with those sentiments, the inevitable backlash – ’tis the season for another campaign against the US Postal Service’s Eid stamp. But this year, some Muslims are making a pre-emptive strike against the notion that they are Grinches. In the UK, Muslims stood with Christians in fighting the “Winterval” proposal. “The desire to secularize religious festivals is in itself offensive to both our communities,” said Dr. Ataullah Siddiqui, vice-chair of the campaign. Efforts to secularize Christmas “will tend to backfire badly on the Muslim community in particular,” added Anglican bishop David Gillett. Elsewhere, Muslims are lending support to the beleaguered holiday. “If they call it the Christmas season, it’s fine with me,” said Newark, NJ shopper Iqbal Aziz. “I don’t feel bad,” commented Wilmington, DE resident Khorshed Alam on Christian-themed ads. “You have your right to do it.” Other Muslims are embracing the opportunity to help decorate their neighbor’s homes (or even their own) and sharing views on Mary and what an Islamic nativity scene would look like. And some Muslims are finding their own unique ways to mark the holiday. “Christmas is a religious festival,” says Saleem Kiowai of the Muslim Council of Wales. “It does not need to be neutralized.”

Shahed Amanullah is editor-in-chief of altmuslim.com