I was raised in a conservative Muslim household — we prayed five times a day, we read the Quran daily, we fasted during Ramadan and we didn’t celebrate Christmas.
We celebrated Thanksgiving, which as “thankful” Americans and Muslims, my parents didn’t hesitate to celebrate. Halloween was an annual debate- some years, we celebrated it wearing costumes, joining parades and even trick-or-treating and other years, we stayed home watched movies and ate candy we bought from the store.
Christmas was never part of the debate. Jesus was not the son of God and, although Muslims revered Jesus (AS) as a prophet, celebrating Christmas was seen as the acceptance as this belief.
I followed this model and it made life easy, not having to think about it.
Then suddenly, I married a man who was born a Catholic. As an only child, his conversion to Islam, 20 years before, was a big deal to his mother, who is a staunch Catholic. Before he met me, he went through his bout of trying to convince his mother that he was right and she was wrong. He finally stopped, realizing he was in danger of losing his mother and leaving her alone with no family. By the time he met me, he had matured in his faith and his relationship with her. He understood that his mother’s need for him and his duty to her superseded the haram-ness* of “celebrating” a non-Muslim holiday.
I married my husband because I felt he brought me closer to Allah. So when I spent my first Christmas with him decorating his mother’s tree, I felt conflicted. I talked to my husband about the guilt I felt. I told him about what some Muslims and even Muslim leaders would say — that my celebrating, or just going through the motions, of Christmas was haram. My husband asked me if my belief in Allah had changed and if I believed that Jesus (AS) was more than a prophet. Of course not, I said. He explained to me that he had dealt with all of the complexities of being a convert and had come up with his own set of beliefs that, in his opinion, didn’t contradict with Islam.
His aqidah** was strong. He still believed in one Allah, who was not begotten and did not beget. He disagreed with the fundamental basis which was Christmas and even questioned the pagan rituals. We didn’t celebrate Christmas in our little house, but as an only son to his single mother, he owed it to her to be kind to her, honor her and respect her beliefs. He did what his mother expected him to do on a superficial level because he didn’t want to hurt his mother.
She knows he is Muslim, but he is still her little boy. He helps her haul the tree into her house. He helps decorate her tree, putting on the lights, putting the decorations on the top where she can’t reach, and even places the angel on the top of the tree. I help her with the Christmas dinner, preparing the appetizers while she cooks the turkey. His mother fills the stockings and puts the gifts under the tree and smiles and laughs in anticipation as he opens his gifts. Her happiness is worth a day of being frowned upon by those Muslims who are lucky enough to make a decision and not have to think about it. Those who forget about the nuances that American Muslims face daily.
Now, four years and two kids later, I watch my son dance and my daughter crawl near the Christmas tree and know that I am doing this for Allah. My Allah is loving and abandoning my mother-in-law, who I love just as I love my own mother, during a season she believes is for family and love, would be haram. And who knows, maybe my love and respect for my mother-law may be what it takes for her to one day love and respect my religion? And I ask God to forgive me for my shortcomings because I don’t have the answers and am always learning.
Sabina Khan-Ibarra is a freelance writer and editor; she regularly contributes to her blog, Ibrahim’s Tree which focuses on dealing with loss–created after the loss of her infant son in 2011 and Muslimah Montage website created as a platform for women to share their stories and inspire others. This post originally appeared on her personal blog, “Iamthepoppyflower.”