It’s that time of year again, when the snow begins to fall, the sky is a silver ribbon, and the cold air hangs low, seeping into every bone. Fireplaces burn bright, hot cocoa sits on the stove top, stockings hang low, and families gather to decorate their Christmas trees, as the scent of pine fills their homes. Presents are wrapped with love and care, and cookies and milk placed on bedside tables as hopeful children anticipate the return of Santa Claus. On this special day, relatives come from near and far to reunite, eat together, and embrace the loving warmth of a holiday that is treasured by people of varied religions and cultures around the world. This is the tradition I grew up with and held dear, but all this changed the day I took the Shahada and became a Muslim.
Putting aside the extraordinary gift of Allah’s guidance for a moment, I suddenly realized I would have to let go of many traditions and customs. Suddenly, Christmas could no longer be a part of my life, and a deep sense of loss and sadness began to set in. My husband always had strict ideas about how we would go about the holiday season, since my family is of the Catholic and Jewish faith. And when we had our first child, it became even more of an issue. “You have to tell your mother that we can’t partake in her Christmas celebrations,” he would say. Of course I understood. We are Muslims, and Muslims don’t celebrate Christmas because it’s not our holiday. “It will confuse the kids,” he continued.
But in my own heart Christmas was and still is a beloved tradition. It had never been about worship for me, but about being with family, eating delicious food, and opening beautifully wrapped gifts. I began to wonder how I would be able to part with a holiday that I held dear to my heart for so long. Even today, it’s difficult for me not to get excited when I see the lights going up on the streets, or sing along to a Christmas song on the radio. It’s even harder for my five-year-old, who shrieks with excitement when she sees the houses on the block decorated with Santa, elves, and reindeers. However, as my faith grew stronger, it became easier for me to let go of Christmas.
Still, my husband and I continue to have this debate every year. And every year, he caves in and we join my family in their celebrations. My family goes out of their way to make us feel welcome by making non-alcoholic eggnog and various dishes without pork. They even write “Happy Birthday” on the gifts for my daughter, whose birthday was around the corner. I began to think, “If they can be so tolerant and respectful of our beliefs, why shouldn’t we be the same with theirs?” This does not make us a Muslim family who celebrates Christmas; it makes us a Muslim family who can enrich our lives and strengthen our faith by respecting the traditions and holidays of others.
As an Ummah we need to interact more with communities of other faiths and be living examples of the Quran and Sunnah. We cannot be an example if we keep to ourselves. During the holiday season charities, various collections and drives, and soup kitchens provide excellent examples of what it means to be selfless and giving, both characteristics which are imperative in a Muslim. Instead of trying to shelter and hide our families from this holiday season, we can use it as an example of the many ways to show our own families how to be generous and charitable.
We should also welcome others to partake in our own Muslim holiday traditions. I invited my mother to join us for our Eid celebration which, to her surprise, was very much like a Christmas gathering. A time where families gather, eat, rejoice and are thankful for Allah’s many blessings.
Belonging to an interfaith family as put me in a unique situation and I am grateful it has taught me so much about tolerance, acceptance and being open-minded. At the same time, coming from an interfaith family is a challenge, and it means you will have some hard decisions to make, especially when kids are involved. I have come to the conclusion that being a part of my family’s Christmas tradition is a form of Dawaa. I share this day with them out of love and respect for them and their faith, while educating them about Islam. Inshallah, I will teach my own children tolerance, patience, acceptance and an ability to be comfortable around people of other religions. To be a true Muslim means to be a part of this world and its’ people, while doing your best to guide yourself, your family and others towards the straight path. This is the beauty of Islam; it is a religion of tolerance and respect for others, no matter their faith, and because of this, I will be home for Christmas.
Christina Elahmar is a newly minted ex-pat living in Luxembourg. She is a homeschooling mom of two, and a former English teacher and writing consultant. Follow her adventures in homeschooling at christinaelahmar.blogspot.com