Merry Happy Christmas Hanukkah Festivus New Year Diwali Secretaries’ Day!

Salaam Alaikum,

Merry Christmas.  Happy New Year.  Feliz Navidad.  Happy Hanukkah.  Happy Festivus (for the rest of us).  Merry FSM Day (Google it).

So many holidays, so much HARAAAAAAAM!

Since I basically live on Facebook, it is my window to the world.  Most of my Facebook friends are Muslim, and a whole lot of my world was busy telling the rest of my world, in BLARING I’M SHOUTING AT YOU, YOU IGNORANT PERSON CAPS, that they were committing a sin by – snorting heroin?  smoking crack?  clubbing seals?  No.  They were committing a sin, endangering their everlasting souls, by saying Merry Christmas.

Now, I’ve been Muslim for over eighteen years, so I have had many years to evolve as a Muslim, to adopt Islamic practices and abandon unIslamic ones.  I don’t celebrate Christmas or Diwali or Hanukkah or New Year’s.  They are just normal days on the calendar for me.  I don’t make it a point to telephone the relatives because, well, I am phone-phobic all year round and always fear I’ll be interrupting someone in the middle of doing something important, like inventing cold fusion, but if I were to call, actually, Christmas would probably be a good day to do it since they are mostly all in one room together on that day.  But I don’t call, don’t send cute little e-cards with reindeer on them, don’t bake cookies to give to neighbors, or do anything like that.  I know that it is not permitted in Islam to celebrate non-Muslim holidays because, for us, they are rooted in disbelief.  I get that.  I understand that.  I agree with that.  But….

I was really disheartened by the gazillion well-meaning people who blasted everyone within reading distance that they were doing the HARAAAAAAM (forbidden) by even wishing others a Merry Christmas:


Looks very authoritative in all caps, doesn’t it?  I imagine that a lot of people positively swooned and got the vapors if they read that a Muslim had a tree, or got presents for their kid, or visited the family, or watched A Charlie Brown Christmas, or ate a candy cane.  I’m sure they felt indignant and felt that the only way they could defend Islam was to quote every fatwa for the last twenty years saying how terrible this person was for IMITATING THE KUFFAAR….

Can we just dial it down a bit?  Can we all take a collective breath and stop and think.  Imagine you are walking down the street and you see a street vendor selling donuts.  You think to yourself, Mmmm, donuts, and you buy one.  As you walk along munching on your treat, one of your sister Muslims runs up to you and screams in your face “HEY, DON’T YOU KNOW THAT DONUT HAS LARD IN IT.  THAT’S PORK, PORK I SAY, AND IT’S HARAAAAM AND YOU’LL BE IN THE HELLFIRE FOR EATING IT BLAH DE BLAH DE BLAH”.  And she shoves a copy of a fatwa in your hand and walks away, feeling very self-righteous and Islamic.  Now, you didn’t know that the donut had lard, and knowing that now you won’t finish it, but short of sticking your finger down your throat to upchuck there’s not much more you can do.  So you stand there, feeling foolish because everyone is looking at you and thinking how stupid you must be for eating PIG and feeling embarrassed for being called out in public.

If the sister really wanted to advise you, she could have walked up to you, said Salaam Alaikum, taken you by the arm, and quietly, with a smile, said “My dear sister, perhaps you did not know that this vendor cooked his donuts in lard.  Lard comes from piggies, so you probably don’t want to finish that.  If you’re hungry, why don’t you let me buy you a nice danish from this guy over here.”  The same message was delivered, the same information shared, but in a kind, private manner.  A solution for your problem (hunger) was also given, and you are grateful for the information and very happy to have a nice cheese danish.  You are so happy to have a sister who loves you and cares for you enough not to embarrass you in public.

So, do you get what I mean?  No?  What, my analogy too vague?  Okay, let me put it this way.  You probably do not know your Facebook friend well enough to call her out in public without causing resentment.  I know it offends you to see her putting up a tree and taking a picture of her kids in front of it, but if you do not see her in REAL LIFE, you should not be taking her to task on her wall where everyone can see it.  If you feel like you have a good relationship with her, you can privately contact her and let her know, in a kind, loving, concerned manner, with as many fatwas and footnotes as you like, that celebrating Christmas is not something we Muslims do.  You should also know her well enough to see where SHE is as a Muslim.  Did she just revert last week, or has she been Muslim for twenty years?  Is she slowly weaning her kids off Christmas and planning on making Eid special next year?  Is she the only Muslim within five hundred miles, unable to go to a mosque and not yet ready to isolate herself by telling the family no to the holiday?  Does she know the significance of Christmas and has she learned of the beauty of Muslim holy days such as the two Eids?  You can’t just do a drive-by condemnation and then go along your merry way.  If you are going to advise, you have to invest some time in knowing the person you are advising so that you can give your advice in a manner that will help it hopefully be accepted.  And offer solutions:

“Salaam Alaikum Sister So-and-So.  I saw your Christmas tree on your profile.  It is indeed a lovely tree.  You know, I feel so happy that Allah guided you to Islam and I just want to let you know that as you transition and learn that I will be more than willing to help you learn how to make the Islamic holy days special so you don’t feel like you have to give up something that is emotionally satisfying.  I know it will take time to feel “natural” celebrating an Eid, but there are ways to make it special, even when you are living in a non-Muslim country.  And you can help your kids learn.  I can direct you to this website, or we have a weekly class, or I can send you some adorable Eid decorations and something for the kids…”

You get the idea.  Advice, not holier-than-thou cut-and-paste postings.  Support, not condemnation.  Practical advice, not haraam-alaik.  Not just knowledge, but wisdom.  If you present the exact same information in the best way, then inshaAllah, if Allah wills, your friend will, either quickly or over time, transition away from the non-Muslim holidays and learn what is so special about the Eid al Fitr and the Eid al Adha, and of course our “weekly Eid” on Friday.

But what about the Muslim who unapologetically celebrates Christmas, and Hanukkah, and Diwali, and every other holiday on the calendar?  Well, if she knows what is correct, what is permissible, what is appropriate, and she simply never chooses to abide by it, then that is between her and Allah.  If you have a relationship with her, you can continue to advise, to offer alternatives, and most importantly, pray for her and ask Allah to put a love of Islamic behavior in her heart.

I advise myself before I advise anyone else.  Have I been guilty of pointing out someone’s incorrect behavior in public?  Yes, yes, I have, may Allah forgive me.  It takes a bit of wisdom to know when to reply in a public forum and when to keep it private, and I know I have been on the wrong side of that from time to time.  The harm in that was really brought home to me during this holiday season when I saw so many really nice women publicly and repeatedly castigated for just replying to a Merry Christmas greeting by the bag boy at the grocery store.  There is a time to speak out and a time to keep it quiet.  Posting an article about the pagan origins of Christmas is fine.  It is informative and important.  But flaming someone’s wall because they went to dinner on Christmas Eve with their non-Muslim family because that’s the only time they all can get together in the year is another thing.  Think before you talk, or write, or cut and paste.  Look at the big picture and the context.  Think about how you would want to be approached before you approach another.  You words have the power to help or hurt.  Use them wisely.  As I said, I advise myself before I advise anyone else.  And Allah knows best.

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