This year I finally bought a Christmas jumper. I don’t know why it took me so long – as a young adult I would look enviously at others who were bold enough to wear them into work, or listen to colleagues complain about their Christmas gift being another terrible jumper, secretly wishing they would give it to me. Although I was brought up with a fondness for the Christmas season, I still never thought I could go as far as buying a jumper!
From my earliest school memories, my Mum would buy me packs of Christmas cards to write out for everyone in my class. We gave all the neighbours cards. If anyone extra gave us a card my Mum would tell me to quickly write one out for them. My young brothers wrote letters to Santa, even though I told them he didn’t exist, and we posted bright homemade envelopes to the North Pole.
And we even had Christmas lights. I don’t know where the string of fairy lights came from. I can’t imagine anybody in my family buying them specifically for Christmas. Yet every December they came out of the cupboard and were strung around the window. We were yet another window on our street that sparkled in the night. Until the year I tried to put two exposed wires back together, mildly electrocuted myself, fell off the table and fused the lights. Sadly, no one replaced them and I was too traumatised to ask.
While we may have been in the minority as Muslims with Christmas lights, the festive season was still welcomed by everyone in our community – why wouldn’t it be? People were nicer and we all had time off school and work, and since Christmas Day is the only day of the year that there are no newspapers, even Muslim shopkeepers had a day off! And the telly was great – we watched The Greatest Story Ever Told religiously(!) and every time my gran would cry and curse Judas for his betrayal.
So it baffled me as a young adult when I started hearing in the news that Christmas was “under attack” by Muslims and it was no longer politically correct to wish someone a Merry Christmas. I wondered where these sad, angry Muslims were as I certainly had never met any who disliked Christmas – in fact I knew even more secular people who disliked Christmas than Muslims who ignored Christmas (which is pretty hard to do really). So while I still didn’t go as far as getting a tree or a jumper, my “Merry Christmases” got louder and my email signature acquired a “Ho Ho Ho”.
And I must have been in Santa’s good book because when I met my husband I gained entry into real Christmas with my family-in-law who are various degrees of Christian. The first Christmas I spent with them was ridiculously exciting for me and they lovingly indulged me – I even had a stocking on the mantlepiece! The tree was huge, the presents were many, and going to church on Christmas Day morning became a highlight to share with my Catholic mother-in-law. In fact, sharing our faith strengthened our relationship, and it was a joy to speak about loving Mary and Jesus, peace and blessings be upon them. Over the last decade we’ve had wonderful Christmas family gatherings, sharing love, friendship, and food.
All of this was supported by my spiritual journey which started at the same time as meeting my Sufi husband. Reading Mevlana Rumi’s numerous passages about the holiness and reverence given to Mary and Jesus in Islam, and the beautiful way he describes how we can all embody an aspect of these Prophets within ourselves, made Christmas even sweeter for me. I started sharing lines from Mevlana with friends and online communities – it became a way for me to deepen in my remembrance and love of these holy guides who went through so much to share the Divine message.
Some of my favourite lines from Rumi are:
The Jesus of your spirit is within you:
ask his aid, for he is a good helper.
It was Mary’s painful need that made the infant Jesus
begin to speak from the cradle.
Our body is like Mary, and each of us has a Jesus within, but unless we experience the pains of birthing, our Jesus will not emerge. If there is no pain, our Jesus will return by that hidden way to the original place from which he came, and we will be left deprived.
Sweetness is hidden in the Breath
that fills the reed.
Be like Mary—by that sweet breath
a child grew within her.
For our first Christmas as a married couple, our friends gifted us a miniature ornamental Christmas tree which takes pride of place on our mantlepiece each year alongside a dervish.
Christmas is not only a wonderful reminder to honour Mary and Jesus but it can, and should be, a time especially for Muslims and Christians to remember their shared spiritual heritage and work together to support those who are in need. Regardless of whether Mary gave birth in a manger or under a date tree – she gave birth to the Word of God! Regardless of whether it was in December or July – we have a date to focus our collective remembrance and prayers! And regardless of whether we believe Jesus was the son of God or a prophet – we can all work to embody his message of peace, love and goodwill to all.
But I find it deeply depressing to now see a growing number of young Muslims subscribing to the “Halal-Police” mentality and looking to so-called-scholars to answer idiotic questions about whether it is “halal” or “haram” to wish Christians “Merry Christmas”. That the Muslim mentality has fallen so low to have lost basic common sense is baffling and shocking.
However, I am also heartened to see many mosques this year planning to open on Christmas Day to share a meal for those who are homeless or have no family. The need for solidarity within community has never been greater and we can utilise the power of religious holidays to help everyone, no matter our religion or lack thereof.
I wish you all a very merry and blessed Christmas! May your time be filled with love and light, and may we deepen our remembrance and connection to the beloved souls of Jesus and Mary, peace and blessings be upon them.
 Mathnawi II, 450, Jewels of Remembrance, tr. Kabir and Camille Helminski
 Mathnawi III:3204, Jewels of Remembrance, tr. Kabir and Camille Helminski
 Fihi ma Fihi: Discourse 5, The Rumi Daybook, tr. Kabir and Camille Helminski
 Ghazel, The Pocket Rumi, tr. Nevit Ergin with Camille Helminski