In Iraq, Christmas is becoming many Muslims’ favorite new holiday

More Iraqi Muslims are celebrating Christmas than ever. Yet Iraq’s Christians are an endangered minority and some Muslim clerics are vehemently against it. So why are there so many Christmas trees in Baghdad?

Iraqi woman Kholoud Khardoum suspects she was the one who introduced Christmas to her village in southern Iraq. It all started six years ago with a small plastic Christmas tree and some gifts for her nieces and nephews during a visit home, the Iraqi journalist, who resides in Baghdad, recounted.

“At first, it was a bit weird. People kept asking what the tree was. It was something they had only seen on TV,” she told DW; her hometown is just outside the city of Karbala, a comparatively conservative place with a Shiite Muslim majority that is also a major destination for Muslim pilgrims. “But with the lights and the decorations and gifts, the children really loved it. Then the neighbors came over and they liked what we were doing too.”

That was in 2015. Now, she said, those neighbors hold their own Christmas parties and the tree in her family home is usually decorated before she even gets there.

A Christian family prepares for Christmas in Iraq

Countrywide popularity

Khardoum has also noticed that more and more Iraqis, like her family and her neighbors, are celebrating Christmas. “A few years ago you would only see Christmas decorations being sold in shops in places like Karrada or Jadiriyah [neighborhoods in Baghdad that are home to the city’s Christian minority],” Khardoum explained. “But now they’re all over the city.”

Christmas is even becoming more popular in southern Iraq, stronghold of the country’s Shiite Muslim majority, she noted. For example, her nephew goes to a private school in Karbala and there the students all pose under a large Christmas tree set up by the teachers, something that wouldn’t necessarily have happened a few years ago.

In Baghdad, the city council has placed Christmas trees at intersections and many big hotels and restaurants are decorated accordingly. After visiting markets in the city this month, Iraqi website, Shafaq News, wrote that Christmas is bigger than ever in Iraq. This year, sales of trees and Santa figures are “unprecedented” and the turnout “remarkable,” the outlet reported, after speaking with local stallholders.


Let the Virgin Mary bring Christians and Muslims together at Christmas

(RNS) — Muslim-Christian relations are strained around the world, across the United States and even in Congress. But at Christmas, the two faith communities whose combined size represents more than half of humanity can look to their shared love for a single figure to inspire them to love one another: Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Mary is more than the only woman named in the Quran; she has an entire chapter bearing her name. She is mentioned more times in Muslim scripture, in fact, than in the New Testament. She is lauded by God in the Quran as “chosen among all women of the world,” “a sign for humanity,” and as “a model” of piety, purity and patience.

Through the centuries, from ancient artwork of the Middle East, South Asia and Far East to the contemporary Iranian film “Saint Mary,” Muslims have lovingly captured the mother of Jesus. We reflect on how we may be inspired by her — as a devotee of the Lord, as a woman, as a single mother and as a role model for all Muslims, men and women alike.


What Jesus means to me as a Muslim

(RNS) — “So, what are you doing for Christmas? ” asked a pastor, a good friend of mine, after a recent interfaith panel discussion on Zoom that we’d both participated in. I responded, “Saving my money!”

He jokingly responded, “Oh, OK, I’ll make sure to hit you back up on Eid, and we’ll see how that money-saving is going.”

Then we had a nice conversation about holidays and rituals — why we Muslims don’t try having an Eid Santa (we agreed he could have the same beard!), and our favorite topic: Jesus (peace be upon him). 

Jesus (peace be upon him) is truly special to Muslims, and not in any superficial or ambiguous sense. One of the highest prophets and messengers of God, Jesus is mentioned in the Quran 25 times, with an entire chapter named after his honored mother, the Virgin Mary, to whom he was born miraculously, and who some Muslim scholars have deemed a prophet herself.

For Muslims, Jesus is also the chosen Messiah to return to this earth in its final days (though the implications of the term Messiah differ between Muslims and Christians), and distinguished in the hereafter with a special place in paradise. 

But in our talk this time, my pastor friend asked me something that I’d never been asked before: Do Muslims have any connection to Jesus beyond how he fits into Islam’s overall theological conception as a messenger of God? After all, Muslims don’t celebrate any holidays surrounding Jesus or pray to him. How often does Jesus come up in the average Muslim’s life?


Cameroon Muslims Join Christians in Christmas Prayer for Peace

By Moki Edwin Kindzeka December 25, 2020 08:38 AM

Map of Cameroon, showing the Northwest and Southwest (English-speaking) regions

YAOUNDE, CAMEROON – In Cameroon, thousands of Muslims are joining Christians in churches all over the country in Christmas prayers for peace in 2021. For the annual tradition this year, the Inter-Denominational Prayer for Peace group focused on Cameroon’s troubled western regions and COVID-19.

Muslims in Cameroon joined together with Christians Friday to celebrate Christmas and offer an annual prayer for peace.  

Cheikh Oumarou Mallam is president of the Islamic Superior Council of Cameroon and a member of the Inter-Denominational Prayer for Peace group.

This year, he says, they prayed for an end to COVID-19 and peace on the border with Nigeria, where security forces have been battling the Islamist militant group Boko Haram for close to 10 years.  

Goats are being distributed in Maroua, Cameroon, July 11, 2019, as part of an empowerment initiative designed to prevent locals from being recruited by Boko Haram militants. (M. Kindzeka/VOA)

Cameroon Says Boko Haram Infiltrates Top Business and Political LeadersThe revelation came after Cameroon’s military arrested a former lawmaker for allegedly supplying cattle to the Nigerian terrorist group

Mallam says they prayed especially for an end to the separatist conflict in Cameroon’s western regions, which has left more than 3,000 people dead and displaced hundreds of thousands.  

“Be loyal to your country,” Mallam said. “Compete for goodness through social work and community service to enhance people’s lives and improve the progress of the society.  Let us be united building our nation.  Let us be united for peace, safety, security, unity, reconciliation and prosperity.”

Anglophone rebels have been fighting in the western regions since 2016 to carve out an independent state from Cameroon’s French-speaking majority.  

The separatists have destroyed symbols of the state, such as schools and bridges, as well as mosques and churches.  

Reverend Father Humphrey Tatah Mbui is director of communications at the National Episcopal Conference of Cameroon’s Catholic Bishops. 

He spoke by telephone from the northwestern town of Bamenda, the capital of the troubled region.

“If there is any Cameroonian who has not learnt from the 4-year war{separatist crisis} that might, force, violence does not, will not, cannot and should not be able to solve the problem, then I wonder if that person will ever learn,” Mbui said. “What is going on is horrendous and therefore justice and peace should be the message that all of us should talk about.  We have everything to gain in peace than in war.”


Frasat Ahmad: Muslims don’t celebrate Christmas, but still commemorate Christ


It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right? Christmas has come. The Christmas trees, filled stockings, mistletoe and bright lights are spectacular. What’s not to like?

So how come Muhammad down the street is not soaking up the holiday joy? I don’t see his house decorated with lights, or a tree in his house.

Trust me, your Muslim neighbor isn’t a grinch. He or she just doesn’t celebrate Christmas, and here’s why.

As we know, Christmas is a religious affair celebrating the birth of Christ, whom Christians believe to be the son of God, and a part of God Himself. Unlike our Christian brethren, Muslims don’t ascribe to this belief. Muslims believe, as the Qur’an states, that “The Majesty of our Lord is exalted. He has taken neither wife nor son unto Himself.”

Muslims are also uncomfortable with the possible connections that Christmas may have with pagan traditions. Scottish anthropologist Sir James George Frazer writes, “The coincidences of the Christian with the heathen festivals are too close and too numerous to be accidental. They mark the compromise which the Church in the hour of its triumph was compelled to make with its vanquished yet still dangerous rivals.”


I’m Muslim, But 2020 Has Made Me Want To Celebrate Christmas For The First Time

Many families like mine don’t celebrate what is a Christian festival after all. But getting through this turbulent year together changed everything.

December is a month like no other. The cold morning fog blankets the city before the night swallows the skyline as early as 4pm, when the streets become gold with festive lights. The air becomes mellow as rows of houses glisten and public squares fill with cheery spree shoppers in the lead-up to Christmas.

This is a magical time of year, especially for children. But as someone who lived two childhoods – a British one and a Pakistani one – it’s complicated.

My parents are from Pakistani descent, so at home I was raised with a Pakistani Muslim culture. Because our home would remain the same – there would be no lights, no holly hugging the mantelpiece, and no presents under a tree – every Christmas, I would immerse myself in our school’s version of Winter Wonderland. I can still picture the canteen dinners transformed into Christmas feasts, and the corridors decked with paper chains and tinsel.

Generally speaking, a lot of Muslims don’t celebrate Christmas – it’s a Christian festival after all, even if the holiday has grown beyond religion into a national cultural event. It’s become a time of year for everyone to reconnect with your loved ones, and spend time with people who care about you the most.

However, 25 December still marks a poignant day for families like mine. It’s the day Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the man who founded the country my ancestors call home, was born. So each year we celebrate the day with authentic Pakistani cuisine, cardamom chai and cake served with flavours belonging to another world. We consistently chose our Pakistani roots over Christmas; how could we share an event when our cultures were so misaligned?

But this year changed everything.


People of non-Christian faiths discuss views of the holiday season

Despite the steps towards religious inclusion during the holidays –– such as the phrase “Happy holidays” as opposed to “Merry Christmas” –– this time of year in the Western world is still typically dominated by Christmas. With holiday specials, festive music and the time off from work or school, Christmas affects every facet of American lives in December.

Even so, there are many families and individuals in the U.S. who, due to their own religious backgrounds and beliefs, do not celebrate Christmas.

Junior linguistics major Jimmy Kieu said his Buddhist family does not really participate in the holiday.

“For my family specifically, we do not necessarily do anything special for Christmas,” Kieu said. “It’s just a day off…Like, it’s literally just like every other Saturday.”

Despite the increased commercialization of Christmas, junior psychology major Hamza Syed said as a Muslim, he still does not see it as a secular holiday.

“Christmas has always seemed like a very Christian thing to me that has been made an American thing,” Syed said. “Which for America to be the melting pot of the world, I feel like [it should] either celebrate all different religious holidays or none of them.”

Roey Shoshan is the executive director of Hillel at the University of Georgia, an organization that fosters the creation of a Jewish community at universities. For him and for much of the Jewish community, this time of year is defined by the celebration of Hanukkah.


Non-Christian faiths welcome Christmas easing of Covid rules

Representatives of faiths that have been unable to gather for religious festivals this year because of the pandemic have welcomed the fact that Christians will not have to experience “the same disappointment and deflation” they did.

The Muslim festivals of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, the Jewish holy days of Passover, Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year) and Yom Kippur, and Diwali festival of lights celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains were among those hit by lockdown restrictions, with people forbidden to worship together or join family and friends to mark the occasions. Easter was also affected last spring.

On Tuesday, Boris Johnson outlined plans for Covid measures to be relaxed so that people could celebrate Christmas together, with as many as three different households allowed to mix for five days over the festive period.

Imam Qari Asim, chair of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, said he was pleased Christians would be able to enjoy “this special time of year, which provides an opportunity for people of all faiths and beliefs to reconnect with family and friends”.

He added: “It is a relief to know that those celebrating Christmas will not endure the same disappointment and deflation that Muslims experienced at the last minute cancellation of Eid celebrations earlier in the year.”


Decolonising Jesus Christ

The figure of Jesus Christ goes way beyond the image of him which hegemonic European Christianity imposed on the world.

5ad05132e3834125be15b3de80432865_18Christians around the world are celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Some do so on December 25 and others on January 7, depending on what church or liturgical calendar they follow. 

Given the overwhelming hegemony of Western Christianity in Europe, the Americas, Australia and throughout the colonised world where European Christianity has been the vehicle of colonisation, the fact of celebrating the birthday of Jesus early in January has become something of an afterthought.

But why? The difference is not just liturgical, canonical or doctrinal. It is also cultural, historical and the prelude of decolonising Christ and Christianity.

Eurocentric hegemony over Christian practices and perceptions of its central figure, Jesus Christ, have systematically sidelined various other rites and conceptualisations of his figure. Shifting the point of emphasis from one branch of Christianity to another – or any other religion – points to the multiplicity of ways in which a religious figure such as Jesus has been celebrated.

As millions of Eastern Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, it is an opportune time to revisit how he has been imagined throughout time and across the world. 

Revolutionary Jesus

For those familiar with Jaroslav Pelikan’s magnificent book Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture (1999), this is not unusual for a different cultural milieu giving birth to a different figure of Christ.

In his study, we encounter a floating figure of Jesus which moves from a Jewish Rabbi in the first century after his birth, to “the Light of Gentiles”, and “the King of Kings” during the Roman Empire in the second and third centuries, “the Cosmic Christ” in the aftermath of encounter with Platonism, “the Son of Man” in St Augustine’s work in the fifth century, and “the Prince of Peace” during the Reformation in 16th-century Western Europe.  


At Christmas, Christians and Muslims take time to talk about loving Jesus, and each other

GettyImages_460629094.6(RNS) — In the immediate aftermath of the 2016 presidential elections, when we felt the country needed a message of unity and hope, the Rev. Andy Stoker, of First Methodist Church in Dallas, and I released a video on Facebook about our friendship called “An Imam, A Pastor, and A Dream,” in hopes that it would inspire others.

It spread rapidly online, with millions of views within the first few days. Those who commented saw in that five-minute clip the type of connection they wished to see in their own communities.

Little did we know just how far it would reach. Shortly after its release, I got a phone call informing me that ISIS had made a video about our video. In theirs, they referred to me as “the Apostate Omar Suleiman” and called for their followers to assassinate me [].

I was unnerved by the news, but I knew I had to tell Andy what had happened before he found out through some other source. When I called, he not only didn’t shy away, he began the conversation that led to our next effort together. We decided in the wake of ISIS’ threat that we weren’t going to let any fools stop us from being brothers. Not here, and not thousands of miles away.

That spring of 2017, we began offering a month-long class about Jesus in Islam and Christianity. For four weeks, our Christian and Muslim communities came together to discuss Jesus in our respective faiths. The pews at First United Methodist were full, according to the Reverend Andy Stoker.

The tranquility and bonds formed over that month had captivated us all. At the end of our last session there wasn’t a dry eye in the church.

Rev. Andy and I had started with the birth of Christ, then went on to his life, ending with our differences on the meaning of the crucifixion, then finally came to Jesus’ second coming. In the first two weeks, we found little difference in how our two faiths viewed Jesus in birth and life.

Jesus is no ordinary figure to Muslims. He is one of the highest prophets and messengers of God, born of a virgin, chosen as the one to restore justice to this earth in its final days, and distinguished in the hereafter with a special place in paradise. He is mentioned in the Quran 25 times, with an entire chapter named after his honored mother, Mary.

Muhammad said about his relationship to him, “Both in this world and in the Hereafter, I am the nearest of all the people to Jesus, the son of Mary. The prophets are paternal brothers; their mothers are different, but their religion is one.”