Opinion: I’m a Muslim immigrant, and my Canadian-born children changed my perspective on Christmas

Christmas music makes me cringe, unless it’s “Last Christmas”by George Michael. The sounds of strange old songs blaring through loudspeakers in retail stores doesn’t ring nostalgic for me, it just grates, like those cheesy tunes you would rather forget but aren’t given the opportunity to.

I may sound like a Grinch but nothing about North American Christmas traditions is sentimental to me because I grew up Muslim, in a Muslim country. Dec. 25 was just another day of winter break in my house, when my brother and I would watch endless hours of television as most ’90s kids did on days off from school.

When I first came to Canada, I was charmed by Christmas light displays, and festive markets selling handmade ornaments and hot cider. That charm wore off as expectations to participate fully were thrust upon me by friends and Catholic in-laws.

For those who have known Christmas their entire lives, it is difficult to try to understand the perspective of someone like me, who did not grow up with the same traditions.

Eid-al-Fitr, the feast day that marks the end of Ramadan, was the equivalent of Christmas for me growing up. We ate delicious food every night during Ramadan, and on Eid we gobbled up sweets and wore new clothes. I wanted to recreate these traditions for my own children who were born in Canada and will grow up far from their Muslim relatives. It felt like an impossible challenge because Christmas was too overpowering to compete with.


In Gaza, Christian and Muslim Palestinians celebrate Christmas together

  • About 1,300 Christians, both Greek Orthodox and Latin Catholic, live in the Gaza Strip
  • Early Christmas mass this year was presided over by Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa

GAZA CITY, PALESTINE: In Gaza City, the small but tight-knit Catholic Christian community gathered at the Holy Family Church for Christmas mass earlier this month, presided over by Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem.
As Israel has prevented many Christians in Gaza from traveling to Bethlehem to attend midnight mass at the Church of the Nativity, they celebrated the holiday early.
“For years, I have been coming to Gaza to celebrate with the Christian community, to get close to them and support them,” Pizzaballa told Arab News.
The Patriarch spent three days in Gaza City, during which he visited the educational and medical institutions of the Latin Patriarchate.
“Not all Christians in Gaza have been granted permits, so it is necessary to share Christmas with them. I feel so warm here in Gaza,” he said.
Israel initially agreed to issue 645 permits to Palestinian Christians, submitted by the Palestinian General Authority for Civil Affairs. The Israeli government decided earlier to grant Christians in Gaza 500 permits, not including children, to visit Bethlehem and Jerusalem during Christmas.
The Israeli Gisha organization, which specializes in freedom of movement for Palestinians, said that as of Dec. 6, a total of 996 requests for permits had been submitted, of which 781 were for individuals above the age of 16. Of those, 514 were approved, in addition to 131 permits for children.


Eboo Patel: A Muslim family celebrates Christmas

By Eboo Patel

The stockings are up. So is the tree. Gifts appear throughout December. Some are unwrapped on Christmas Eve, the rest on Christmas Day. It’s all pretty typical for an American family, with one little twist.

We’re Muslim. And we celebrate Christmas not in spite of being a Muslim family — but because we are a Muslim family.

One reason we do this is what scholars of Islam call adopting good custom. This is an Islamic principle in which Muslims are encouraged to absorb the healthy and positive elements of the culture in which we live. Bringing people together during the darkest time of the year. Giving gifts to family and friends and people in need. Increasing charitable contributions. Taking a break from work. If that’s not good custom, I don’t know what is.

(Sure, I could do without the commercialization and the incessant holiday music, but nothing’s perfect.)

Christmas is also an opportunity for religious education, both about our own Muslim faith and about a different religion.

“Jesus is the reason for the season” my wife likes to say — and she means it. We spend a lot of time talking about Jesus at this time of year. I also think of this as quite natural for an American Muslim family.


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.