I am a Muslim and I do not celebrate Christmas
The twinkling lights in the cold winter nights. Christmas songs ringing through the stores. The season of giving. People have time off work to spend with family and loved ones. Overall, there is this sense of joy in the atmosphere. After all, it is often quoted as the most wonderful time of the year.
It is so easy to fall into a trance of red and green when December 25th starts to approach. We’re told that it’s a time for EVERYONE to take part in the joyous celebration. And slowly, not quickly, even Muslims fall into this trap. It starts with something as simple as partaking in the secret santa gift exchange at work. Or perhaps you just thought it would be nice to give your friend a Christmas gift because you want her to be happy during her special holiday time. Maybe you thought it was okay to wish people ‘Merry Christmas’ to be kind and respectful and also because it’s not like you were celebrating it. However, it’s important that we ultimately go back to the reason we don’t celebrate any other holidays or celebrations other than Eid. Ultimately, it is not a part of our Qu’ran and Sunnah.
Below we address some common questions and topics that are often brought up by Muslims who do take part in Christmas.
1. What’s wrong with celebrating Prophet Isa (as)? He was a Prophet after all and we are doing it out of love for him.
Christmas actually has many pagan roots. Most records show that Christmas began to be practiced as a festival by ancient Roman pagans who celebrated a number of festivals during the winter solstice such as Saturnalia, Sol Invinctus and Yule. This greatly contributed to Christmas during the spread of Christianity throughout Europe. When looking at more specific traditions, like the Christmas tree, it becomes evident that Romans used the branches and clippings of evergreen fir trees for decoration during the festival of Saturnalia in honor of the God Saturn. European pagans actually also used evergreen trees to bring light and colour during dark winters. Ancient Egyptians also used green palm rushes as part of their worship of the god Ra. Therefore, we can see that putting up a tree itself can even be considered a form of shirk as it was part of honoring and celebrating other “gods.” As we know associating partners (shirk) with Allah (SWT) is forbidden in Islam.
“Indeed, Allah does not forgive associating others with Him in worship…” [Qur’an 4:48]
In regard to the celebration called Sol Invictus, Syriac Bishop wrote, “It was a custom of the Pagans to celebrate on the same 25th December the birthday of the Sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and revelries the Christians also took part. Accordingly, when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnized on that day (MacMullen, 1997).”
Upon only examining a few of the many Christmas traditions, it becomes glaringly evident that Christmas is not only just a celebration of what Christians believe to be the birth of Jesus Christ, rather it is a pagan-rooted holiday. More importantly, it is a pagan-rooted holiday that has become commonly celebrated by many people, unfortunately including Muslims.
It’s easy to give a quick shrug and say “hey, it’s not that deep”, but as individuals who are conscious and aware, it’s important for us to examine the root and history of the things that we participate in.
2. Can’t I just wish others “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas”? I just want to be kind and respectful of other people.
We absolutely should never be rude, disrespectful, or dismissive towards others. However, it is important that we do not affirm the celebration of Christmas. As Muslims, we should be kind, but clear that we do not celebrate Christmas and do not approve of the celebration itself. The scholars did not differ on this issue at all because there was ijma’ (consensus) on the prohibition of congratulating non-Muslims on their holidays, which includes Christmas.
This consensus was reported by Ibn al-Qayyim (in Ahkaam Ahl al-Dhimmah) when he said, “Congratulating the non-Muslims on their rituals that belong only to them is haram by consensus (of the scholars).”
3. My intention is not to celebrate Christmas itself – I am just celebrating for fun by putting up a tree and exchanging some gifts. It has become a part of my Canadian identity. What’s so wrong about that?
As mentioned, Christmas itself and even things like Christmas trees and other rituals actually have pagan roots. Even if our intention is just to do some of the fun activities but not actually celebrate Christmas, we are still celebrating it by doing something special and different for that day. Also, even though niyyah (intention) is a big part of actions in Islam, it is important that both niyyah and action are present together.
Fudayl bin `Iyaadh said commented on the Qu’ran ayat saying,
“That he may test which of you is best in action’ [Qu’ran 67:2] – “who is sincere in it and correct in it. And the action, if it is sincere and not correct then it is not accepted. And if it is correct and not sincere then it is not accepted. It is only accepted when it is both sincere and correct. And it is sincere when it is for the sake of Allaah, and correct when it is done according to the Sunnah.”
It has been made clear by the scholars that celebrating Christmas in any way is not permissible.
In a hadith Ibn Umar reported: The Prophet (SAWS), said,
“Whoever imitates a people is one of them.”
[Sunan Abī Dāwūd 4031, Sahih according to Al-Albani]
Therefore, when we take part in gift exchanges, attend the office Christmas party and put up a tree just “for fun” but we say our intention is not to celebrate, we are still celebrating the holiday. Evidently, this cannot be justified in Islam as both sincere action and intention are required. What is considered acceptable has been defined by Allah (SWT) and we can see this clearly in our Qu’ran and Sunnah. So it is not up to us to decide if taking part in the festivities in this way is permissible as Muslims.
We really need to stop and reflect; what exactly are we celebrating? We have this desire to fit in and take part in Christmas. But did we ever stop to ask who and what we love most? Because if the answer is not Allah (SWT) and the Prophet (SAWS), then we need to deeply reflect on our purpose in life. We should center Allah (SWT) and focus on strengthening our Muslim identity first and foremost. It might seem kind and feel good to celebrate and wish others, but as Muslims, we have to be smart. There are countless other ways to exhibit kindness and friendliness that don’t involve sacrificing our Islamic principles.
4. Can Muslims celebrate other holidays? How can we still take part in celebrations?
We need to reflect on the state of our hearts. As a Muslim, the reasons to not participate in Christmas are clear. However, the biggest reason to not celebrate Christmas and other non-Muslim holidays is that it is not part of our Qu’ran and Sunnah. In fact, celebrating the holidays of others goes directly against what we have been told to do by Allah (SWT).
In the Qu’ran it states,
“I do not worship what you worship. Nor are your worshippers of what I worship. Nor will I be a worshipper of what you worship. Nor will you be worshippers of what I worship. For you is your religion, and for me is my religion.” [109:2-6]
Our religion is perfect, so why do we feel the need to co-opt the celebrations of others? Our religion is perfect, so why do we not find contentment in its blessings? Our religion is perfect, so why do we disobey the commandments of Allah (SWT)?
As Muslims we need to stop prioritizing this longing to blend in with the majority and this desire to assimilate into the dominant culture. We need to strive to be with the Ummah. Stop trying to justify celebrating the holidays of others. Instead, try to uplift and increase your happiness and celebrations on the two holidays that have been made permissible for us to celebrate as Muslims – Eid ul Fitr and Eid ul Adha. Decorate the house, exchange gifts, spend time with family and wish one another Eid Mubarak, not “Merry Christmas.” We can focus on making our Eid celebrations special for us.
Next time you feel strange or left out seeing everyone celebrate the Christmas holiday, remember your love for Allah (SWT). Remember that you are a Muslim first and foremost, even if that makes you a stranger in the crowds of people celebrating a holiday that everyone seems to be celebrating. Be proud to be a stranger. Be proud to be a Muslim.
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “Islam began as something strange and will revert to being somthing strange, so glad tidings to the strangers.” [Sahih Muslim]