This year, we have the intersection of two of the Abrahamic faiths. We have the Prophet Mohammad’s (saws) birthday, followed by the Christian celebration of Jesus’ (saws) birth. As a convert, these events pose a very confusing dilemma, especially due to extreme variance in information, advice, and practice coming from fellow Muslims. As a lightly seasoned convert, I’m going to share a bit of my experiences and the way I’ve attempted to integrate previous traditions with new traditions while maintaining a guilt-free conscience.
I’ll use the opportunity to remind you that I am not a scholar by any means, and this is my personal combination of differing opinions, experiences, and compromises.
A wonderful, confusing time.
The implications of converting to Islam from Christianity may seem minor throughout most of the year, but they are infinitely compounded during the winter holiday season. We’re faced with fellow Muslims laying guilt trips on us for even considering visiting our family on this holiday, and with the fear of offending our family beyond repair if we don’t. We’re faced with the task of avoiding shirk and maintaining family ties. We toss and turn in our sleep, mulling over the right decision to make and to what level we are able to participate in the festivities.
Scholars have laid down a hardline prohibition of participation in any Christmas activities. Other scholars have granted permission for partial celebration, such as attendance of family gatherings, for those with non-Muslim family. Other scholars have granted the rights for even more interaction, such as gift-giving and attending church services. Each has their own reasoning for their stances, yet it makes it insanely complex for someone to decipher which opinion is the most valid – especially for those of us who are learning everything about Islam from the ground up.
Personally, at this point in my life, I have chosen to continue attending my family’s Christmas celebrations. Coming from a Polish-American Catholic background, Christmas Eve is hands down, without a doubt, the most important day of the year in regards to traditions. The gathering has always had my entire extended family visiting my parents’ home. My family tensions are high enough throughout the rest of the year in regards to my conversion, that if I did not attend the festivities it would almost certainly sever lines of communication. My limitations are apparent, though.
I do not:
- Sing “Happy Birthday” to the “Baby Jesus”
- Sing religious carols
- Give gifts outside of my immediate family
- Respond to the traditional Polish greeting (which translates to “God has been born”)
- Consume food/beverage that does not meet “halal” standards
- Decorate my home
- Participate in festivities outside of those hosted by my family.
I definitely do:
- Attend the festivities
- Take actions, like assisting in putting out food or taking pictures
- Make the intention to pass Polish traditions to the next generation
- Make the intention to maintain family ties.
Jolly ol’ Conversations
If attending Christmas celebrations wasn’t hard enough already, there is no way to avoid awkward conversations. Every family has at least one character that will say something inappropriate, racist, or otherwise unsettling. As a convert who now assumes one of adjectives of a hot-button issue (hint: Muslim), these rants hit a little bit closer to home.
There are Confederate flags, political stickers proclaiming “don’t blame me, I voted for Wallace” (in reference to George Wallace, former governor of Alabama), and other interesting regalia. The conversations, especially when fueled by a few shots of whiskey, don’t stray very far from the decorations. I’ve heard many slurs, inaccurate accusations, and horrifying ideas about what I supposedly believe in and/or associate with. Last night, I overheard a cousin saying, “Not all Muslims are ISIS…some belong to AlQaeda, and some the Taliban.” It was closely followed with a, “gosh, I hope Amanda didn’t hear that.” I’m not entirely certain if it was intended as a joke, but I don’t find it amusing at all.
In these situations, I can only turn to the multiple instances in the Qur’an where we are directed to accept the burden of verbal abuse with calm. One of these instances is Surat Taha (20:130):
So be patient over what they say and exalt [Allah] with praise of your Lord before the rising of the sun and before its setting; and during periods of the night [exalt Him] and at the ends of the day, that you may be satisfied.
The beauty of this verse is in the immediate reminder to praise Allah with our time, that we “may be satisfied”. The replacement of anger with worship and exaltation is a serious matter of self-control, and if we could implement this into our daily lives, we would have a much better world.
…of Christmases yet to come.
I don’t know if I will continue to attend holiday celebrations with my family throughout the rest of my life. Perhaps I will move out of the country, and the entire Christmas debate will become a non-issue for me. Perhaps I will move out of state, and the only time I am able to visit my family will be when we are all off of work for the Christmas/Winter holidays. Will my family become more accepting of my life decisions, where I would have the room to decrease my participation in their festivities? I don’t know where life will take me, and I don’t know what the future will bring.
Insha’Allah, remember converts in your du’a during this season. Those with depression or anxiety will face a steep increase in affects. Those who have chosen to not celebrate Christmas at all will likely face a lonely, empty space in place of traditions of old. Those who have converted in secret face the difficult struggle of being surrounded by people who they know will be disappointed, worried, or outright aggressive to the fact that they are discovered to be Muslim. Place yourself in their shoes, and remember to be gentle in giving advice surrounding this season. If you have any doubt in the kindness or correctness of your advice, it would be best to refer them to speak to someone more knowledgeable.
May Allah soften the hearts of those surrounding us, and guide us all to the straight path.