Christmas From A Muslim Viewpoint

“WHAT BUSINESS DO YOU HAVE to comment on festivals that belong to other people’s religion? And that too on the very day that it is being celebrated?” People can very well ask. Well, in the times we live in, it would be sheer folly not to do so. There are numerous reasons for this. The festival in question is celebrated by adherents of the world’s largest faith, while we are the second largest – if ticking of census forms is any measure. Christianity is estimated to be the world’s largest religion, and Islam occupies second place. In view of this, the relationships between two of the greatest religions of the world are certainly of importance to the planet.

Secondly, Islam and Christianity have a special relationship with each other. The central figure in Christianity also happens to be one of the mightiest messengers of God in Islam. The Qur’an happens to be the only non Christian religious scripture that contains narratives on the birth, message and finale of Christ, his mother as well as his disciples. In view of this, it would not be wrong to suggest that Christians do not have a monopoly on Christ. We Muslims have equal right to comment on any commemorations in his name.

Therefore, any religious perspective coming from the Muslims on Christmas should not necessarily be seen as a critique of the common Christian version but an expression of their own religious beliefs. It is very important to understand this.

The Nature Of Inter-Religious Expression

People upon hearing views that are different from their own, on themes that they believe in, sometimes feel that their version is being criticised. As all religions do not say one and the same thing and do not promote the same ideas on the divine, and because one encounters diversity in its full form during the course of religious dialogue, therefore, the expression of divergent religious belief from one group is not necessarily a critique of the other, but simply an expression of what one in his or her own tradition believes in.

So when a Muslim perspective on Christmas is being conveyed, it is what it is, i.e. what Muslims believe about Christmas, and nothing more and nothing less. So no need to worry too much on this one!

The Season For The Birth Of Jesus

On to the subject. Why Christmas matters? It matters to majority of Christians, as they believe that it is the day that Christ was born (although there is a minority that doesn’t). And the day for this is the twenty fifth of December every year. According to them, Christ came into the world during  a winter in Bethlehem.

Well, on the other hand Muslims allude to both Qur’anic as well as Biblical narratives on the subject, to say that this is not the case. In the Qur’an, we read about the birth of Jesus:

The pains of labor drove her (Mary) to the trunk of a date-palm. She exclaimed: “Oh, if only I had died before this time and was something discarded and forgotten!” A voice called out to her from under her: “Do not grieve. Your Lord has placed a small stream at your feet. Shake the trunk of the palm toward you, and fresh, ripe dates will drop down to you. Eat and drink, and delight your eyes. ‘” 19:23-25

Important indicator about the season for Jesus’ birth is given in the expression, fresh, ripe dates will drop down to you. When do we have the season for fruiting of dates ? Is it the winter of December? Not at all. It is in the heat of summer. So according to the Qur’an, Jesus was born not in winter, but in summer!

Biblical evidence also points to the fact that Jesus was born when the climate was warmer, and not at the peak of december’s wintery season:

“And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” Luke 2:7-8

The shepherds were in the fields watching their flocks at the time of Jesus’ birth. Late December in the middle of the night is not a comfortable time for the sheep to be out and about in the freezing cold, don’t you think?

In the same chapter, it can be seen that Jesus’ parents travelled to Bethlehem to register in a Roman census:

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed….. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:). To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.” Luke 2:1-6

It is very unlikely that they made their Journey during winter when temperatures were below freezing and roads were poor condition.

All this leads to the fact that the time period of Jesus’ birth was not December, but according to the Qur’an it was certainly summer, as this is when dates are ripened, and according to the Bible it was much warmer. So here it is. The Muslim viewpoint. Jesus was not born in December, which means that Christmas day is not Christ’s birthday!

“Listen mate, are you telling me that I got it all wrong?” Our Christian friend asks. “Well, I am not saying you got it wrong. I am merely saying what I believe, just that you know where I’m coming from, so we know each other’s positions and can learn to live together!”. “Does that means you’re not gonna come to my Christmas party?”, he asks again. The Muslim replies, “Now I didn’t say that! I may very well be there, but make sure you have some non alcoholic cola and halaal pie there. And I certainly won’t stand under a mistle toe, when your granny is around!”

Participating In Christmas Festivities

Humour apart, I was once asked by a college manager in England who was organising a Christmas event for her students it is alright to invite Muslim students? This is a very important question. Especially for communities that are mixed, diverse and multifaith.

Whether people of different faiths can join in the celebrations of faiths that are different from their own?

My reply to her was in a yes and a no.

Yes, they can in the sense as observers, to learn about communities, to understand what people believe in and why they do so.

The answer would be a no, if the organisers expect students of other faiths to join and participate in religious ceremonies or to partake in activities that go against their own traditions.

But I would strongly recommend that in faith celebrations people of other faiths and beliefs are invited as well, because not doing so will isolate communities from each other.

When Muslims celebrate Eid, they too should invite people of other faiths to their celebrations, but it would certainly not be expected of their Christian, Hindu, Sikh or Jewish friends to do the ablution and perform the prayer as they do. Non Muslims are simply there to share pleasantries and as observers. Also it should be ensured that food that meets the religious dietary needs of the guests is served. It wouldn’t go down very well if one were to invite Hindus or Buddhists who are vegetarians and serve them halal beef kebabs!

So a very strong yes to the invitation, a yes to careful pre-event preparations, but definitely a no to the religious participation bit.

There we are. It’s Christmas. We say to all who are celebrating it: have a good time. Spend time with your family. Think of the poor, and share with them too.

And remember, go easy on the dessert as it’s a tough job to loose those extra pounds gained during the festivities!

We wish you a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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26 thoughts on “Christmas From A Muslim Viewpoint

  1. Your right. Only thing that I have to say is that we should respect all religions and peoples view. By the way thanks for visit my weblog and wishes all best for you in new year.

  2. I do believe we should respect other people’s beliefs. I’ve met a couple of people who have tried to shove their own beliefs onto others, and that seriously annoys me. We all have the right to believe in what we think is right, and no one should force their thoughts onto us without our permission.
    As for the celebrations, I believe that they should be shared with other people, regardless of religion. (I agree with what you said about the religious participation though.) I’m Catholic and yet I grew up in a Buddhist country. Our family joined in the Buddhist celebrations because they were fun. We even visited their temples and made offerings, for the sake of cultural experience :)

  3. Being non-religious, I’m fairly ambivalent. Grew up celebrating Christmas more of a family gathering than anything else. I’ve also helped design cards to celebrate the Eid festival and have also been in Israel during the Jewish new year – so I reckon I cover most of the bases!

  4. You are right about the time perioid that christmas I celebrated. The reason for dec 25 or Jan 7 according to the orthodox churches Is because in the early church Christians were being persecuted. When the early church would gather during the original date which according to biblical scholars was sometime in the spring or fall the romans would send out guards to spy on these gatherings and bring the Christians who were celebrating this feast to be killed. This left the chuch at a very tough place because they were losing believers left and right so they decided to change the date of the celebration to a time where the Romans were celebrating as well which was late dec to early Jan this festival was called the winter solstice. This left the christians with freedom to celebrate without risk of being killed. So I agree with you on the date but this is only due to tradition of when the birth of christ was celebrated. I assume the original date was autumn, likewise many biblical scholars.

  5. Your blog is very nice. Very informative.

    The debate about when Jesus was born has been going on for quite some time, and will probably keep going on for a long time.
    As a TV preacher said recently, when you get down to it, the date that we celebrate the birth of Jesus doesn’t really matter. What truely matters is that we do celebrate the birth of Jesus.

    As for taking part in celebrations; I leave that up to the individual. If they want to take part to a certain degree, fine. If they don’t want to take part and just observe, that’s OK too. It’s like if I go to a service in a Catholic church; I won’t kneel but I will pray with them.

    We’ll all find out in the end what’s right or wrong. Until then, we’ll just have to do the best we can.

    Thanks for visiting my blog.

  6. An interesting read, indeed…came to know about a lot of information while going through the supporting verses that you have posted in the article. Each one has his own belief and his own way of taking his/her religion and yes…this should certainly be respected. As for the celebrations part…there isn’t any harm in attending the events, however, one’s own religious and moral values should be kept intact.

  7. We are all enriched by sharing our beliefs with one another. Sometimes we don’t fully understand what we believe ourselves until others reveal their personal faith to us.

    As a Christian, I’ve known for most of my life that Jesus probably wasn’t born in December. Accepting mystery is part of my faith, though I realize it may not be for everyone.

  8. A very good standpoint about the participation in other faith festivities – I agree with it. Sharing a festivity does not mean to be asked to perform religious duties which are not meant for the visitors.
    As a multi cultural country, here in South Africa we have to learn that again and again anew.

  9. Very interesting perspective; as an orthodox and traditional Christian I do not take part in the celebrations of other faiths, and don’t expect that they will want to share mine. But hospitality is universal, whether it is the birth of Christ or another festival. It is sacred to both Muslim and Christian to provide for the stranger, the lost and the poor. This we must never neglect, no matter what someone’s faith might be.

  10. I always enjoy sharing my religion with anyone who asks and welcome everyone to share Eid and other festivities with me while being cognisant of their beliefs so that I don’t offend. :-) Thanks for visiting and commenting on my blog.

  11. I was about to say that you are right about the timing, but another poster said it before me. I also read that it was synced with pagan festivals to avoid persecution and to help converts assimilate more easily.

    I don’t know if you were directing your comment toward me on the atheist blog, but I am happy I found your site. I am going to put you on my blogroll.

    I have recently revised my site; I don’t know if you have visited it or not.

    Very nice blog!

  12. As others have said, Dec 25 was chosen as a convenient date to remember, at a time of year when people wouldn’t be so occupied with the farming duties, and to co-opt the date of some other religion the Church was trying to supplant. Many scholars believe it was actually in the fall, during the time of Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths), when the people would spend time out of doors at night. That date would honor the intent of Jesus’ birth, to inhabit an earthly “booth” and dwell with us for a time. But your comment about early summer makes sense as well, since Pentacost celebrates the giving of the Law to Moses, and Jesus is the Word of God given to man. Interesting!

  13. As I have not read the Qur’an I can not comment much on the passage you mentioned. But Biblically speaking neither of the events you mentioned (shepherds in the field and the census) would have prevented travel in Israel. I have been in Israel during both December and January and while it is cooler in the winter, it was 60-70 during the day and around 50 at night. The seasonal weather would not have limited either the working shepherds or the long travel mentioned in the Biblical account.

    Since the Bible does not give a date, the DATE does not matter to me. But I do appreciate you writing on the topic since it has shown me that Muslims do believe He was born of Mary. And this short passage in 19:23-25 seems to also indicate that Christ Himself was speaking to her, as a possible indication of His divine nature.

    • The Qur’an does not give date of birth of Jesus, but mentions the season as one having fresh ripe dates, which we can infer to be summer, and not winter as is popularly observed.

  14. I am non-religious but when it comes to the winter season I cannot wait to decorate. I partake in all festivities regardless of religion; it doesn’t have to be a religious occasion. To me it’s a time to celebrate our families and look forward to a new year. Happy Holidays!

  15. This post is very well written and you raise excellent very informative points. The specific dates of events is not nearly as important is the fact that one day or each year is set aside to recognize them.
    I believe all Holy Days and Celebrations should be recognized by all irregardless of individual beliefs. The level of participation is left to the individual based on their own beliefs.
    We must learn to respect and accept the beliefs of others. A level of acceptance is easier to come by with understanding. How better can we come by a little of this understanding than by joining in the celebrations of others. Showing an interest in or learning about other Faiths need not be seem as an interest or willningness to convert but instead seen as a willingness to learn about others.
    Personally I see nothing wrong with extending the relative seasons greetings to a member of a different Faith. It extends good wishes and good will.
    So to you I say Merry Christmas my friend and a wonderful New Year.
    I thank you for your visit to my site. I will be adding you to my blog role.

  16. How do you feel about the Baha’i faith? They seem to incorporate Judaism, Christianity, and Islam? I’d be interested in reading your thoughts on this. I knew a woman who was raised by committed Christian parents, who worked with my father, who was a devoted adherent of the Baha’i faith, even though both her parents were members of the United Methodist Church that my family attended.

    I love your blog.

    • Thank you for your question.

      It can be noted from their official website that Bahai’s maintain:

      “Throughout history, God has revealed Himself to humanity through a series of divine Messengers…(that)… included Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad. Their religions come from the same Source and are in essence successive chapters of one religion from God.”

      According to them:

      “Bahá’u’lláh, the latest of these Messengers, brought new spiritual and social teachings for our time.”

      He said,

      “The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens,” and that, as foretold in all the sacred scriptures of the past, now is the time for humanity to live in unity.

      Baháí’s believe:

      “The crucial need facing humanity is to find a unifying vision of the nature and purpose of life and of the future of society. Such a vision unfolds in the writings of Bahá’u’lláh.”

      While I believe every individual has the right to profess and manifest any religion or belief of his or her liking, and I strongly condemn persecution of this or any other faith community at anyone’s hand, As a Muslim, I believe that the beliefs cited above are at variance from common logic as well as the teachings of the Holy Qur’an.

      (a) The former, because it is inconceivable to think that God would send mankind in different directions in different times and that all directions are equally valid. This would imply that it is God who proclaimed the belief in the trinity, (as in Christianity) and it is also He who resents those who maintain this belief (as in Islam), that there are a number of gods (as in Hinduism) and that there is but one God and idolatry is a sin (as in Judaism)!

      As all religions do not portray God, prophets, purpose of life, its goal, narratives of hereafter and doctrines in the same manner, therefore to state that all of them originate from the same source is logically flawed.

      As what is righteousness in one, is sacrilegious in the other, how can it be said that all faiths are equally valid and are originating from the same God?

      This can only be reconciled by the view that there is one absolute truth, while others are deviations or altered versions of the true original. This is what is said in the Qur’an. That God has sent messengers in every nation and locality and with them He sent the same laws and messages that are termed as “Al-Kitab” lit. ‘The Book’. But people altered that message and in its name retained a corrupted version. The Qur’an is not a new Book, but the same ‘The Book’ that was revealed in all times and in it are the fundamental principles of guidance for life. When we follow the Qur’an, we are following the same message that was bestowed to humanity in all times, geographical locations and eras.

      (b) The latter, because after the Qur’an the writings of any man claiming to comprise of ‘revelation’ and seen as a divine reference manual for life is tantamount to ‘Shirk’ (idolatry, setting up equals with God) and is a gross violation of Qur’anic teachings.

      Interfaith conversations are immensely important but at times they can be difficult as people from varying standpoints get together to explore beliefs. Coming to terms with the faith of our neighbour is a key objective, but central to any interfaith dialogue is the quest for ultimate truth.

      Best wishes

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