Christmas for Converts

I’ve heard both sides of the debate and all kinds of opinions in between. Whether or not Muslims should participate in any way in Christmas celebrations is a hot issue, especially for converts. I’ve been a Muslim for over a year now, so I’m going through my second Christmas season. And to tell you the truth, I have mixed feelings about what I should do about it.

Last year I got gifts for people, but we didn’t decorate. I did send out holiday cards, but as far as I can remember they didn’t say anything about Christmas. I suppose I shouldn’t be sending cards, but I’ve ordered some to send this year with a purely secular message. I felt that I couldn’t just stop sending cards to all the people who are used to getting cards from me. I’ve considered including notes to tell people about my conversion, but I don’t know if I will. My close friends already know and my acquaintances don’t necessarily need to know.

I’m having dinner here for the family on Christmas Eve and I’m making stockings for everyone. I’m not buying presents beyond some little items to put in the stockings. Next year I may not even do this much.

But the bottom line is: my family still participates in Christmas and I don’t want them to feel like I’ve severed my ties with them just because I’ve become a Muslim.

Born Muslims usually don’t feel any pressure to celebrate Christmas because it has never been a part of their culture. But converts, especially those who come from a Christian background, usually find it very difficult to cut their ties to Christmas. They have fond memories of the Christmases they celebrated in the past, especially when they were children. They remember the excitement of Christmas Eve, the wonder of Christmas morning and the joy of Christmas get-togethers. Christmas, and the month or so leading up to it, is just as important to Christians (and even some non-Christians) as Ramadan is to Muslims.

Some converts deal with this dilemma by leaving behind their non-Muslims lives completely. They won’t even go to someone’s house for dinner unless the meal is halal and there is no alcohol being served. They most certainly would not buy Christmas gifts. But other converts feel that it is important to participate at least nominally with the customs their family still observes. I have a problem with Muslims who totally separate themselves from non-Muslim activities. How do we expect non-Muslims to get to know us if we refuse to do anything with them?

Some Muslims think that participating in Christmas, even in a purely secular way, is a form of  shirk, or idolatry. But I don’t think that’s the case (unless, of course, you’re celebrating Christmas as the birth of the Son of God). On the other extreme you have Muslims who think it’s all right to celebrate Jesus’ birth because he was one of God’s prophets. But do these same Muslims celebrate other prophets’ births (especially Mohammad’s)? Isn’t that really a rationalization so that they don’t feel guilty for participating?

In order to determine how much or if we will recognize Christmas, we need to understand how and why non-Muslims celebrate Christmas. Basically, there are two ways to celebrate it: the sacred (or religious) way and the secular way.

There are Christians who proclaim that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” They tend to get upset about the commercialization of Christmas (although that doesn’t keep them from buying Christmas presents). The more devout downplay things like non-religious songs (like “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman”) and are more likely to be in church on Christmas Eve, or even Christmas Day.

Some people who aren’t religious at all still feel that it’s all right to celebrate Christmas because it has pagan roots. They believe that Jesus’ birth was tacked on to winter solstice celebrations. (It’s commonly believed that Jesus was not born on December 25th anyway.) They more or less erase Jesus from the picture and feel comfortable emphasizing the spirit of Christmas instead, which can be summed up as: “Peace on Earth, Good will toward men.”  Or they simply see Christmas as an opportunity to get together with family and friends and to show them that you care by giving them gifts. They send Christmas cards, not to celebrate Jesus’ birth, but just to keep in touch with people they haven’t talked to all year.

Is there some room for compromise if we adapt some of the secular ways to celebrate Christmas? Maybe. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wishing non-Muslims “Merry Christmas,” for instance. After all, don’t we like it when non-Muslims wish us “Happy Ramadan”? And I see no reason why we can’t attend holiday parties as long as we watch what we eat and drink. Of course, the most important thing is that you make it clear that you’re a Muslim. I don’t have that problem because I wear the hijab. But I also have to make it clear why being a Muslim is different. Some converts stay away from holiday gatherings for that reason. But I think it’s possible to attend as a representative of Islam.

One of the biggest problems that converts face is making the transition from whatever they were before to being a Muslim. Holding onto Christmas traditions could slow that process. And yet I think it’s important to take others into account when you decide how strict you’re going to be. Your family and close friends have to get used to you being a Muslim, too.

Published by

Ellen

Editor and chief writer at I, Muslimah and Femagination. Ellen also contributes regularly to Elevate Difference. She is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with two cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

11 thoughts on “Christmas for Converts”

  1. Personally, I don’t see an issue in taking part in the celebration with your family. Just because I became Muslim doesn’t mean I want to be without family or friends—and my family just so happens to be believing and practicing Christians.

    What is even cooler is that for Christmas Eve, my mom asked me what kind of halal meat she should buy for me! Traditionally, Cubans have pork and ham, and she knows I don’t eat either so she offered to provide a third meat to accommodate me. If my family can accommodate and support me, I don’t see why I can’t support them. And the whole gift giving thing—I just see it as a gift exchange between family members. I don’t know if I am right or wrong, but it works for me and I know my intentions anyway.

    Maybe in the future when I have my own family and have my own rules I can rethink the whole thing. Until then, I gotta help mami with the decorations, with the tree, with the gift wrapping because it reminds her that I am still part of the family even though I am a Muslim.

    1. I think that’s great that your mom is trying to accommodate you! How can we do less than try to meet them halfway? (Or more than halfway.) I think people are more likely to accept our conversions if we show them that we’re still part of their lives.

      I expect I will rethink things, too, over the years, but I hope I never give anyone the impression that Muslims don’t want to have anything to do with non-Muslims.

  2. I don’t think it’s Islamically right to severe contact with family and friends- this is a really important part in Islam, and as long as you’re not celebrating it as the birth of the son of God, it’s actually a really nice opportunity to stay in touch and connect with others, especially as you said, as a way of letting non-muslims get to know us better.

    1. You make a good point and an important one, too. Islam should be seen as a religion that strengthens ties, not severs them. Thanks for commenting!

  3. I don’t think it is right to sever your ties. You are supposed to be good your family and the Prophet (pbuh) was said to have joined his neighbors when invited to their homes for certain events. I’ll have to find an article that a friend of mine wrote during Thanksgiving…

    Personally, for me–I still join my family. For one, it’s a time of year when we can all get together. Second, it would be a wrong representation of Islam if I cut myself off and acted like I was too good or “forbidden” to join them. Also, being with them and enjoying family time doesn’t mean that I am worshiping anything or anyone. I can be with them and still keep my own beliefs. In addition, it is a time for me to reflect upon my beliefs-it actually reinforces my beliefs and why I am happy that I found Islam. To be even more bold (ha ha) I even go to Christmas Eve service at the church I grew up in–I go with my parents and take my daughter every year. Why? For me, it’s nostalgic. I remember what it was like when I was a kid–singing Christmas songs by candlelight. For lack of a more appropriate term, it gives me “warm fuzzies”. ;) And it is good exposure for my daughter. I made the decision to become Muslim yet I didn’t make that decision for her. She is 10 years old and I expose her to Islam all of the time, however, I want the decision for her to become Muslim to come from HER. So, when we go to church with my parents, she sees the difference between Islam and Christianity–and I don’t mean that she sees that Christianity is “bad”–she just sees the difference and is able to ask questions and we have fantastic conversations about religion because of this.

    Here is my bottom line: I attend various interfaith events. How can we expect people from other faiths to join us at the Mosque and share in our traditions if we forbid ourselves from sharing in theirs? It doesn’t mean that we are worshiping what they do, it means we are learning to get along, loving our neighbors and respecting them…and in turn they will do the same to us.

    I’ll try to find that article and post it to your FB page.

    Salam!!!
    Jeri

  4. As salaamu alaikum,

    I have been Muslim for about 6 years now. I think what is happening here is completely normal for everyone. When a person chooses Islam, they will encounter several dilemas regarding former practices and family relations.

    It is true that the beloved Prophet Muhammah (swa) said to be kind with the families and never severe ties should they not call you to evil doing and going against Islam. It sounds like most of us are quick to give our opinions. Whether new Muslims or old Muslims we are all learning. We must continue to seek proper guidance about these issues (Qur’an and Sunnah) and not compromise with opinion.

    I celebrated or rather participated the first couple years, did not bother me much. And I most humbly say I am still learning little by little about this wonderful deen. But I have come to a place where something like this an issue of celebrating the birthday of a Prophet with Santa Claus and decorated trees, I must seperate myself because I know the truth. I stand firm about this with my family with no disrespect. I kindly tell them I am not able to participate with my family, my children, but I would not discourage or mock their holiday. I respect without any compromise. Of course, some are fine with that because they are returning respect, others do not like any change.

    Even still I am not urging you to cease with attending Christmas dinners or seeing your family during this time. I am letting you know, the more you supplicate to your Rubb about these issues and make massive du’a for all of your family to become Muslims, Allah, the Most Merciful, the Most Just, will bring you peace and ease beyond any online forum. These are all stages we go through, not just converted Muslims, all Muslims. It is the very insecure nature of man. Alhamdulillah, we have a clear guidance that our naffs (our desires) blinds from truth. Inshallah, like I said, that guidance will come to all who seek. Everyone has a different challenge, but do not fear what is truth my dear brothers and sisters in humanity :)

    No one has anything to fear accept their Creator.

    May Allah bring you all success in this life and most importantly in the Hereafter.

    1. I’ve been reviewing my blog and noticed this wonderful comment that I apparently didn’t respond to. Forgive me for that. I really appreciate the time you took to write and the concern and caring that you must have had to write it. Thank you!

  5. severing your ties with family just because of a holiday is against islam as far as i have found, i celebrate christmas and thingsd with my family because its a family time. not because of the “birth of jesus” especially since this was originally a pagan holiday and Jesus was not born on Dec @5th. i enjoy the lights and tree and my daughter loves it too. I see nothing wrong with just having a reason to celebrate family. alhamdulilah, thank you for your postings, i am enjoying your site very much.

    1. Asma, forgive me for not replying sooner. I noticed that you left several comments and I just wanted you to know that I really appreciate it and what you had to say. Please keep on coming back–I haven’t been active for a while, but I’m starting up again and love getting comments! :-)

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