Is It Shirk to Wish a Non-Muslim Merry Christmas?

I’m not a scholar, but I don’t think you always have to be to work out how to behave in the world.  Take for example the practice of wishing people “Merry Christmas.” I saw a post on Facebook the other day that said that when we say “Merry Christmas” we are essentially agreeing that Jesus was born on December 25th and because that’s not actual fact, we are committing shirk when we say it.

Does that mean that it wouldn’t be shirk if we knew exactly when Jesus was born and we wished people “Merry Christmas” then? Of course not. I think the real reason some Muslims think it’s not all right to acknowledge Christian holidays is because they’re afraid that 1) they’ll give non-Muslims the impression that they think the holidays are valid; or 2) that they’re acting like, or in danger of becoming, Christians just by wishing someone “Merry Christmas.”

Whenever I have trouble deciding how I feel about something, I look at it from a different angle. Usually that means putting myself in the opposite situation. What if I was a non-Muslim and a Muslim wished me “Merry Christmas”? Would I think, Oh, he must believe in Christmas! or would I be more likely to think that he is being friendly?

Or take it a step further: how do I react when a non-Muslim wishes me a Happy Eid? Do I think he is identifying with Islam or about to become a Muslim? Or do I see it as a friendly gesture, an acknowledgement of my religion and my right to express it?

The way I see it, the only time it’s shirk to wish someone a happy holiday is when they don’t know that you’re a Muslim. If you’re trying to pass as a non-Muslim or even a Christian, then that’s obviously shirk. But if it’s clear that you’re a Muslim, I don’t see any harm in it.

What if someone asks you if you believe in the Christmas Story? Then you would have the opportunity to tell him that while you don’t believe that Jesus is God, you do believe in the virgin birth and that Jesus was one of God’s greatest prophets. But I can’t see any upside to saying to someone, “I’d wish you Merry Christmas, but I think it’s all a lot of nonsense.”

That’s all Muslims need: to be seen as intolerant and dismissive of other religions. Our best witness is to show that we’re proud of being Muslims and to treat others the way God would have us treat them. And Allah is not a God of intolerance and discord.

Shirk is the act of assigning partners to Allah. Recognizing that others may be in error about monotheism is important, but it is our own acts of shirk that we need to be aware of. Belittling or ignoring non-Muslims will not bring them to the One God. It will only push them farther away.

 

 

 

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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.

3 thoughts on “Is It Shirk to Wish a Non-Muslim Merry Christmas?”

  1. I was thinking about this today. There’s a popular radio show that is not even religious-oriented but culture-oriented, where a guest is brought to speak about the Emarati culture. Today while I was listening to the show, a question came in asking whether it was permissible for a Muslim to greet Christians on Christmas day. I found it absurd that somebody was actually posing this as a question and was even more shocked when she replied with a definite yes, saying most scholars considered it forbidden since it would be acknowledging the beliefs related to that day, and that scholars recommended using a general “Season’s greetings” instead. If this is really true, as you said, I don’t think it really needs great knowledge to conclude there should be nothing wrong with being friendly to people of different religions as long as you’re not giving them the impression you follow the same beliefs. I find it very polite of non-muslims greeting me on muslim festivals and I’m sure non-muslims would appreciate the same treatment too.

    1. I’ve been getting pretty evenly divided feed-back to this issue: people either think it’s forbidden or they think it’s no big deal. As you can tell from my post, I’m in the latter camp.

      This illustrates one of the problems I have with some Muslims (but not with Islam) who are so quick to find ways to separate Islam from the rest of the world. While I don’t see anything wrong with having a “Muslim” identity (I wear the hijab after all), I have trouble understanding why even scholars teach that we should not be friends with non-Muslims, etc.

      I wouldn’t have become a Muslim if some Muslims hadn’t befriended me!

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