I logged in to my Facebook account to see an article written by a noble fellow, Adejare Ibrahim. The article, “Matters Arising: Christmas Wishes and Gifts” discussed the controversies over Muslims accepting Christmas gifts and sending wishes like, “Merry Christmas” with the author arriving at his own conclusion that this is permissible in Islam.
For the record, this subtle rejoinder is not to dishonour the author but to educate Muslims and refute the misunderstandings and inconsistencies in the article.
Ibrahim, in his article, did not argue against the discrepancies that surround the date of Jesus’ birth, and neither did he ignore the fact that many Christian denominations do not celebrate the festival. These denominations do not reject it just because of the date, they also argue that it has pagan roots. “During the first two centuries of Christianity, there was strong opposition to recognizing birthdays of martyrs or, for that matter, of Jesus. Numerous Church Fathers offered sarcastic comments about the pagan custom of celebrating birthdays when, in fact, saints and martyrs should be honoured on the days of their martyrdom—their true “birthdays,” from the church’s perspective (Britannica)”.
ON DEALING WITH NON-MUSLIMS
According to Ibrahim, dealing with non-Muslims is sensitive and Muslims need to be balanced in their attitude towards them. While many agree with this, the question is,” what is tolerance?”. He wrote,
” On the one hand, Muslims have to be just and kind toward non-Muslims in order to reconcile their hearts and show them the tolerance of Islam. Muslims are to greet others as we would like them to greet us. Just as some Christians greet Muslims happy Eid, we can definitely greet Christians Merry Christmas. Islam is all about reciprocating kindness with kindness. The Quranic mandate for Muslims is clear: “But when you are greeted with a greeting of peace, answer with an even better greeting, or, at least, with the like thereof. Verily, Allah keeps count indeed of all things.” (An-Nisaa’ 4:86)”.
Ibrahim wrote, “on the one hand” but probably forgot to write what is on “the other hand” which I will do. Before then, there is a wrong interpretation of Qur’an 4:86 in Ibrahim’s article. To greet with something better has nothing to do with wishing Christians, “Merry Christmas”. Let’s put the verse in context. From the Tafsir,
“When you are greeted with a greeting, greet in return with what is better than it, or (at least) return it equally.
meaning, if the Muslim greets you with the Salam, then return the greeting with a better Salam, or at least equal to the Salam that was given. Therefore, the better Salam is recommended, while returning it equally is an obligation.
Imam Ahmad recorded that Abu Raja Al-Utaridi said that;
Imran bin Husayn said that a man came to the Messenger of Allah and said, “As-Salamu Alaykum”.
The Prophet returned the greeting, and after the man sat down he said, “Ten.”
Another man came and said, “As-Salamu Alaykum wa Rahmatullah, O Allah’s Messenger.”
The Prophet returned the greeting, and after the man sat down he said, “Twenty.”
Merry Christmas does not fall under greeting with what is better but the opposite. If we agree that Christmas is a ‘Christian’ festival to celebrate the birth of the son of God, Allah says,
“وَقَالُوا اتَّخَذَ الرَّحْمَٰنُ وَلَدًا
They say: “(Allah) Most Gracious has begotten a son!”
لَّقَدْ جِئْتُمْ شَيْئًا إِدًّا
Indeed ye have put forth a thing most monstrous!
تَكَادُ السَّمَاوَاتُ يَتَفَطَّرْنَ مِنْهُ وَتَنشَقُّ الْأَرْضُ وَتَخِرُّ الْجِبَالُ هَدًّا
At it the skies are ready to burst, the earth to split asunder, and the mountains to fall down in utter ruin,
أَن دَعَوْا لِلرَّحْمَٰنِ وَلَدًا
That they should invoke a son for (Allah) Most Gracious.” (Surah Maryam 88-91).
We can now begin to ask how congratulating people on this festival portrays a better or equal greeting within the context of Qur’an 4:86.
Ibn al-Qayyim, may Allaah have mercy on him, said in Ahkaam Ahl al-Dhimmah: “Congratulating the kuffaar on the rituals that belong only to them is haraam by consensus, as is congratulating them on their festivals and fasts by saying ‘A happy festival to you’ or ‘May you enjoy your festival,’ and so on. If the one who says this has been saved from kufr, it is still forbidden. It is like congratulating someone for prostrating to the cross, or even worse than that. It is as great a sin as congratulating someone for drinking wine, murdering someone, or having illicit sexual relations, and so on. Many of those who have no respect for their religion fall into this error; they do not realize the offensiveness of their actions. Whoever congratulates a person for his disobedience or bid’ah or kufr exposes himself to the wrath and anger of Allaah.”
TOLERANCE ON THE OTHER HAND
Ibrahim wrote, “on the one hand”, citing how Muslims should “be just and kind toward non-Muslims in order to reconcile their hearts and show them the tolerance of Islam.” He went further, “Muslims are to greet others as we would like them to greet us. Just as some Christians greet Muslims happy Eid, we can definitely greet Christians Merry Christmas”. Since he did not write on “the other hand”, I will help.
On the other hand, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) showed respect and tolerance towards the Christians of his time. The Qur’an was clear,
“Say, “O disbelievers, I do not worship what you worship. Nor are you 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” (Qur’an 109).
Religious tolerance is not that one compromises the fundamental teachings of his religion. A Muslim does not necessarily have to be in the Church or celebrate non-Muslim religious festivals to show love or kindness to them. If we are to define kindness by Ibrahim’s definition, “Islam is all about reciprocating kindness with kindness”, then, when the LGBTQ, Atheists, Jews, and Christians wish us Eid Mubarak, we also have to do same. Imagine an Imam on Jummu’ah saying, Happy LGBTQ day”.
The culture of putting Muslims and adherents of other religions and ideologies on the same pedestal needs to stop. That a Christian says “Eid Mubarak” is not a justification for a Muslim wishing a Christian, “Merry Christmas” or the Sango worshipper, “Happy Sango day”. This is supposed to be the age of reason, people having to compromise certain aspects of their faith should not be a yardstick for measuring their tolerance level.
I am a Muslim, I have non-Muslim friends and I do not go about hunting for the tolerant ones amongst them to wish me “Eid Mubarak”, if you do, it is of your own volition. With obvious religious differences and contradictory teachings, it is unintelligent to consider people as tolerant or respectful based on their acceptance of your religion or faith.
ON THE ACCEPTANCE OF GIFTS
On whether collecting Christmas gifts is permissible or not, kindly use this link https://islamqa.info/amp/en/answers/85108
Meanwhile, my mother is Christian. She called me this morning and prayed and skipped the “Happy Christmas” that she has gotten used to for over 3 years now. In 2014 and 2015, it was a struggle to explain why I wouldn’t but I was successful. I was respectful and played my role till she understood that my stance has nothing to do with extremism. If you are not a Muslim because you don’t agree with Islam and I am not a Christian because I don’t agree with Christianity, we should not use the acceptance of any of its teachings, culture and festival to define our tolerance and respect. To me is my religion, and to you is yours. Perhaps, if we understood our religion and also the art of tolerance, then, we would be able to help people understand what is and what is not.
Rejecting an orphan, not feeding the poor, injustice to an individual, etc., on account of their religion, should be yardsticks to measure who is tolerant and who is not and not necessarily which Muslim says Amen to an in-Jesus-name prayer or which Christian eats ‘Eid meat.
Reno Omokri explained something similar in one of his articles as well. Let us understand our religious differences and know the limits.
Bashir Lucas Samson Lukman