In this op-ed for Quartz, Haroon Moghul (author of How to Be a Muslim: An American Story) writes about American Muslims changing attitudes on Christmas.
“There was a time when just saying ‘Merry Christmas’ would provoke fire and brimstone sermons from Muslims around me. I wasn’t exempt: I also believed Muslims shouldn’t celebrate holidays that weren’t explicitly Islamic, least of all arguably the biggest Christian holiday of the year. My own positions have changed, considerably… I’ve come to believe that more and more Muslims will take the seasonal plunge. Except on their own, Muslim terms.”
Here are some more snippets from Moghul’s piece:
— “My parents taught me that Muslims did not celebrate any holidays except Muslim ones. We wouldn’t celebrate Thanksgiving, nobody discussed Valentine’s Day, and Christmas was entirely out of the question.”
— Imam Ubayd Allah Evans, an African-American convert to Islam says that “holidays prove the power of a culture.” He continues, “As a community, we should not underestimate how much people want to be part of a place. The impulse to want to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Halloween — I totally get that.” Imam Abdullah Antepli, chief representative of Muslim affairs at Duke University, furthers the point. “In Iran, Nowruz (Persian New Year) is celebrated by Muslims. It is not an ‘Islamic’ holiday — the Prophet Muhammad never celebrated it — but it’s integral to Iranian Muslim culture all the same”.
— As 22-year-old Libyan-American journalist Noor Tagouri tells Quartz that her family has also had to navigate the holiday spectrum. “I know a lot of Muslim families who just started celebrating Christmas recently and that’s their prerogative. We celebrate Thanksgiving [but not Christmas].” And why not? “At the end of the day it is a religious holiday.”
— American Muslim Eids have become more elaborate occasions, but there’s no comparison to Christmas. Add to that a rising mood of anti-Muslim sentiment, which encourages Muslims—consciously or unconsciously—to seek out ways to prove their belonging. Christmas would seem to be a way to speak to the mainstream: After all, Muslims love Jesus, if not quite in the same way.
— For many Muslims, Christmas challenges the Muslim interpretation of Jesus…. Jesus is a prophet in the Islamic tradition, like Muhammad. Muslims also believe Jesus is the Messiah, and will return at the end of time. But—and here’s the big difference—in the Muslim faith, Jesus is not God, the son of God, or divine in any sense. He may be very special, but he is ultimately very human. Our monotheism is unitarian, like Judaism’s. If I may be so bold, Muslims are Jews for Jesus.
— The tension between the desire to maintain religious cohesion and the desire to build bridges with an America that is dominantly Christian is one of many facing the Western Muslim community. Is Christmas an unmissable opportunity to share the Muslim gospel? Or is it a warning sign we are disappearing into the mainstream?