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Can I Say "Merry Christmas?"

Question from Viewer: I immigrated to Canada where everyone celebrates Christmas. Back home our scholars said that if you say “Merry Christmas” to someone, then you have committed a sin. And if I bring presents to my colleagues, that is also wrong. My question is, how should I reply when someone says “Merry Christmas” to me, and how should I deal with my colleagues at work?

Answer by Dr. Shabir: The European Council for Fatwa and Research deals with questions facing Muslims who live as minorities. In answering this question, they have said that it’s important to build goodwill with your fellow citizens, and this may be one of the ways to do it.

I want you to imagine the flip side, and that is isolating yourself from the wider populace and making people feel that you are different and odd. In the long term, that’s not sustainable. So I believe this is a very reasonable fatwa. As for those who are saying, “no, you can't say Merry Christmas, you're involving yourself in shirk,” which means associating partners with God, they have a simplistic view about Christianity and what Christmas entails. Christmas by itself does not entail the worship of Jesus (on whom be peace). There are Unitarian Christians who do not worship Jesus, but they would still celebrate Christmas as the birthday of Jesus. So the celebration of Christmas itself does not necessarily mean that one is worshiping Jesus. Some people celebrate Christmas by worshiping Jesus. Some people celebrate Christmas without having anything to do with Jesus. It's largely a social phenomenon that has become very widely practiced in Canada in particular, by people who are religious and people who are not.

Every once in a while, a preacher will be preaching on the topic of the man who is behind the season. Christmas has become so commercialized that they feel the need to remind people about the reason for the season, which is Jesus (on whom be peace). So people have forgotten about Jesus, much less worship him. So, in this wider landscape, saying “Merry Christmas” in the office or to your neighbor does not entail that you are condoning the worship of Jesus. It just means that you recognize that this is a time when people are happy, and you’re saying a word of merriment to other people. So it's not a time to be melancholy. Don’t be like the Grinch who stole Christmas. All of these things have deep implications for people. For people around us, Christmas is so very important and you can't take that away. In this environment, it is important that we build alliances

Of course, there are limits. A Muslim cannot say that they are going to worship Jesus alongside their neighbours. That is totally haram. It is shirk. But to say “Merry Christmas” to the other person, this is not involving yourself in shirk, it is not something haram. It's just cheering up your fellow human being. And the Quran says, “speak kindly to people.” Speak a kind and good word to other people, saying to another person, “I wish that this should be a happy time for you.”

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