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New Muslims & Christmas

Dr. Safiyyah Ally: Dr. Shabir, here's a question we've received from a viewer: "I'm the only Muslim in my family, and I'm wondering how to deal with Christmas. I've already been involved in Christmas preparations, but I feel so bad about what I'm doing. I know it's a sin to worship other than Allah, but I'm still part of the family, and I don't want to dishonor them. What should I do?" You can feel the angst and the pain in that question, Dr. Shabir.

Dr. Shabir Ally: Yes. And of course what is different from traditional Muslim discourses on the topic is that now we're in a new environment where Muslims are minorities. You can imagine a past situation where Muslims were the majority, and people were assimilated into the Muslim society. So let's say there is a non-Muslim who is there in the society, they will kind of fall in place, and do what Muslims do, because everybody likes to fit in. But what happens when Muslims are in a minority situation?

Dr. Shabir: So let's break down this complex problem into smaller bits so we can deal with each component and see how to analyze it. Sometimes people lump things together, and it looks like, okay, so I can't worship other than God, so how can I have any part to do with Christmas? So let's see which part involves the worship of God. Typically, when Christians gather at home, and maybe there are some very religious families who will do some things that I'm not aware of, but generally as I perceive it, most families will get together for a Christmas dinner. So a Christmas dinner by itself does not involve the worship of God. I think when Christians say grace they may thank God for the meal, and maybe they might say in the name of Jesus or something like this. But mostly they're thanking God for the meal. So if a Muslim is there with them because that's their family, and they want to be with the family at that moment, they're not aiding their family to say that they're praying in the name of Jesus. They can give thanks to God, as we say bismillah before eating. So the Muslim is praying to God, and they're doing what they do, what they've been taught, what they've been accustomed to, and it doesn't really effect you.

Dr. Shabir: Now, if you didn't have to be at a situation where people are doing something that you find objectionable, then naturally you wouldn't be there. But if you're part of a family, as they say the family ties bind and sometimes even gag. So there is accommodation for that within the Muslim context. As you know, the Islamic faith allows for a Muslim man to marry a chaste woman from the People of the Book, meaning a Jew or a Christian, and I've heard some Muslim scholars say that a Christian woman in such a marriage would have a right to fulfill all of her religious requirements, and her husband would need to cooperate to help her to fulfill her spiritual expectations to the extent that he may be the one to have to drive her to church.

Dr. Safiyyah: Interesting.

Dr. Shabir: So this is as close as you can get because if she's going to church to worship Jesus in addition to worshiping the Father and the Holy Spirit, then her husband is required to cooperate and even help her in that situation. So one might say, but you're helping her to worship. His reply should be that it's my obligation as a husband to make sure that my wife is spiritually fulfilled, and this is where she finds her spiritual fulfillment, and I'm just doing my part as her husband. So too within the family you don't have so much of an obligation as a husband would have, but you have some obligation to cooperate with your family to help them to do what they do, and what they will find fulfilling. And you will know when too much is too much, but some aspects of this, like if somebody puts up a Christmas tree in the house, well, it doesn't affect you, and you probably won't put it up yourself.

Dr. Safiyyah: But what about if you do? What if it's part of the family tradition to put ornaments on the tree?

Dr. Shabir: If you feel this is not objectionable, if you're not so hung up on the idea that the tree has ancient roots in Paganism or anything like this, and you feel it's just an ordinary tree, people just decorate it out of social custom, it's what everybody does at this season, and if you feel inclined to put some ornaments on it, to me this is not something that goes against Islamic teachings in a very clear way. Because for something to go in a clear way against Islam, it has to be something that is contrary to what is mentioned in the Quran, contrary to what is mentioned in the Hadith. But these don't speak of this issue, it's really a modern issue.

Dr. Shabir: So one should use one's judgment, and not always make Islam appear to be so different and odd. Okay, so you've embraced Islam, and your family hasn't, you don't want the whole family to think, this Islam has taken away one of our family members, and this person becomes so brain washed that nothing that we hold dear seems appealing to them anymore, and they're turning everything upside down, and what's wrong with a Christmas tree, what's wrong with a Christmas dinner? What's wrong with Christmas? So a Muslim needs to govern themselves in such a way that people around them will not be turned away from the religious message of Islam.

Dr. Safiyyah: We'll leave it at that. Thank you for that answer, Dr. Shabir.

Dr. Shabir: You're welcome.

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