Muslim Views on Celebrating Non-Muslim Holidays
Tolerance towards other religions is a vital principle clearly outlined in the Holy Qu’ran: “And do not insult those they invoke other than Allah, lest they insult Allah in enmity without knowledge. Thus We have made pleasing to every community their deeds. Then to their Lord is their return, and He will inform them about what they used to do.” (6:108) It applies to anyone who is different from us, including the people we live with in the countries where the majority of the population are non-Muslims. These people have their own customs and ways, they have their holidays both civil and religious. Inevitably we shall be exposed to those customs, cultures and holidays and inevitably we shall be faced with the question of how to react to them.
The first important point of consideration is what this question of ‘living together’ is all about? Allah preaches love, Allah teaches love, Allah prescribes love – towards Muslims and non-Muslims alike. All people have the same hearts that can rejoice or feel pain. It is a moral felony to inflict pain, whereas filling hearts with joy will become a source of happiness for all. We all do benefit from this joy. We all do strive for this unity of hearts, openness of minds and happiness of our lives. Irrespective of the religious differences, race, class or social status. This is the message of love from Allah.
What about our identity, though? Do we make concessions here, too? The answer is no, definitely not. We do believe that Islam is the only true religion enlightening all the people on Earth and as such it should be preached and taught and adhered to by everyone. Our neighbour can be a nice person in everyday life but when it comes to matters of faith, if he is a non-Muslim, he is an erring person. And we cannot pamper his erring. We must strive to reform him, without coercion, of course, gently and unobtrusively.
In times of joint celebrations, we can use the opportunity to share our beliefs with our non-Muslim neighbours. Specifically when it is a Jewish or a Christian holiday.
There are non-religious holidays in various non-Muslim countries which have no impact on a Muslim’s faith profession: 4th of July, VE Day, New Year’s Eve. These holidays have no religious connotation. They are just occasions for merry-making and bringing neighbours together. Therefore, it is clear that for Muslims these celebrations hold no reservations. Wishing your neighbour a Happy New Year does not compromise any of the beliefs of Islam so it is perfectly alright to say that.
With Christian holidays it is quite different. If you say to someone ‘Merry Christmas’, it means you agree with the religious content of this event, that you share its meaning. Rather than simply sharing your neighbour’s merriment, you wish to share his religious beliefs. The situation looks complicated, however, the way out is simple. It is the way of combining both, i.e. sharing your neighbours good cheers and not sharing his profession of faith. All you have to do is say ‘best wishes upon your festival’ instead. The result shall be exactly what we need, for what you are saying in this case is, ‘I am happy to see you in a good mood but this is your holiday not mine.’