Monday, 24 December 2012

A Muslim Celebrating Christmas? - Sarah Ager



For my family, Advent was always heralded in by the arrival of the plastic tree from the dusty loft and the annual untangling of lights. As the years went by, I slowly overtook the tree in height but my role as chief artistic director remained unchallenged for over two decades. The little knitted stockings on the tree housed chocolate coins which my brother and I would hunt for every morning and, along with a chocolate Celebrations Advent calendar, these formed a staple part of my annual Christmas countdown.

Then, of course, all those glittery baubles went flying up in the air two years ago when I became a Muslim and Ramadan suddenly became my main festival. As I'd only been fasting for two years, I hadn't developed any traditions for that particular festival yet. I was stuck in an awkward transitional phase where I still felt a bit at a loss when Christmas came along and, much like my annual Christmas lights, found myself in a bit of a tangle!



The Plastic Tree I Eventually Outgrew



I'd always been very traditional when it came to Christmas. I wanted to uphold each family tradition, from opening one present on Christmas Eve to leaving a shoe outside the door for Santa to hide (to his day, I've got no idea where this concept came from!). Bearing this in mind, a shake up like my conversion was pretty unnerving. I began to question everything that had once been so stable. 

What traditions would I keep? What should I avoid? 

Certainly, it was with a heavy heart that I gave my portion of crispy pigs-in-blankets to my brother last Christmas. Although he seemed pretty happy to have discovered this unexpected upside to my conversion! 

My opinions were constantly evolving on the subject of Christmas. I found myself offering diverse views to different people depending on which day they asked me. Like a shaken up snowglobe, it takes a while for the flakes to settle back down again. In fact, I revisited last year's Christmas article and found I could no longer relate the opinions I'd expressed back then.

I no longer feel like I've lost something. Conversion or not, Christmas would never be the same as it was when I was a child. I'd been worried that converting would mean I'd never be able to relate to Christmas again. Instead, I found that the upheaval made me reflect on why Christmas was important to me in the first place. 



Christmas 6 Years Ago



Having a perfectly symmetrical and colour-coded Christmas tree just doesn't matter anymore. What matters is being able to board a flight to see my family over a thousand miles away. What matters is the seemingly banal - hearing my mum fret that I've lost or gained weight, catching up with my Grandparents over a cup of tea, and chatting late into the night with my brother about everything and nothing.

Just being there.

And that warm fuzzy feeling we get from being with those we love is something that transcends religious red tape or cultural baggage. Whether we're speaking about religious festivals or celebrations like Thanksgiving, in the end, they all boil down to two very simple concepts: being thankful and being together.



How has your views towards holiday traditions changed over the years? 





18 comments:

  1. A lovely, sincere and well written article sister. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Thanks Mo - That's very kind of you : )

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  2. I enjoy hearing your perspective and thanks for the links. Here is a post I wrote: http://www.djiboutijones.com/2012/12/merry-muslim-christmas/

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    1. Thank you for your link - I included it above because I think others will enjoy reading it too. Have a lovely day. x

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  3. Assalamu alaikum my sweet sister, your article is very nice nad I feel empahty, there are few thngs I do nto agree with though especially when you say you do not see the reason why not celebrate Christmas. The reason behind not celebrating Christmas is that the Prophet Muhammad, pace and blessings upon him, and the Sahabah never did that! if they did not do that why should we do it? Are we better than them?Honourating the prophet Isah , peance upon him, can be done by praying Allah and doing mord prayers not by celbrating a non muslmi celebration.
    Weshould stick to the qur'an and Sunnah only and pray Allah to not go astray....this is not my opinion though. Scholars experts in Fiqh claim it:
    http://islamqa.info/en/ref/145950

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    1. Thank you for your words. I think my use of the word 'celebrate' could be a bit confusing actually. I think there is a difference between enjoying parts of Christmas tradition and 'celebrating' as a Christian would - because of course Christmas has a different meaning for them. For example, I've become very aware of Christmas carols (because I instinctively sing them because they're such a part of my culture) and begun to only sing the ones which don't refer to 'son of God' for example. The transition for a revert is quite complicated and I think it's something that comes gradually. Some reverts cut off from everything Christmassy & find that the best way, others transition and others take part in the cultural and non-religious aspects that they feel comfortable with. I think it's about intention and inshallah it will become easier over time. Have a lovely day x

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  4. Interesting Post - I think many Muslims don't understand the transition for Christians becoming Muslims. As long as we know in our hearts that we are not celebrating Christmas personally, then I am sure Allah is understanding. Criticising Christians is not very islamic either - Respect is meant to be shown to all. Take Care, thinking of you and your family. Karima

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    1. Thank you. Inshallah you and are your family are well too and enjoying a nice break. I love your crochet projects. You seem to be progressing to quite complicated things now : ) Your tips are always so useful. take care, Sarita x

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  5. Interesting article...thank you for stopping by my blog too! In Istanbul, I find it slightly strange to see all the Christmas decorations nearly EVERYWHERE! Of course, the 99% Muslim population isn't celebrating Christmas but New Year's. I wonder how this part of a traditional Christian holiday is embraced here. Sure the decorations are pretty and festive, but I doubt people know the real meaning behind Christmas for us.

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    1. Thank you so much! I can't wait to go to Istanbul and taste the food and see all the sights you describe in your blog.

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  6. Interesting post... especially for a person who grew up with roots as a Jehovah's Witness! Hope your holidays were spectacular!

    www.goodlooknout.com

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    1. Hi, I'd love to hear more about your views on Christmas then and now. Hope you're having an enjoyable holiday and break. Sarita x

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  7. Salam alaikum. Just thought I'd post my 2 cents (for what it's worth). I am the only convert in my family- I grew up Jehovah's Witness, then was baptized catholic. I found Islam almost 10 years and started practicing 7 years ago. I put my foot down when it comes to specific things for example, we (hubby and I) make it clear we are Muslims-everything else (practices and cultural stuff) is secondary.

    However, I wish Christians a Merry Christmas & send family members (especially the kids) cards...Why? Because in Ramadan co-workers, friends and neighbors send us Ramadan wishes, along with cards, and if we break bread together (for iftar), they go out of their way to buy and prepare halal foods for us.

    As a convert, I would have never found Islam if Allah did not will it, but also because there were people who allowed me to see the beauty of Islam by not creating barriers between "us" and "them"; at that time I would have been "them".

    I agree with you and Karima, the transition is not a simple one, and there is a difference between sharing and enjoying parts of a tradition-what of Christians who celebrate Ramadan and Eid with their Muslim friends and family(!?)

    Salam.

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing your story and thoughts. I especially agreed with your ideas on breaking barriers between 'us' and 'them' because in the end, they are arbitrary. I'd feel bad if I didn't say Merry Christmas when people make such an effort to wish me greetings at Eid and often my co-workers/students try to avoid drinking or eating in front of me which is always appreciated : D

      Hope you have a wonderful start to 2013

      Sarita

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  8. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the celebration of Christmas, Sarita! You're right...there is a wide spectrum of beliefs and reactions, especially among Muslims, about the celebration of Christmas. It's definitely an interesting topic.

    Having grown up in the West, I too have grown up loving Christmas, especially since it was all around me. I've never had too much contact with people who celebrate the holiday religiously, but it's always been about the general merriment of the holiday season (and come on, the commercialism) and the festive atmosphere, and so I actually really enjoy the season. I love the lights and the seasonal baked goods and the general spirit of it all and don't see a problem with wishing people Merry Christmas to be friendly.

    Everyone has their own opinion though, at the end of the day, and it depends on your intentions. May Allah guide us all, ameen.

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    1. Thank you for your response - I really enjoyed hearing your thoughts and ideas.

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  9. Assalamualaikum sister, greetings from Malaysia. We have many races, cultures and religions in Malaysia i.e Hinduism, taoism,budhism, christians and Islam.We have many who converted to Islam.So, should we stop these people from celebrating Chinese New Year,Diwali and other celebrations with their families who did not convert to Islam? Islam promotes to always respect your family especially your parents.I see no problem in celebrating if you want to show your respect and to strengthen your family ties.

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    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful reply. That's one of the reason why I'm so intrigued by Malaysia - there's such a fantastic mix. Sarita x

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