Every December, it has become a holiday tradition amongst some Muslims to engage in internet flame wars about the true meaning of Christmas.
The criticism against Christmas by Muslims zeroes in on two factors: (1) celebrating the birth of Jesus, and (2) Christmas historically being a concoction of pagan and Christian elements. Christmas, however, has become a highly secularized holiday and regardless of belief it is a civic holiday in the United States and Canada. Like other cultural objects, it has changed over time and space especially with commercialization and globalization. Even within mainstream Islam, authoritative and respected scholarship have taken pragmatic approaches in discussing holidays. Sheikh Dr Ali Goma’a, the former Grand Mufti of Egypt and a champion of interfaith relations, wrote in response to a letter from a woman who was admonished for wanting to spend time with her non-Muslim family during Christmas that it was not sensible to equate spending time with one’s non-Muslim family during Christmas with polytheism. He also points out that it is easy for a Muslim to not compromise their personal belief during Christmas because regardless of Christian convictions about Jesus, he is a revered personality in Islam. Habib Ali Zain al-Abideen al-Jifri, prominent Muslim scholar and Director General of the UAE based Tabah Foundation, explains that “contemporary custom surrounding the Christmas season no longer links congratulating one with an affirmation of [non-Muslim] beliefs.” Even amongst secular and Christian segments of Western society there is a debate over how religious the holiday truly is and was. Suffice to say, the meaning of Christmas is ultimately left open ended. For an increasing number of people, Christmas is simply a time to get together as a family to participate in the acts of gift giving and spreading cheer. For others, it might be be a religious time to celebrate the winter solstice or reflect on the personality of Jesus. Some may use Christmas to convey meaning through characters such as Santa Claus and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Retailers view it as a time to make huge profits. My position is more or less the same as fellow Muslim and fictional character from NBC’s Community, Abed Nadir. He says that “the meaning of Christmas is the idea that Christmas has meaning and it can mean whatever we want.” This view might help in fanning the fire of Muslim internet flame wars and maybe create some level of respect between people who do not hold the same jurisprudential opinions. Perhaps these issues can be solved with a collective viewing of 1966's How the Grinch Stole Christmas. We know how that story ended.