Converts and the Holidays: Maintaining the Ties of Kinship without Crossing Islamic Boundaries

Converts and the Holidays: Maintaining the Ties of Kinship without Crossing Islamic Boundaries

Written by Stephanie Siam

I remember as a kid sitting in my family’s living room:

memories
memories

All the lights off, all the sounds off, watching the lights on the Christmas tree move through their rotation of red … to blue … to green … to white … with the decorations glistening in the electric glow. And then they rotated to off. And for a moment I held my breath, waiting for them to come back on, bringing me out of darkness, into a room of warmth and color.

I remember the first Christmas after I converted to Islam:

I was conflicted about what to do. I lived in the same city as a lot of my extended family. My immediate family was driving to Mobile for the holidays. There was a schedule of who to visit and where to go in the short time they were to be in town. And nobody knew I was Muslim.

The holidays – especially Thanksgiving and Christmas – have always been a kind of family reunion for my mother’s side of our family. When my grandmother was still alive, the dinners and get-togethers always centered around her house. With my mother at her side, she crafted delicious meals and traditions that still hold a soft place in my heart.

After her death, these two occasions became even more important to my mother. She needed to continue the tradition. She needed to feel like nothing had changed. And I didn’t want to be the one to break her heart.

Still, everywhere I turned, all I heard was, “Haraam. Haraam. Christmas is haraam.”

Do not try this at home
Do not try this at home

Now, before you jump the gun and assume I’m proposing Muslims deck the halls with holly to have a merry little Christmas – hear me out.

It makes very little sense to me for Muslims born outside of countries that celebrate Christmas (or natural-born Muslims, for that matter) to participate in festivities that are foreign to them. For example, even though Kwanzaa and Hanukkah are observed in the United States by people of their respective heritage and traditions, not all Americans take part in celebrating these occasions.

And unless someone converted to the observing religion or became part of a family that practiced such traditions, most people would think it strange for a person to participate in a festival outside of their own religion or family/cultural tradition.

So, with that being said, it is easy to see why many scholars lay out the blanket “Christmas is haraam for Muslims” statement, especially those that have never been outside of their own countries or experienced multiculturalism in their own lives and families.

Some of these same scholars also say it is “haraam” for women to drive cars, air conditioners to be used in the absence of husbands at home, and a person to change his religion. However, there has been much research and discussion about all of these, and other scholars have permitted the same things that others forbid.

While I understand the basis for scholars to say Muslims shouldn’t celebrate Christmas and its traditions – the purpose of Christmas, the religious affiliations it has, and the consumerism it promotes – to issue an all-encompassing ruling that also cuts ties between Muslim converts and their Western families is dangerous.

Most people are well-aware that Christmas has long since left its original “adopted” purpose (the birth of Prophet Isa/Jesus [pbuh]) and become more of a secular winter festival celebrating snow, Santa Claus, and uncontrolled spending. Even if there are religious aspects of the holiday still observed by families, they hardly ever take place on the day of the celebrations – unless it falls on a Saturday/Sunday – and they are not usually at the forefront of the occasion.

The truth is, Christmas has become a secular, cultural tradition where families get together to socialize, eat and make memories.

family, food, and fun (or fights)
family, food, and fun (or fights)

Accordingly, many Muslims who converted from Christianity understand this. Many converts from other religions (or none of them) also get this picture. The ones who don’t seem to understand are the scholars issuing fatwas (religious rulings) on issues outside the scope of their culture or experiences.

Again, let me be clear:

I don’t think it is okay for Muslims (natural-born or converts) to go to church and praise services in celebration of Christmas. To attend Christmas mass, Christmas Eve prayers or take part in the Christmas cantatas (live depictions) of the Nativity (the Biblical account of Jesus’ birth) – no matter how much we Muslim ladies resemble the Virgin Mary – is not cool. Or Islamic. In fact, it’s probably bordering on shirk.

But there’s an issue that natural-born Muslims don’t understand – and quite often judge – about us converts. Despite adopting a new religion, embedding ourselves in foreign languages and cultures, and attempting to reconcile our previous lives with our new ones, we still have family members. We still have people that love us – or at the very least want to understand us.

And the beauty of Islam is that even though we’ve accepted this new way of life and worship, we aren’t supposed to cut ties with the ones who birthed us, raised us, supported us and loved us from the beginning.

OnIslam respondent Dr. Jamal Badawi, Member of the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR) and the Fiqh Council of North America, explains:

Participating in the non-religious aspect of Christmas such as family reunion dinner or visitation is OK. Attempts should be made to avoid situations where alcoholic drinks are served on the same table. Kindness to parents and family without compromising one’s beliefs is an Islamic duty.

During socialization and whenever appropriate, one may share one’s thoughts [on religion] with them, preferably in answer to their questions or comments without being too argumentative.

In fact, in terms of greeting others and giving gifts: this is actually sunnah (actions recommended/practiced by Prophet Muhammad [saw]). No, I am not saying the Prophet (saw) brought Christmas gifts to his Christian neighbors. However, Allah (swt) does instruct us to return greetings to others in kind or better:

When you are greeted with a greeting, greet in return with what is better than it, or at least return it equally… (An-Nisa 4:86)

Additionally, the European Council for Fatwa and Research suggests this action becomes obligatory when non-Muslims congratulate Muslims on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr or Eid al-Adha. Therefore, if your neighbors customarily acknowledge you on your Islamic holidays, it is perfectly okay to wish them well on theirs in the spirit of maintaining community and friendship.

With regards to gifts, the ECFR explains:

There is also no objection to accepting gifts and presents from them, and to return their gifts in kind, on

I love a presie anytime of year!
I love a presie any time of year!

condition that these gifts are not unlawful in themselves, such as being alcohol or pork. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) accepted the gift of the King of Egypt and several others [. . .] .

Interestingly enough, the person who had the most influence (beyond Allah, alhumdulillah) in my conversion to Islam gave me a Christmas present the first year I knew her. I remember this action often, as it reminds me of how I was invited into Islam in a gentle, encouraging manner — the way we should bring others.

Finally, one of the first things Muslims learn as a child is the status of mothers in Islam. It does not differentiate between the religion of mothers; the only stipulation is the mother cannot enjoin the child to go against Allah. This means, while you must respect and obey your mother and father, you must also remain true to Islamic teachings.

If your parents are trying to force you to go to church with them, or to remove your hijab, or drink alcohol or eat pork, then you should certainly avoid these situations. But if your parents only want you around to visit with them, to share in memory-making as a family, to eat some yummy food and enjoy a nice cup of apple cider by the fireplace, why isn’t this okay?

Idris Tawfiq, in his article “Happy Holidays”, best expresses my sentiments when he says:

If we know in our hearts that we are not celebrating the religious side of the feast, perhaps even declaring this in our own du`aa’ [sic] on the morning of Christmas itself to reassure our newfound faith, we have nothing to fear by taking part in a celebration of family and friends.

Indeed, there are several varying opinions on this issue. I am not saying that one opinion is more correct than the other. However, when it comes to me, I take the side of strengthening the ties of kinship, showing my relatives the positives of Islam (such as generosity, kindness to family and respect for others’ opinions and faiths) and praying that one day, we can all celebrate Eid al-Fitr together. As Muslims, insha’Allah.

Note: My intention with this article is not to encourage Muslims to start decorating their houses with lights, putting up trees in their living rooms or singing Frosty the Snowman when the first snowfall comes. If anything good comes from this article, it is from Allah. And if anything wrong appears, it is from me. And I ask Allah to forgive me of any misunderstanding I have or cause.

Follow us (upper right of the page), email us (islamwich@yahoo.com), like our face with your face on Facebook, like the post, share it, pin it, and/or do whatever social media magic it is that you prefer. Find out more about us in the understandably named “About Us” page and browse other posts in the “Table of Contents”.

Advertisements

15 thoughts on “Converts and the Holidays: Maintaining the Ties of Kinship without Crossing Islamic Boundaries

    1. Salaam sis……

      Thanks for reading. As with many things, one must evaluate their own situation when making decisions such as these. This opinion isn’t true for all.

      Like

  1. This time of the year must bring conflict for most reverts from the Christian faith. I know nothing about the challenges you face as a revert but I have certainly learnt a bit from what you have written.
    Mayألله make you’re journey easy for you. ءامين
    I know that as Muslims we should not be quick to judge as الله is the best judge.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Heeshaba,

      Thank you for reading. I am glad you enjoyed the article. Thank you as well for your dua. Ameen.

      May Allah make all of our journeys easy. InshaAllah. Ameen.

      Stephanie

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Assalamo Alikum Sister,
    1st of all im happy to know you are a revert, welcome to Muslim hood,may Allah guide us all and give us strength to follow the straight path. you have written it beautifully and shared your thoughts, and yes its true for us Muslims its easy to say its haram to those who are newly to islam or those who are in different culture than us. and you have shared the thoughts of scholars who have knowledge of islam, im in no position to argue with you, but how ever i may disagree to some extent. When you read the Quran the verses of Surah Mariyam surah 19, the last verses says that if some one says Merry christmas the earth and heavens wants to collapse cox of it. scholars like Mufti Ismael quotes such verses and give fatwa which i think is right because its the words of Allah from Quran. Religion will always come 1st.you gotta keep the balance where your kinship ties is crossing over your religion you gotta pull back there.When Prophet Ibrahim A.S was a lil kid and his father was a idol maker, the owner of shirk industry , yet he said the truth to his father to which his father hated him and said him the ugliest words, but what did Prophet Ibrahim did ? he knew from Islam that his father has rights over him and he has to respect him never be loud and rude to him, so he kept both there and passed his test.
    there was a companion i guess it was Hazrat waqas R,A who was a cousin of Khajida R.A and he was 17 years old when he accepted islam and was the 17th revert to islam, and his mother said to him i wont eat unless you change your religion, and he also kept both his kinship and religion ,his mother stayed hungry for 2 days and on 3rd he made his mom eat food by saying, look mom i love Allah S.W.T and Prophet Mohammad Pbuh more than you, i cant change my religion for you so let it go, she understood it and then ate food.
    i see you have pics uploaded of my fav scholar Ustad Nouman Ali khan, And he has a beautiful lecture “Who are the people of Abadur Rehman ” , and in which there is a category special to Allah, who doesnt make a scene, like he describes, if you are invited to a event which is participating in totally prohibited acts, like mixing of men and women, music blasting, not descent dressing, well dont make a scene there im a Muslim, this is haram , you are all going to hell, he just says go there, and then make a excuse like i gotta go for prayer and then stay at masjid and dont come back untill the party is over and when you come say im sorry i was stuck there in some kind of speech.
    Yes its a meeting and gathering its good to see your mother and relativies, and may be it can be an oppurtunity to invite them to islam. but there are verses in Quran, i guess in Surah Al-maida where Allah prohibits not to eat the food on which the name of Laat and Huza are taken,even though the food is halal but since on it the name of idols have been taken so its haram for you.
    again im not a scholar and im in no poisiton to give fatwa and bring hatred amung us. Look here even in Pakistan a muslim country we have so many prohibited events, You west is good in weddings here in Pak we have many hindus events in our weddings, wedding here is not just one event but series of 5-7 events, which were totally haram in islam, which comes in the category of Tabseer a worst kind of Israaf, And my cousin wedding is comming and all my relatives are doing those foolish things now, and i have decided not to attend those events and give money for bringing dancers which usually pakistani people do, so i will make many enemies but i will try not to make a scene and not to disobey Allah.
    and Yes it easy for us to say things are haram, without looking at your position , but what if the thing was haram in real and we know that its haram and we never pointed out its haram then on the Day of Judgement Allah will let you go free for doing such things and make us responsible for never correcting. Im already very confused cox we muslims have ruined islam, scholars can give fatwa to not celebrate christmas, but same saudi scholars do nothing to prevent interest based loans in Saudi arabia which is clearly prohibited in Islam,there are also many wrong thngs in our society happening in Islamic countries no one talks about them.
    Allah knows Best !
    Assalamo Alikum !

    Like

    1. Salam,

      I read your post, but it took me awhile to find the way to get it posted.

      I understand (most) of what you’re saying. And you bring up some valid points. However, most of what you’re addressing is in terms of discarding religious duties or appeasing family and forsaking religion. I am not advocating for either of those. I am simply saying I don’t want to shun my family when they ask me to dinner. The intention is to not bring strife to my family, which is something Allah tells me to avoid.

      In terms of eating food given for idols, I don’t think this is the same scenario. Nobody is blessing food in the name of idols. In fact, my family (with me as the exception, and to my own food) often doesn’t even say “grace”. When they do, I am quiet, and then I bless my own food after. Many scholars have noted this is perfectly fine.

      Interesting email address, btw.

      Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. i think you got what i said, and i got what you said, then eating dinner is fine if there is nothing wrong with it. thanks for reading and answering it,my comment was as long as your post. may Allah also guide your family to Islam. you know what problems do we have in Pakistan ? innovations in deen, Here my family members gets sad with me for not celebrating what they are celebrating. Cox i think it was never practiced by Our Prophet and Non of his companions, many reverts in that case are blessed, cox they just dont follow the society, they search deep and try to follow the orignal Islam without innovations.
        and yes lol it was my email when i was 15th and was new to internet , i was a hip hip guy 😀
        Assalamo Alikum Sis !

        Like

      2. I know your frustration. Yes, a major issue for reverts is sifting through the cultural influences and the true form. Alhumdulillah, nearly 10 years later, and I am still learning.

        All the best and thanks for commenting!

        Salaam!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I am a convert for 10 years now and I will never give up spending the holidays with my family . I lost a lot of my family due to me converting so the ones that accept me and accept my faith I am not about to give up ..yes I eat with them on their holidays I bring gifts for my parents and little nieces and nephews it is a part of my life is something traditional its a time we all come together and it would hurt so much to not be apart of that . but just as I share these days with them I also have them at my table for Eid and give those same nieces and nephews gifts during Ramadan . its a mutual respect for one another and that is how family is suppose to be!

    Like

    1. Lisa….I completely understand your struggle and, though not everybody would agree, I do. I think Allah knows our intentions, and our intentions are not about celebrating the birth of Jesus or worshipping him, but strengthening bonds that, for many, are already unstable. May Allah give you strength, and insha’Allah you will find your family beside at Eid prayers one day. Thank you for reading and Allah barafeeki.

      Like

  4. Asalam alaikum sister Stephanie, I can totally relate to your words. As a revert of 12 years and married 7 years now el hamdulelleah this time of year is special as we build and strengthen family ties. Yes I have very fond memories growing up as a Catholic and have to agree that today the focus of Christmas has very much changed. I see it as a time to reflect, bring family together and also build bonds of understanding. It is very difficult for family, friends and acquaintances in a predominantly Catholic country to learn about Islam and we do our best by our actions and sharing together respectfully. I don’t miss the mince pies, pork stuffing or sherry trifle, my wonderful mother goes to great efforts to ensure that my husband and I have ‘halal’ options and we appreciate this greatly. It takes time, patience and care. Allah knows our unique life stories and plans. Thank you for making me smile may Allah (swt) bless you and your family.

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.