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:


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.

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Make It An Eid to Remember

Written by Theresa Corbin

Creating Eid memories

As the air becomes crisp and trees lose their leaves, something strange begins to happen in the West.

It commences with people young and old donning garb that might land them in the loony bin any other time of year; sporting baggage that would never make it past the most lax airport security checkpoint; and painting their faces- for one of two purposes- begging for candy or to go parading off to parties and bars.

But, then about a month later, everyone gathers with their kinfolk for awkward, sometimes annoying, and downright passive aggressive conversations while eating to the point of contemplating a trip to the ER for a quick stomach pump. Yes, turkey and stuffing can be that good.

But, then yet another month after that, folks ritually go out and kill a tree so they can drag it into their homes and fill it with lights and baubles. This dead tree will be the epicenter around which presents bought on borrowed money will be shared all while claiming an immortal fat man from an uninhabitable part of earth brought them.

Welcome to the holiday season. There is so much hype and pomp that goes along with it that Muslims often feel drawn to participate in the “cheer”. But why celebrate these holidays when we have the two Eids that can be as cheerful?

holiday cheer
But when you live in the West, the Eids pale in comparison to the blow outs the non-Muslims celebrate.

What are our Eid traditions?

1. We wake up. Dress up. Go to the Eid prayer.

2. We may or may not stay for the khutbah (lecture) after.

3. We may or may not go and have breakfast.

4. Since we are in the West and the Eids are not recognized as national holidays, it is highly likely that we will have to rush off to work or school at some point.

Even though the morning is filled with activities, the rest of the day falls flat like a bad souffle (not that I have ever made a souffle).

When I first converted to Islam and for several Eids after, I was bummed that Eid seemed like weak sauce compared to the holiday celebrations I had left behind. It seemed like the entire country glowed around the major holidays, but when the Eids came around, sure there would be tons of congrats exchanged at prayer, but then the Eid outfits would come off and the workaday clothes would come back on. And it was back to the daily grind almost instantly.

But then I decided that if I wanted Eid to be special, then I needed to make it special.

If each Muslim family, individual, or community made their Eid special for themselves and told those around them what Eid is, then Eid would be special. What is stopping us? Do we really need department stores to tell us to celebrate by having a holiday sale? Do we have to be reminded by a hallmark commercial that Eid is time for happiness?

Are we waiting for big corporations to commercialize our holidays? Are we waiting for community events or our bosses to ask you if we want Eid off (it will likely never happen)?

Let’s make the Eids special for our families and communities so that we don’t feel cheated out of holiday happiness. Celebrate your holidays. Take the Eids off. Keep the kids home from school. Make memories. Make it something to look forward too.

Decorate the house. Play games with the family. Make special dishes that everyone loves. Send gifts to your neighbors (if they don’t know what Eid is, then tell them).

And husbands, don’t sit back on the couch while your wife runs around making Eid merry. Get off your butt, and make Eid merry with her! 

Download free decorations for your home here or click on the pic below:

Have activities for the whole family. Clickity click here


Make something tasty for your loved ones. Try some traditional Eastern Eid dishes (recipes hereor make your own fav comfort foods.


Make it an Eid to Remember!

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