I was looking at all the lovely Christmas photos I took around London and I remembered the usual questions people ask me: Do Muslims celebrate Christmas? Are they allowed to? Are YOU allowed to?
These questions can be divisive and there are many view points about it. So, let’s get right to it:
Can Muslims celebrate Christmas?
Islam is not just one religion and one interpretation that fits everyone. There are different schools of thoughts in Islam that interprets the religion as best they could.
So, the answer is different depending on who you ask. There are Islamic school of thoughts that completely forbids it and others that are relaxed with it. There is also cultural interpretation along side the religion and so on.
Nothing is an easy answer and nothing is a harsh yes or no like some might lead you to believe. The answer almost always depends on a whole host of things.
In the Islamic faith we believe in Jesus (peace be upon him) as one of the prophets sent on this Earth from God. We have a whole chapter (Sura) in the Quran about his mother Holy Mary (peace be upon her).
“For, indeed, We vouchsafed unto Moses the divine writ and caused apostle after apostle to follow him;  and We vouchsafed unto JESUS, the son of Mary, all evidence of the truth, and strengthened him with holy inspiration.” - 2:87 (Asad)
The date of the birth of Jesus is debated and believed to be different than Christmas, but I am not here to discuss that.
Celebrating prophets and their holy messages they brought us is a lovely thing. Some Muslims celebrate the birth of their own prophet as well: Prophet Mohammad and here is a post that explains it well: The Validity of Celebrating the Prophet’s Birth in Islam: Analyzing the Debate.
It is also important to define what people mean by “Celebrating” because it can be different from one culture to another. For example, Celebrating prophet Muhammad’s birth in the East Saudi culture means going to a gathering at the Islamic centre, listening to a lecture about his life and attributes then it’s usually followed by poems or a little play and concluded with sweets and food.
It’s one afternoon/evening not a whole season of events. We don’t do a special meal or exchange gifts for the prophet’s birth. We have other big Islamic occasions for gift giving that are mentioned below.
Although there are different opinions on the Christmas matter, my answer is YES, Muslims can celebrate Christmas if they want to. By Celebration I mean take part in some Islamically accepted festivities like a dinner gathering or gift giving.
As a Muslim Living in this London, with my multinational friends who come from all kinds of backgrounds, ethnicities and religions, I had to adjust. It was not by force, but by friendship and the surroundings I have.
I am not fussed if I don’t do anything for Christmas, but if I am invited for dinner then I would happily attend!
When you are living in London you can hardly escape all the festivities anyway and to be honest I don’t want to escape them! I love all the lights and all the cheer of Christmas and how the nights of the city transforms to festivals of light. I tried to capture all of this in my video below about how Christmasy London gets.
Christmas for Muslim in the West
As I mentioned, before I lived in the West, I wouldn’t even think of Christmas and we never did anything special for it, but since moving abroad, it became my reality and I kind of accepted it.
The last month of the year in Europe has the shortest days of the years, the least amount of sunshine, the longest darkest nights and the most festive lights and spirit. To some that’s the festive joyful season of Christmas, the month when Jesus Christ is born, to others it is winter solstice or a big marketing shambles for consumers to consume.
To me however, it is time off taken from the craziness of last minute deadlines to be with people close to my heart, to eat until my tummy is full and happy. If gifts come with that too then I am even happier. Meaning, celebrating Christmas is not about the Christian religion, but about the actual festivities.
My other Muslim friend also said that everyone in her family gets the day off anyway, so they have a big family gathering for lunch. It is not dedicated to anything other than spending time with the family.
What do Muslim families do during Christmas?
For Muslim families with Children, Christmas is a serious consideration. My sister’s family also lives in the UK and when you have Muslim children going to British schools telling them about Santa and the gifts, there is no escape. Muslim parents deal with this differently depending on their own beliefs.
Some parents teach their children that it is forbidden and they wait until their own Islamic celebrations, where they will get to celebrate and get presents.
Some parents are accepting of it and they do cards for the teachers and little presents for the children. When my cousin lived in the UK with her daughters, she got them presents during the Christmas holiday, but she said those presents came from Islamic personalities rather than Santa. So, it’s a very personal thing for Muslim parents and how they deal with this holiday.
How do Muslims Celebrate Christmas?
If Muslims live in the West, they get the day off, but if you are Muslim living in a Muslim country, you don’t get the day off because they get their own holidays off.
The celebration of Christmas is not religious and if Muslims do things during the winter holidays it is usually to enjoy themselves and be part of the festive atmosphere. Muslims who choose to do something during, usually go out for meals or go to each other houses for meals. It’s very much food related.
If the friendship group involves Muslims and non-Muslims, there is a gift exchange involved. In my case, I only give and receive presents from four people.
The Prophet said: “Exchange gifts, as that will lead to increasing your love to one another.”
However, some Muslims are embracing the usual decorations and getting trees and Santa related items, but they are not the majority and this is usually done for two reasons: they either love decorations and just want an excuse to do so or they do it “the gram” rather than any religious connotations.
Christmas in Muslim Countries
Saying all of this, you might wonder what Muslim majority countries actually do for Christmas. For example, when I lived in Saudi, no one did anything for Christmas or for the festive winter season, but things are slowly changing and you can see some signs of it in certain shops.
Other countries in the Arabian Gulf, such as parts of the UAE like Dubai put Christmas decorations up to make their visitors feel welcome and appreciated, which means that you will see big trees in the malls and little Christmas menus.
The signs of Christmas are mostly related to consumers in Muslim countries rather than actual meaning of the holiday.
Some Muslim countries, have a Christian population whether they are Arab Christians or visiting Western Christians, so they will do things differently and celebrate with their church and so on.
What do Muslims Celebrate?
Muslims have two major Islamic celebrations known as Eid:
Eid Al Fetra عيد الفطر, which comes after Ramadan, the Month of fast
Eid Al Adha عيد الأضحى, which comes after the once in a lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca
The Eid celebrations entail similar things: Family, Food and Gifts (or sometimes bits of money from the elders). There is a prayer in the mosque on Eid mornings, but it is not usually compulsory. Although, it’s a really nice thing to do and I have been a few times. It feels even more fun when you are a child because all the people there, would give you all kinds of sweets.
The thing you should be aware of however is that Eid is not tied to a season like Winter or Spring. It is tied to specific months and the Arabic/Lunar calendar that is based on the moon movement, which falls in different seasons each year. It moves approximately by 31 days every year.
Bottom line, live and let live. Enjoy the moments with your loved ones, eat and be happy! :)