In anticipation of Christmas

Tawfiq Alsaif

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All over the world, the final week of the year is known for being the week of joy and happiness. As Christians celebrate the birth of Christ, and others celebrate the New Year, the rest of the world watches in awe of these joyful festivities.

I may be one of the very few people who have decided to talk about this occasion in particular, in terms of the dated debate that usually circulates around this time of the year. Many people within the Muslim community often ask if it is permissible to greet Christians on Christmas and other happy Christian occasions that are celebrated universally.

I am absolutely certain that you will hear someone remind you of this dated issue next week. It has become a habit that we keep on repeating at the end of each year. Strangely, emphasis on this argument highly increased during the past half-century. Many of us have come to believe that the only thing that mattered to our ancestors back then was the reaffirmation of the boundaries separating them from their Christian neighbors.

A procession to celebrate a mass at the Church of the Nativity compound in Bethlehem on November 28, 2020. (AFP)
A procession to celebrate a mass at the Church of the Nativity compound in Bethlehem on November 28, 2020. (AFP)

What prompted me to discuss this matter is my desire to encourage our dear readers to give up this habit that has only been established to serve political conflicts.

The basis of our relationships with our fellow human beings should not be built on religious differences. It is a simple ethical matter that all reasonable levelheaded individuals agree on. By nature, we are instinctively driven to coexist and form positive relationships with each other. If your neighbor comes from a different background, it is expected of you to treat him with kindness and good intent, regardless of his religion, race, or color.

Meanwhile, if this neighbor is your enemy then it is logical to establish some distance in order to avoid clashes.

Given that this matter is obvious and clear as day, it does not require a Sharia ruling since this ruling cannot go against reason and common sense, otherwise, people would deny it anyway.

I had raised this issue before, and a reader asked me back then: “If the matter was so obvious, why is it so controversial for many of our people?”

I responded at the time that those who held that strange opinion were a minority in the world. Moreover, empathy is a God-given gift to humanity. That is why you see people reacting so genuinely and spontaneously when they see others in a moment of joy or sorrow, even if they were complete strangers to them. And besides, gloating or laughing at the pain and sorrow of others, as well as expressing discontent while they are happy, is considered by all levelheaded individual as a sign of malice behavior and bad manners, because it goes against our instinct and good nature.

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting ceremony, December 4, 2019, in New York. (AP)
Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree lighting ceremony, December 4, 2019, in New York. (AP)

What I’m trying to say is that this tendency to refrain from participating and sharing in the joys and sorrows of others, both religious or otherwise, is part of a greater tendency that revolves around the fear of being influenced by others’ views.

The point is that wishing Christians a Merry Christmas and wishing the rest of the world a Happy New Year, is not a matter of Sharia, and there is no religious ruling that calls against it. Therefore, it does not require the opinion of an Islamic jurist. Even if an opinion was given, it would not be considered a fatwa, but simply a discussion regarding a general topic, which does not bear any obligation or prohibition.

In my opinion, in sharing in the joys of others, we find a way to spread peace and happiness throughout the world. And so, I invite our dear readers to congratulate their non-Muslim friends and acquaintances during their holidays and religious occasions, and to give up the habit of refusing to do so, which goes against reason and common sense.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

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