Being Muslim At Christmastime –Some Muslims’ Stories

Being Muslim At Christmastime –Some Muslims’ Stories

Christmastime can be a time of stress for American Muslims because it is a month-long celebration of television shows, movies, songs, posters, commercials and activities that are unavoidable due to the level of proliferation.  

The American Muslim response to Christmas is as varied as American Muslims themselves, who are distinctly diverse in ethnic and cultural make-up, as well as Madhab (school of thought) practice. In order to get a glimpse into Christmastime from the view of American Muslims, we quizzed American Muslim women, most of whom had embraced Islam. Within each of their stories is a viewpoint or experience that is relatable. Within each story shared, we look to Surah Kafirun (chapter 109) in the Quran, whereupon the Muslim understands that people have their own religious beliefs and Alhumdulillah, as Muslims we have ours - Islam.  Through it all, the Muslims learned to balance their Islamic beliefs with respect for family and community traditions.

Our sister who converted to Islam after marriage found Christmas very stressful.  Initially she was apologetic to her family, as she explained why her spouse was distant and accepted gifts in a perfunctory manner. However, the real stress came when she embraced the religion and children were born. She was often torn between wanting to be with her family and not wanting her children to endure any controversy. Often, family members would insist on buying Christmas gifts and scold her for not participating.  Eventually, she gave in and her children basically received gifts at Christmastime and during the Eid.

Our sister who had migrated from Lebanon had a completely different story because she had celebrated Christmas in her country. When she came to America she felt the holiday was wonderful and colorful, and that the Muslims were uptight, militant, and judgmental. She felt the holiday was too secularized to have any religious connotations that conflicted with Islamic principles, and would often participate in Christmas events and simply not discuss it with others.

Our U.S.- born Pakistani-American sister whose parents were immigrants was full of angst. As a child, she felt guilty that she wanted to experience it and was even a little uncomfortable at how large, bright, and festive Christmas was compared to the Eid.  However, even though she felt she was missing out and hated not being part of the crowd at school, as she got older, she still felt sure that her own Islamic celebrations were wonderful and satisfying.

Our Mexican-American sister found Christmastime extremely stressful. Religion and culture were intertwined as one in her community. The major challenge was that there was simply not a strong safety net and support group for her. The Muslims in her area were overwhelmingly of a different ethnic background and did not understand the reality of being a Mexican-American and what was expected from mothers, grandmothers,and aunties at Christmastime, whether one was a practicing Christian or not. A lot of time was spent in prayer, and a lot of the time she was in isolation, not knowing where to turn.

Our three African-American Muslim sisters had one common thread in that part of the reason why Islam was embraced was because Christmas and other religious holidays had lost meaning and importance. Each purposely distanced themselves and informed their families of their new view. In African American culture the older family members – the grandparents, grand aunties and grand uncles – simply did not understand a rejection of family celebrations. Rejection prompted painful recollections of Jim Crow laws and repercussions endured, that other family members resented being brought up.  So the Muslimah would make a quick appearance out of respect or deliberately miss the party to keep tensions down. However, one of the sisters did not give up Christmas altogether because she knew she personally was not celebrating the birth of a messiah, but was instead enjoying the season.

Our senior citizen Muslimah had embraced Islam in American during the 1960s, when she said Islam was militant and ethnocentric. Her Islam was a definition of herself and Christmas was something uniquely centered around people who were not Muslim. This revolutionary thought was a thread in the African-American community at the time and family members viewed her nonparticipation as an ‘eccentricity’ that would soon pass.  As time progressed, she returned to family gatherings out of respect for them and their observation of ‘their’ holiday.

Our Muslimah whose parent embraced Islam while she was a child has a before Christmas and after-Christmas experience. As a child she looked forward to Christmas.  After her mother embraced Islam, she was an adolescent and was told the holiday was false and that liking it in any way was a form of Kufr (disbelief). This created angst, confusion, and guilt. By the time her mother had embraced Islam, Christmas was part of her American cultural heritage. To give up Christmas, was to give up a part of her own worldview. She often wondered if she was “Muslim enough” when she found herself absent-mindedly humming a song or wanting to view a classic holiday tv show. The Eid did not compare – it was not national, it was not as festive, and frankly during her adolescent years, it was not even known by non-Muslims.  

Our third generation Muslimah had neither a positive nor negative experience about Christmas. She had distant family members who observed the holiday and immediate family members who did not. She was comfortable telling friends at school about her own holiday and was not overly concerned about it. The school calendar listed Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Cinco de Mayo, Ramadan and others so she did not really hyper-focus on the day. After all, they all had one day of gifts – whereas she had two Eids.

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