Christmas is not a Muslim holiday, therefore, Muslim countries do not celebrate it. Muslims in the United States often request that their children not attend Christmas functions at school because the belief of Jesus, peace be upon him, being the son of God runs directly against the core Muslim belief.
However, in a world where Muslims and Christians both are present, how should Muslims react? The Prophet of God, peace and blessings be upon him, was faced with this question when he established the first peace sanctuary of Madinah, where the majority of the people were not Muslims. Here is what he said about the Christians of Najran (Yaman):
"Najran has the protection of God and the pledges of Muhammad, the Prophet, to protect their (the Christians') lives, faith, land, property, those who are absent and those who are present, and their clan and allies. They need not change anything of their past customs. No right of theirs or their religion shall be altered. No church leader, monk or church guard shall be removed from his position."
It was this historical commitment towards people of other faiths that formed the ideals of Islam regarding other faith groups in their midst, whether they were Christian, Jews, Sun worshipers, or Hindus. The Prophet even allowed a Christian delegation to celebrate their religious services in the very Mosque of the Prophet according to classic historians Ibn Hisham and Ibn Sa'd.
In the current context of American aggression in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it has been difficult for Muslim minorities in the US and for Christian minorities in the Muslim world.
Here are some things which Muslims can do in Muslim countries to help Christian minorities enjoy their holidays in the best possible manner:
Give Christian employees an extended holiday break:
Muslim businesses can extend a day off to Christian workers on Christmas day at least, if not longer. Just as some Muslims in the US have successfully gotten days off from work and school on Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha, Christians in Muslim countries should get the same on their holidays. Many Muslim countries, like Pakistan, already do this.
Reassuring Christian Neighbors:
In countries where there has been recent conflict between Christians and Muslims, for example, in Nigeria and Indonesia, the Muslim leadership can take measures in their communities to make the Christian minority feel more comfortable in their days of happiness.
A gesture of neighborly duty:
Although security is a government matter, and in many Muslim countries governments are providing extra police to churches, it will be a good gesture on the part of Muslim neighbors to offer their time to volunteer for the security of churches during Christmas time. This is especially important in places like Iraq and Pakistan, where, since the American bombing and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, churches have been targets of terrorism.
Muslim and Christian minorities in India:
In India, where Muslims and Christians are both minorities, Christians have been vocal in supporting the Muslim community during the horrific murders and crimes against the community in the state of Gujurat in 2002. This Christmas, a large number of Indian churches will be fearful about the ongoing compaigns of Hindu militants and self-professed fascists in that part of India. It is critical that Muslims in India support Christians during their holiday season.
Historically, when Muslims have held state power, they have, for the most part, worked hard to protect the rights of non-Muslims in their midst, from idol-worshipping Hindus, to fire-worshipping Zorastrians. Christians, who are described in the Quran as "People of the Book", hold a special place as a faith community from the Abrahamic tradition. Protecting religious freedom has not been the Muslim state’s tactic of appeasement. Rather, it is an order from God, and a practice of our beloved Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, who once said, "Whoever hurts a non-Muslim citizen of a Muslim society hurts me."
It is critical for Muslims to remember that a person is not considered a Muslim unless they believe in Jesus (Islamic and Christian View of Jesus). This love for this noble Prophet ties us to the Christian community in a special way.
Although the history of relations between Muslims and Christians has not always been good, it is important to remember that Muslims always stood for a society where the rights of all individuals are not only tolerated, but respected and protected.