During this Christmas season a theological dispute is raging across the Muslim world – is it permissible for Muslims to wish their Christian neighbors “Merry Christmas”? I’m serious.
While for the average Muslim family which has lived alongside Christian neighbors in peace and friendship for years this is a no-brainer, for conservative or radical Muslim clerics the offering of Christmas greetings is fraught with peril. Some have gone so far as to issue fatwas (religious edicts) banning Muslims from wishing Christians well on their religious holidays. Saudi religious scholar Muhammad al-‘Arifi sent out this tweet on 12/23 of this year:
“It is permissible to greet a kafir (infidel) on his happy occasions [e.g., promotion, graduation, etc.]…, but it is forbidden to greet him on religious occasions. If he celebrates the birth of the son of God and you greet him, then that is an affirmation of his beliefs.”
What stands behind such views is the fear that Muslims may become confused or misled by all the Christmas cheer and so turn apostate, leaving Islam or even worse, becoming Christians. Muslim countries swayed or impelled by shariah law are most prone to take action to smother Christian celebrations within their borders.
I remember while growing up in Arabia in the 1960s (when Christmas meant nothing to me other than special treats and unusual presents), our oil company town was permitted to put up lights and decorations, but only ones that had no religious significance – bells, snowflakes, reindeer, holly, candy canes, stars, and so on. Non-Muslims could celebrate but only within the confines of their homes. Fifty years later, it has only gotten worse. Muslim countries such as Somalia prohibit public Christmas celebrations as crimes worthy of up to five years in jail. According to the country’s director of the Ministry of Religion, they are forbidden because they “…have nothing to do with Islam.” Tajikistan has banned Christmas trees in public or private, and prohibited gift-exchanges in schools. The small island nation of Brunei, whose sultan last year declared his country would embrace shariah law, has forbidden any displays or activities related to Christmas, including symbols such as crosses, candles, trees, the sending of Christmas cards, singing of carols, or sharing of Christmas greetings. It is even a punishable offense to be caught wearing clothes or hats resembling jolly St. Nick. These kinds of things are all “against Islamic faith,” and might “lead Muslims astray.” Christians have been told they can celebrate their holy day, but “not excessively and openly.” This is hugely ironic since the Sultan of Brunei owns a number of posh Western hotels, including the Beverly Hills Hotel, whose halls are decked with boughs of holly, fa la la, ha ha ha, quite opulently. (Why have principles if you cannot break them for a profit?)
But there are many other Muslim groups who aren’t waiting for Islamic governments to quash the infidel holiday of Christmas. In the southern Philippines island of Mindanao, Muslim guerrillas kidnapped and murdered seven Christian farmers in Christmas Eve raids. In the Muslim land of Bangladesh, Catholic churches in the province of Dinajpur decided not to hold Christmas midnight mass services due to over 36 credible death threats made against Christian leaders by Muslim radicals. On Christmas night, five Muslim immigrants beat up four Orthodox Christians hailing from Serbia/Montenegro as one of the Muslims shouted, “I’m a Muslim! What are you?” The Islamic State in North Africa (formerly known as Boko Haram) murdered at least 14 Christians in a Christmas Day attack and burned down their entire Nigerian village. In Bethlehem, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem tried to visit his Roman Catholic flock and was met by a hail of stones from Palestinian Muslims (giving new meaning to the song title “Jingle Bell Rock”). And of course in our own home-grown terror attack here in the USA, a Muslim couple mowed down innocent victims at an office Christmas party, killing 14 and wounding 22 others.
To be fair, there are important voices in the Muslim political and religious world who have publicly stood against this antipathy towards Christmas and Christians. King Abdullah wished Jordanian Christians a blessed Christmas, and noted that they are an important part of Jordan’s past, present and future. General al-Sisi, President of Egypt, gave a nationally televised speech in which he berated those unwilling to share Christmas greetings with Egyptian Christians, and proceeded to wish them a happy holiday and to share their joy “from the bottom of my heart,” declaring, “We are all Egyptians!” These are encouraging signs, even though the justification for showing such kindness was based not on the teachings of Islam but on an appeal to national unity and pride.
In the religious world, luminaries such as the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar University, Ahmad al-Tayyeb, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, and a prominent al-Azhar professor of shariah law all declared that Islam not only permits but encourages Muslims to offer Christmas greetings to Christians. The professor, Ahmad Karima, noted that all actions are permitted to Muslims except those expressly forbidden by authentic religious texts. Apparently he couldn’t find texts prohibiting kindheartedness to Christians at Christmas-time (for which we are all grateful). But neither did he or the other religious leaders appeal to the expression of love or simple human kindness as the motivation for blessing Christians in this holy season. Instead, he and the Grand Mufti announced that such deeds are meritorious or praiseworthy in Allah’s sight – a means of loading up your good works on the Day of Judgment scale – so go ahead and spread the Christmas cheer, even if you find it repugnant. Allah is watching and counting your blessings.
This raises the larger question, “Why should Muslims be so bothered about the Christian celebration of Christmas?” The answer is simple: “Because Christmas denies Islam’s reason for existence.” Islam says simply, “Allah created you to be his servant and obey all his rules. If you do a good job, you may hope that he will reward you someday with heaven. If you do a bad job, or rebel by serving some other god(s), you will roast in hell for eternity. One of the principal rules Allah has commanded is that you acknowledge that God is one and has no partners. A second is that you engage in jihad for the subjugation of the whole world for his sake.” According to Islam, God has sent thousands of prophets into the world in every time and place, all bearing this same essential message. Even Jesus was one of these prophets, and only human, as are all the others.
But the message of Christmas is that human beings are inherently messed up and can’t fix ourselves. To stand before God is to face unremitting judgment from which we cannot escape by our best efforts to “be good.” But God’s heart is one of mercy, and so He sent His own Savior into the world. Christmas is the season celebrating that the Word, who was with God, and was God, became flesh and dwelt among us in the person we know as Jesus. God became incarnate “to save His people from their sins.” God the Son came to reach the human race with divine love, to die for the expiation of our sins, was raised to resurrection life to become the gateway to eternal life for the human race, ascended to the Father’s right hand to rule by His side and intercede for our welfare, and will come again to bring the Kingdom of God in all its fullness and perfection.
Islam rejects all that; in fact, it terms these Christian beliefs blasphemy, and wants to see them eradicated. It’s no surprise then that core Muslims want to extinguish any sign of Christmas where they can — why the San Bernardino terrorists attacked a Christmas party, why other Muslim terrorists and sympathizers around the world work their mayhem among Christians at this time of year, why Shariah-based governments are sweeping any signs of Christmas behind closed doors.
We, of course, with the guarantees of freedom of religion, have no present worries about our liberties to celebrate Christmas, to wish others a Merry Christmas, or even to wish Muslims a Happy ‘Eid when their celebrations roll around. But as Americans we would be wise to guard these freedoms carefully so that we don’t succumb to the realities now roiling many parts of the Muslim world. Even though Muslims make up a very small percentage of the American population, their dreams by and large point to a very different America in the future. A recent poll (Polling Co., June 2015) revealed that 51% of American Muslims preferred having “the choice of being governed according to shariah.” Even more alarming was the Pew Research Poll which showed that 60% of American Muslims under thirty have greater loyalty to Islam than to the United States.
It is axiomatic that observant Muslims, believing that shariah law is infallibly divine, are committed to seeing it replace man-made legal systems wherever possible. Here in the USA, prominent Muslim leaders (who don’t often talk about this) quietly reveal their overarching goal:
• Muzammil Siddiqi, chairman of both the Fiqh Council of North America, which dispenses Islamic rulings, and the North American Islamic Trust, which owns most of the mosques in the U.S.: “As Muslims, we should participate in the system to safeguard our interests and try to bring gradual change, (but) we must not forget that Allah’s rules have to be established in all lands, and all our efforts should lead to that direction.”
• Omar Ahmad, co-founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the top Muslim lobby group in Washington: “Islam isn’t in America to be equal to any other faith, but to become dominant. The Quran should be the highest authority in America, and Islam the only accepted religion on Earth.”
• CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper: “I wouldn’t want to create the impression that I wouldn’t like the government of the United States to be Islamic sometime in the future.”
• Imam Siraj Wahhaj, director of the Muslim Alliance in North America: “In time, this so-called democracy will crumble, and there will be nothing. And the only thing that will remain will be Islam.”
• Imam Zaid Shakir, co-founder of Zaytuna College in Berkeley, Calif.: “If we put a nationwide infrastructure in place and marshaled our resources, we’d take over this country in a very short time. . . . What a great victory it will be for Islam to have this country in the fold and ranks of the Muslims.”
(Special thanks to Paul Sperry for his 10/1/2015 editorial in Investor’s Business Daily where I found the five comments immediately above.)
Let me reiterate, there are many Muslims here in America and elsewhere who live a privatized faith of piety and goodness, who have no interest in the imperialistic expansion of Islam. But they do this in the face of the teachings of the Qur’an and orthodox Islam. If you value your freedoms and are not interested in becoming a Muslim (or living as a second class dhimmi citizen in a Muslim society), then it is time to wake up, learn about Islam and bring the message of a God of love and freedom to those in the thralls of Allah. If I may be of help to you in that process, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!