It is now the time of year that many seem to split into two or three distinct occasions. One is a time of great religious significance that celebrates the birth of Jesus, the Messiah of the Christian faith. Another involves what some call the over-commercialization of the former with gatherings of family and friends, gift giving, decorations, and dinners that dwarf the typical family sit-down. And then, there is a third, foreign to Christians of varying degrees. That is the concept that Christmas is just another day for members of other faiths. The stereotype has been for some time that Jewish people “celebrate” Christmas by ordering Chinese food. And whether or not the former is actually an accurate depiction of the religion as a whole, the point still stands that Christmas in itself is significant almost exclusively to Christians despite the great marketing campaigns that many of us are exposed to during this time of the year.
But it also begs the question of what others do during this time of great celebration for many who follow the Christian faith. For example, how do Muslims observe Christmas, if even at all?
Well, in fact, it would seem that Christianity and Islam have more in common regarding Christmas than many might have realized. For example, Harvard University professor Hisham Mahmoud stated in an interview with National Public Radio that, “Muslims and Christians believe that Jesus is the only Messiah.” Others support this assertion as well. Sajdah Nubee describes the veneration of both Jesus and Mary in the Qur’an and the significant roles they play in the faith of Islam. She goes on to say, however, that Muslims do not tend to celebrate the births of prophets, the regard in which they hold Jesus.
Others recount their holiday “celebrations” by mentioning giving to charities or even going bowling at the time. Some even mention getting involved in the Christmas spirit. Fawzia Mirza and Nabeela Rashid describe the 13-foot tree in their living room even though they are both Pakistani-American and of the Muslim faith. Zahra Noorbaksh mentions all of the Persian members of her community gathering to celebrate and even having someone dress up as Santa Claus.
Even despite this, there are many who don’t feel the necessity of observing Christmas. For one, the month of December, in particular, is riddled with religious importance for a number of faiths. Christians celebrate Christmas, Jewish faithful celebrate Chanukah. And while Muslim Eids (holy celebrations) shift in dates every year due to the observance of the lunar calendar, they do occasionally fall in December.
However, the significance of the holiday isn’t lost. While Muslims do not celebrate the birth of Jesus as Christians do, there are many who recognize the spirit of the holiday itself: a time of generosity and charity, of kindness and love, and of reflection on the blessings of life. They may not all hang up garland or lights or get swept up in gift-giving, but the similarities of the faiths are strong enough where they can at least appreciate the holiday season, if not necessarily celebrate it. Perhaps it can also serve as a lesson in mutual respect and awareness of religious observances.