by Frasat Ahmad, Missionary, USA. (Published in The Weekly Al Hakam)
Christmas has come. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, they say. The jolly atmosphere, the Christmas spirit, the love and the joy are infectious. What’s not to like! Why not join in and spread the Christmas cheer?
Jesus(as) is highly revered in both Christianity and Islam, right? So what’s the harm in celebrating him? Christmas is a religious festivity celebrating the birth of a man whom Christians believe to be not only the son of God, but God Himself.
Simply put, as Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV(rh) puts it, “It is a religious affair. As such, you should not celebrate it, because your religion is not Christianity; it is Islam.” (Children’s Class [programme on MTA], The Fazl Mosque, recorded 27 April 1991)
Granted, but Christmas is still a cultural phenomenon. So, why can’t we participate in the cultural festivities of Christmas?
Here are six reasons why Muslims – and Christians – should not celebrate Christmas, religiously or culturally.
1. Jesus(as) was not the son of God or God incarnate
Allah the Almighty is very clear about this. On multiple occasions in the Holy Quran, He disassociates Himself from the notion that Jesus(as) is His son or that Jesus(as) shares a portion of His divinity. In fact, Allah the Almighty expresses abhorrence about this:
یٰۤاَہۡلَ الۡکِتٰبِ لَا تَغۡلُوۡا فِیۡ دِیۡنِکُمۡ وَ لَا تَقُوۡلُوۡا عَلَی اللّٰہِ اِلَّا الۡحَقَّ ؕ اِنَّمَا الۡمَسِیۡحُ عِیۡسَی ابۡنُ مَرۡیَمَ رَسُوۡلُ اللّٰہِ وَ کَلِمَتُہٗ ۚ اَلۡقٰہَاۤ اِلٰی مَرۡیَمَ وَ رُوۡحٌ مِّنۡہُ ۫ فَاٰمِنُوۡا بِاللّٰہِ وَ رُسُلِہٖ ۚ۟ وَ لَا تَقُوۡلُوۡا ثَلٰثَۃٌ ؕ اِنۡتَہُوۡا خَیۡرًا لَّکُمۡ ؕ اِنَّمَا اللّٰہُ اِلٰہٌ وَّاحِدٌ ؕ سُبۡحٰنَہٗۤ اَنۡ یَّکُوۡنَ لَہٗ وَلَدٌ ۘ لَہٗ مَا فِی السَّمٰوٰتِ وَ مَا فِی الۡاَرۡضِ ؕ وَ کَفٰی بِاللّٰہِ وَکِیۡلًا
“O people of the Book, do not exceed the limits in your religion, and do not say anything except the truth about Allah. Verily, the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, was only a Messenger of Allah and a fulfilment of His word which He sent down to Mary, and a mercy from him. So believe in Allah and His Messengers and do not say, ‘They are three.’ Desist, it will be better for you. Verily, Allah is the only One God. Far is it from His Holiness that he should have a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth. And sufficient is Allah as a Guardian.” (Surah al-Nisa, Ch.4: V.172)
وَّ اَنَّہٗ تَعٰلٰی جَدُّ رَبِّنَا مَا اتَّخَذَ صَاحِبَۃً وَّ لَا وَلَدًا
“The Majesty of our Lord is exalted. He has taken neither wife nor son unto Himself.” (Surah al-Jinn, Ch.72: V.4)
Jesus(as) also plainly explains that he was not the literal son of God or God himself, but rather the epithet was used as a symbolic term of endearment for him. We read in John 10:31-36:
“The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus replied to them, ‘I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?’ The Jews answered Him, ‘We are not stoning You for a good work, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Has it not been written in your Law: ‘I said, you are gods’? If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be nullified), are you saying of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?”
Here, Jesus(as) explicitly details that all messengers of God, upon whom the word of God came, are considered godly in a symbolic sense. Romans 8:14 demonstrates that this same symbolism was used for the term “son of god.”
We read, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”
2. Christmas is a paganistic holiday
“Christmas is really about bringing out your inner pagan,” says historian Kenneth C Davis. (The unexpected origins of popular Christmas traditions, CBS News)
The Gospels make no mention at all of the date of Jesus’ birth and early Christians were not at all interested in the birth of Jesus(as). It was only three centuries after Jesus’ birth, when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, that Christmas was first celebrated. Even then, it was not widely celebrated. Christmas only became popular in 800 CE, when Charlemagne was crowned emperor of the Roman Empire on Christmas Day. (The Origins of Christmas: Pagan Rites, Drunken Revels and More, Newsweek).
In order to make Christianity more palatable to pagans, early Christian church leaders assimilated pagan traditions into their Christmas festivities (Gerd Schwerhoff, “Festivals”, in: Brill’s Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages).
As German historian Wolfgang Behringer writes, “Christmas, the festival of the ‘birthday of the Lord’, has been celebrated on December 25 since 354, probably in order to suppress the birthday festival of the pagan god Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun).” (Behringer, Wolfgang, “Christmas”, in: Encyclopedia of Early Modern History Online)
Centuries before the birth of Jesus(as), pagan Europeans celebrated the winter solstice, rejoicing in the arrival of longer days and extended sunlight. In Scandinavia, the Norse people celebrated Yule, the winter solstice, where fathers and son would bring home large logs and trees, which they would set on fire to keep them warm. Romans would celebrate the birthday of Mithra, their sun-god, on December 25. Mithra’s birthday was considered the most sacred day of the year. (History of Christmas, History Channel)
Scottish anthropologist Sir James George Frazer unravels and explains the uncanny similarities between pagan traditions and Christmas. He writes:
“It was a custom of the heathen to celebrate on the same twenty-fifth of December the birthday of the Sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and festivities the Christians also took part. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnised on that day … Thus it appears that the Christian Church chose to celebrate the birthday of its Founder on the twenty-fifth of December in order to transfer the devotion of the heathen from the Sun to him who was called the Sun of Righteousness” (Sir James George Frazer, the Golden Bough, Ch. 37, Oriental Religions in the West).
“The coincidences of the Christian with the heathen festivals are too close and too numerous to be accidental. They mark the compromise which the Church in the hour of its triumph was compelled to make with its vanquished yet still dangerous rivals.” (Ibid)
Because of its all-too-obvious connection to pagan rituals and God’s abhorrence of idolatry in both Christian and Muslim traditions, Muslims – and Christians – should abstain from any traditions associated with Christmas, including decorating Christmas trees, mistletoes, Yule logs, Christmas carols, etc.
3. Muslims do not celebrate birthdays of prophets, nor did the early Christians
Hazrat Khalifatul Masih IV(rh) states:
“Birthdays are not an Islamic tradition in themselves. In the early centuries of light, when Islam was pure, when Islam was all that it was created for, nobody ever held birthdays in memory of anyone else. For instance, Hazrat Muhammad’s(sa) birthday – who was the founder of Islam – was never celebrated by his followers, by the followers of his followers, by the followers who followed in the generations thereafter.
“It’s a Western concept wedded to Islam, and unfortunately in the Western traditions. These are just celebrations creating irresponsibility rather than responsibility; sometimes they create disorder; sometimes they create disturbances of peace.” (Question & Answer Session, recorded on 25 November 1984, The Fazl Mosque)
As mentioned earlier, early followers of Jesus(as) were not in the least bit interested in celebrating the birth of Jesus(as), nor is there any mention in the Gospels or early Christian literature that Jesus(as) or his disciples celebrated his birth. (Why is Christmas on Dec. 25?, Washington Post)
4. The Bible and the Holy Quran affirm that Jesus(as) wasn’t born on 25 December (or even in winter)
The Gospels make no explicit mention of the birth date of Jesus(as). We do, however, read in Luke 2:7-8, that Mary “gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.”
Here, we ascertain that Mary had to give birth to Jesus(as) outside in the open, because there was no guest room available to her. She also placed newborn Jesus(as) in an outdoor manger as a makeshift cradle.
The average low temperature in Bethlehem in late December is 4-6 degrees Celsius and it rains an average of 11 days in December (AccuWeather).
Is it possible that a woman could give birth outdoors in near freezing weather conditions while it was likely raining? Can a newborn survive in such severe weather conditions? It seems highly improbable.
Also, why would a heavily pregnant Mary travel nearly 100 miles, from Nazareth to Bethlehem, in the freezing cold? Even Christian scholars admit that it was highly unlikely for Mary to travel in winter while pregnant.
Dr Henry M Morris, Christian apologist and author of The Defender’s Study Bible, writes:
“A more probable time would be late September, the time of the annual Feast of Tabernacles, when such travel was commonly accepted. Thus, it is rather commonly believed (though not certain) that Jesus’ birth was around the last of September.” (Notes for Luke 2:8,13)
The Holy Quran also points to the high likelihood that Jesus(as) was born much earlier than winter. Allah the Almighty states in chapter 19, verses 23-26:
“So she conceived him, and withdrew with him to a remote place. And the pains of childbirth drove her unto the trunk of a palm-tree. She said, ‘O! would that I had died before this and had become a thing quite forgotten!’ Then he called her from beneath her, [saying], ‘Grieve not. Thy Lord has placed a rivulet below thee; And shake towards thyself the trunk of the palm-tree; it will cause fresh ripe dates to fall upon thee.’”
According to the Holy Quran, the birth of Jesus(as) took place at a time when fresh dates were found on palm-trees in Judea. Dates in that region do not grow or ripen in winter. According to Israel’s largest and most popular news and content website, Ynet News, “The date harvest season begins in late July and ends in October” in Palestine/Israel (Israeli dates take world by storm, Ynetnews)
Thus, Jesus(as) was most likely born in July to October, rendering it senseless to celebrate his birth on 25 December.
5. Christians themselves disagree over exact birthdate of Jesus
12 percent of the world’s Christians celebrate Christmas on 7 January, believing it to be the true birth date of Jesus(as). Orthodox Christianity, the third largest Christian denomination with an estimated 260 million followers, follows the Julian calendar whereas the rest of Christendom follows the Gregorian calendar.
To understand this discrepancy, a brief history lesson is necessary. In 325 CE, when the Council of Nicaea convened to deliberate the divinity of Jesus(as), they also needed to standardise the date of the church’s most important holiday, Easter. To do so, they decided to base it on the Julian calendar, a solar calendar which Roman ruler Julius Caesar had adopted in 46 BC.
However, the Julian calendar overestimated the length of the solar year by about 11 minutes. Naturally, the calendar and the solar year became increasingly out of sync as the centuries progressed.
The discrepancy in the dates of Christian holidays had become so drastic that in 1582 CE, Pope Gregory XIII convened a group of astronomers and proposed a new calendar, known as the Gregorian calendar.
The majority of the Christian world adopted the new Gregorian calendar, as it resolved the discrepancies in dates of Christian holidays. But the Orthodox Church, which had split into its own chasm of Christianity during the Great Schism of 1054, objected to the change.
To accept the Gregorian calendar would mean accepting an occasional overlap between Passover and Easter, a move that went against holy texts of Orthodox Christianity. So, the Orthodox Church rejected the Gregorian calendar and continued to rely on the Julian calendar. The calendar drift continued for Orthodox Christians and today, there is a 13- day difference between the two calendars, placing Orthodox Christmas on 7 January. (Why some people celebrate Christmas in January, National Geographic)
6. Prophet Muhammad(sa) has prohibited us from imitating Christians or Jews
The Holy Prophet Muhammad(sa) explicitly instructed, “The one who imitates those other than us [in faith and religious rituals] is not from among us. Do not imitate the Jews and Christians.” (Jami‘ al-Tirmidhi, Chapters on Seeking Permission, 2695)
Again, he declared:
“He who imitates any people [in their actions] is considered to be one of them.” (Sunan Abi Dawood, Book of Clothing, 4031)
The Promised Messiah(as) emphasises this point when he states:
“How disgraceful it is that one is known to be from the Ummah of the magnificent Prophet(sa), but spends life like disbelievers.” (Malfuzat [Urdu], Vol. 2, p. 187, Published 1985)
Muslims living in Western countries should suffer no inferiority complex about their religion. Their conviction in Islam should be so strong that it eradicates any pressure to conform or mould oneself to un-Islamic cultural norms of other cultures.
Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V(aa) firmly declares:
“It is essential for us to not bear any form of inferiority complex, neither children, nor elders. It is our claim that we are the people who will bring about a religious and spiritual revolution in the world. So, only those people can bring this religious and spiritual revolution, who are free from all kinds of inferiority complex.” (Friday Sermon, 22 June 2012)