One of the last counsels one of my dear Shaykh gave me just before I graduated some years ago was regarding being active and effective in the community. He also encouraged and reminded me to always remain steadfast and feel honored that Allāh has chosen me and others to be part of this beautiful religion and in particular the capacity to study this life changing deen (lifestyle) of ours.
I still remember that night in the library where we sat down and discussed a few issues of fiqh and Sharī'ah. He said: “Abdullah, after you leave this place you will encounter many people with ideas and practices that contradict and contravene the teachings of the Sharī'ah. If you begin to refute all of them you will not find a chance to breathe, because there are so many out there. Seek the assistance of Allāh and refrain from doing so until there is a real need. But, most importantly continue your learning and teach the people Islam. When people know what Islam is, and what it is not, then there will not be a great need for you or anyone else to refute these people, they will refute themselves.”
I still remember this naṣīḥah my teacher gave me. Whenever I come across people making statements that seem to contradict our religion, I ask myself 'do I need to write or say anything against this person, or should I remain silent'? Many brothers and sisters e-mail and Facebook message me with articles and YouTube videos concerning what this person or that person has said and did and whether I would be able to write or say something concerning it. In most cases I do not have the time to write anything. However, in some cases I have written rebuttals I viewed to be necessary.
The other night I came across a YouTube clip by Dr. Tahir al Qadri from Minhaj al Qur'an International. He is an influential scholar in Pakistan and in the UK and a few other western countries. I have been following some of his statements and lectures ever since his much publicised terrorism fatwa against suicide attacks in which he reminded people that terrorism and suicide bombings are against the Qur'an and Sunnah. Of course the scholars before him stated this categorically over a decade or two ago; nevertheless it was a poignant reminder for many. The latest clip I viewed from the Shaykh was concerning Muslims celebrating Christmas. He mentions that it is permissible and provided some evidences which I fervently disagree with.
It is important to disconnect, in this case, the issue from the person. The Shaykh is entitled to his opinion and my criticisms of the rulings are not to be taken as criticisms of him, as we are taught that those who strive and come to a correct judgement receive two rewards; those who strive and come to an incorrect judgement receive one reward.
It is also important to note that our scholars have always maintained a clear distinction between ideas, so that there is no blurring of what is right or wrong. The Prophet said that the ḥalāl is clear and the ḥarām is clear. It is the responsibility of Scholars and students of knowledge to maintain a dedication to following the guidance of the Prophet ﷺ and to point out the weaknesses in arguments if there any to be found in any exhortation to action. To neglect doing so would be like a Grounds man ignoring the smoke in a building that he is responsible for.
The opinion presented asserts the idea that Muslims should celebrate Christmas because 'Īsa (peace be upon him) was born on this date. However, historians will inform us that that Christmas has nothing to do with the religion of Christianity. Jesus was not born on 25th December and that this date has more to do with pagan traditions than anything else. Even informed Christians themselves readily acknowledge this erroneous date but nevertheless purport to encourage its celebration on grounds of symbolism rather than truth. Yet the most important aspect as far as we Muslims are concerned, is that that Christians celebrate Christmas because they believe it was a day which heralded the birth of the Son of God or God incarnate as they often term. As such this celebration is particular to Christians and one that contravenes the essence and maqasid of our religion, which is the tawḥīd of Allāh (oneness of God).
There is an Ijma'- Ṣaḥīḥ - (or sound consensus) among the scholars that when a religious festival is specific and based on another religion we are not allowed to participate in their festivals. Our religious festivals are two as the authentic report of the Prophet ﷺ states: 'Īd al-Fiṭr and 'Īd al-Aḍḥa. (Refer to Shatibi's 'Itisam and other books of Qawai'd)
To the Christian, Christmas is more than just the birth of their Lord. Events surrounding the Jesus' birth are also given special attention, to the effect that a celebration of Christmas would not be a true celebration without engaging in an enactment of some of those events. Yet these events, whether symbolic or historic, directly contradict the Quranic account of how Maryam (peace be upon her) delivered Prophet Isa (peace be upon him).
Informed Christians also readily admit that much of the accompaniments of Christmas have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus or with its historical context, but were added later by communities and individual worshippers. The Christmas tree, mistletoe, winter, exchanging of gifts, carols and hymns have nothing to do with Christmas and are in fact aspects which historians use to evidence its pagan origins. In spite of this, these accompaniments have become such a crucial aspect of Christmas that no Christmas would be considered Christmas without them. If that is the case and were we Muslims to accept Christmas as permissible, what are we to make of them? Do we too give presents wrapped up? Are we also expected to create new hymns to sing?
Some may argue that people do not view it as a religious festival now, as most people are not Christians. However, the literature and artefacts surrounding the Christmas story are still narrated as a religious event, so we do not take the behaviour of people as a rule in a religiously mandated matter. Non-religious customs, for example, Father's Day or Mother's Day would have a completely different ruling as there is nothing about Allāh or any of His Prophets in the origin of that event.
On the fast of'Ashūrā' the Prophet ﷺ claimed the day as a reminder that “We have more claim over Musa (peace be upon him) than you” (Bukhāri) resulted in the recommendation of a fast, a religious observation – not merely a celebratory or ceremonial one. The slaughter during Ḥajj is noting a significant ibadat of Ibrahim (peace be upon him), but there is nothing from the life of 'Īsa (peace be upon her) that the Prophet ﷺ legitimises as worship. We have hadith indicating that “do not say about me what the Christians say about 'Īsa” (Bukhāri) – would this not, in principle, apply to saying things about 'Īsa (peace be upon him) that he himself did not teach? The Prophet ﷺ did not mark the day that Allāh saved the people of Nūḥ, neither did the Prophet ﷺ mark the day that Yūnus (peace be upon him) repented. We have no precedence for instituting a celebration of other Prophets' mere births, rather for observing religious acts.
Using the leverage of the mawlid as a means to indicating the acceptance of noting the birthdays of Prophets is flawed as this is a matter differed upon within the scholarly community. To then take such an issue and legitimise the religious celebration of an external religious community makes no sense. It creates more problems as a flurry of other fatwas has to come along – “We do not sing hymns, we do not decorate Christmas trees…” – which would not have been necessary had we simply observed that we do not celebrate the birth of 'Īsa (peace be upon him) in any form or fashion.
Finally what is the compelling need for this? Our Christian neighbours do not disagree with us because we do not celebrate 'Īsa (peace be upon him). In fact they know that we love him; they know we believe and defend his immaculate conception and that we staunchly protect the virtue of Maryam (peace be upon her). They know that we do not insult him as some Christians insult the Prophet ﷺ. The fundamental disagreement here is the concept of divinity: we do not accept 'Īsa (peace be upon him) as the sacrifice for Humanity nor that he is the Son of God.
The suggestions about celebrating Christmas are well intentioned but they create far too many problems then benefits. Some may argue that people will not take it the way in which it has been described, that the people will not understand they should not take it as a religious festival. However this is the problem which occurred with the first people of shirk (polytheism). A good suggestion can be disastrously misunderstood by the subsequent generations. It is like pointing to the picture of the Sistine chapel and saying look at the finger of Adam (peace be upon him), we do the same in Tashahud, which is a good thing! Whilst ignoring the depiction of Allāh, naked forms and all other items of the picture.
We love Jesus and as Ahmad Deedat would say “no Muslim is a Muslim unless he accepts him as one of the mightiest Prophet of Allāh”. We should be kind towards the non-Muslims in these occasions. However, in our endeavour we should carry out our responsibilities as witnesses unto mankind. This does not require that we begin to compromise key and fundamental concepts of our religion. Most, if not all the Christians I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with understand the Muslim's perspective when explained to them properly. We do not need to buy Christmas trees, cut cakes, light up candles to appreciate Jesus and be kind towards the Christians.
The preceding few paragraphs were not intended to be an academic rebuttal of all the points surrounding the impermissibility of celebrating Christmas as there are many other articles and fatāwa readily available for the readers to acquaint themselves with. However, these were some basic points that I wanted to share with the readers regarding the video clip by Dr. Tahir al Qadri. Other matters could have been dealt with, such as his other statements concerning Allāh and His messenger being one, or the infamous dream the Dr. had about the Prophet. Perhaps this could be a window for others to clarify such issues or the Shaykh himself could clarify.
I pray Allāh guides us to what is best and makes us firm upon his religion and the Sunnah of His beloved Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ.