This year, we had our first Ashraf Christmas dinner – halal turkey with all the trimmings! In England, when we were home over Christmas, we would put up our tree and enjoy the sparkly beauty of the tinsel and lights, and the festive, feel-good vibe. Usually though, the Christmas holiday period would be an opportunity to visit my husband’s family in Edinburgh, where there would be no tree, or gifts or Christmas dinner. These things were not a feature in a Pakistani muslim household – we might eat too many Quality Street and enjoy the Christmas specials on TV, but that would be the extent of Christmas at my in-laws.
Now that we are living in Canada, far away from family, two things have become clear. Firstly, the importance of creating our own traditions to bind us together and strengthen our identity as a family; and secondly, the slippery slope of political correctness that pits religions against one another – concentrating as it does, on “opting out” of things rather than inclusion.
Moving to a distant country, means you turn to each other for the support and closeness you may previously have found outside the home, through friends and extended family. There is no-one else to fall back on. At festive times of year, you can either sit around feeling depressed and hopeless about your lack of a “Walton family” get-together, or you can make it happen your way and create new family traditions, idiosyncrasies and in-jokes! I learnt to cook a turkey, obviously there is no limit to the number of strings on my bow!
Yesterday, our kids opened presents, found Santa’s footprints (talcum powder sprinkled over big boots left perfect tracks!) and checked the plate in the kitchen where crumbs and a carrot-top were the only signs of the snack left out for the eagerly anticipated nocturnal visitors! My husband enjoyed his first ever turkey dinner and I COOKED my first ever turkey dinner! It was a great day, with none of the loneliness and desolation I felt last year. But it’s not something my in-laws would have approved of, despite having been in a similar position themselves, when they first came to Britain. They would probably think that our actions are too “Western”, worrying that we are slipping away from the tenets of our muslim faith, despite the turkey being halal.
What they fail to realise, and what other muslims with more extremist or politicised views seem to have a problem understanding, is that exposure to a Christmas tree will not necessarily convert a muslim to Christianity. Nor will attending a Christian church service weaken the strength of their faith, any more than a visit to a mosque would result in a Christian giving up bacon and declaring “La ilaha illallah, Muhammudr rasulullah” (لا إله إلا الله محمد رسول الله).
The Muslim, Christian and Jewish faiths overlap in many areas. Followers of these religions are referred to as People of the Book, in the Qu’ran. There, Jesus is mentioned more times than our own Prophet Muhammad ( صلى الله عليه وسلم). We’re told of his birth and miracles he performed, in fact Mary has her own chapter, so celebrating the birth of one of God’s prophets and remembering his admirable qualities seems fitting at Christmas.
The lack of inclination to take part in and learn from the beliefs of others, is worsened by the tsunami of political correctness sweeping across the western world. Not a day went by, in the run-up to Christmas, without someone copy & pasting a status update on Facebook railing about their right to say “Merry Christmas” and see their child take part in a nativity. And I agree with them. I make a point of saying “Merry Christmas”, despite it being all “Happy Holidays” here, after all, it is Christmas and not just the “Holidays”. Who could be offended by a sentiment that springs from love and good intent?
Many muslim parents here, coach their children to “sit out” or remove themselves from any event that celebrates something not
pre-approved recognised in their own religion. Why is this? When my husband was at school, he joined in with the nativity performance, and I never “sat out” the Catholic mass in my convent school, despite being brought up Presbyterian. In my primary school we celebrated the German tradition of St Nicolas Day replete with St Nick, Black Peters and gingerbread!
Political correctness has made it impossible for anyone to question the wisdom of these “opt out” decisions, without appearing antagonistic. Being white and muslim, I get many questions about Islam from curious westerners, often starting with “Please don’t be offended but…” Because we share a skin colour, they feel less likely to offend me when asking a question. But isn’t it a shame that a simple thirst for knowledge is so fraught with the danger of angering someone?
In Canada, as elsewhere, people resent the Big Brother presence of political correctness, though they’re far too nice to say it out loud. In the school playground, when I voiced my disappointment over the lack of a nativity play, parents told me that wouldn’t happen in the public school system. Someone else expressed their surprise that the Principal had wished them a “Merry Christmas” – as a public figure, he must present an impartial, non-sectarian image, conveyed by the ubiquitous yet meaningless “Happy Holidays”. Heaven help us if someone should be offended!
It’s ironic that in today’s consumer driven society, the message of Christmas has become a taboo subject but the pressure to spend and buy and “get” remains unabated. It’s no wonder the real meaning of Christmas is diminishing – a casualty of the runaway juggernaut that is Consumerism. Nor is it surprising that Christians feel under attack when they are asked to defend others, and sacrifice their own sentiments. People get offended far too easily these days, particularly if they smell a lawsuit in it.
I hope you all had a Happy Hannukah, and a Happy Christmas. I wish you a Happy New Year and if you decline to join me in celebrating Eid next year, I won’t be offended… but you can kiss your Christmas card goodbye
Related links: Why I Will Always Be A Merry Muslim - Raheel Raza