A Merry Muslim Christmas

children unwrapping christmas presentsThis 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.

The Waltons
The Waltons – bless ’em…

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.

childrens_nativity_play_2007.jpgThe 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!

Nativity scene, birth of Jesus
Image courtesy of christmaswow.com

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


Whitby Shores, Whitby, Ontario

By Aisha Ashraf

An autistic Irish immigrant in a cross-cultural marriage, Aisha Ashraf is the archetypal outlander, writing to root herself through place and perspective. Published in The Rumpus, The Maine Review, River Teeth, HuffPost and elsewhere, her work explores the legacy of trauma, the nature of being an outsider and the narrow confines of belonging. She currently lives in Canada.


  1. This is such a great post and speaks volumes by way of basic common sense. I only wish that some of these PC nutters who go around telling us what to think and what to say would read this.. I really objected when the PC brigade banned a woman from wearing a crucifix at work, but allowed women of other religous beliefs to wear symbols. I also bulked at the idea of not saying Merry Christmas. Hey it is Christmas! I found it very difficlut to buy cards depicting the nativity scene last Christmas – they were no where to be found. This year thank goodness there were some on sale. I am not a deeply religious person but I do strongly believe in respecting other people either by creed or colour. However, the PC brigade do create social disharmony by thier positive discrimation tactics..

    I am fascinated by the Muslim religion and I’ve often said to my friends I would love to invite women from several relions round for coffee so we could ask questions, talk openly and have a good old natter to quench the negativity that breeds suspicion.

    I will certainly be wishing you a happy Eid!

    All the best
    HAppy New Year
    Shame you are so far away for a coffee and discussion!

    1. Thanks for the comment, reckon I hit a nerve there! Political Correctness is as damaging as a runaway train, crashing through any tenuous bridges between faiths with it’s ill thought out proclamations that create resentment and irritation. I believe religion is a deeply personal thing, that should not be dictated by any government or group. It’s about individual growth & development that can only come from within. I have a strong suspicion of “organised religion” because it is so often organised and re-organised by questionable people for their own questionable reasons.
      I am glad that you are of the mind to learn before you judge and if ever I can be of any help in answering a question, you know where to find me 😉 Maybe one day we will get together for coffee and a chat, who knows what the future holds.
      All the best for 2012, and thanks for your continued support and comments. I value them immensely.

  2. Interesting and entertaining post. I love the idea of leaving Santa’s footprints. Never thought of that one when our kids were young. Margie

    P.S. How do you leave emoticons on your blog? Could you email me the answer? I would greatly appreciate it!

  3. Yep, PC is def an issue that creates far more problems than it solves and makes so many people angry.
    I wonder what our Gods think as they look down on us and view those in power who manipulate believers to their own ends.

  4. You said it all with ‘who could be offended by a sentiment that springs from love and good intent?’ People get offended so easily, think that others celebrating their faiths somehow impinges on them and vice versa. I really enjoyed the book The Faith Club about three women (Christian, Muslim and Jewish) who come together in NYC after September 11th to talk – REALLY talk, even when it wasn’t easy – about their faiths. They come to find so much common ground, and when you know and respect and care for the person across the table from you, you want them to honor their religion because you realize that it isn’t about YOUR faith! I highly recommend it, it has great questions for book clubs, etc.

    I’m not offended by ‘Happy Holidays’ precisely because it’s shared out of love and good intent. Why not appreciate the positive in every religion (something I’ve written about for New Years)? Glad you shared this post, and even more so that you shared a fabulous day with your family.

  5. hmmm i just came accross this and seen how u criticse your in laws quite abit. It is a shame that in this day and age some people dont value familys the way they used to back in the days, Fair enough you wrote about your first proper muslim christmas,But what i dont understand is why would you bad mouth your inlaws on a blog infront of the whole world. Very shameful indeed..this blog clearly shows that you dislike your inlaws, which married couples dont?!
    As you mention about your inlaws not approving to you having the christmas tree up etc.. then why have it up. I myself being a muslim have read in depth about Islam, and it does not say anywere that we should celebrate christmas, it infact is wrong. Our christmas is Eid, we should celebrate that. So why bring up your children beliveing that they celebrate christmas.

    A very shocking disgusting blog indeed.


    1. Ah-ha! You must be one of the easily offended muslims that governments are seeking to mollify! Thank you for getting in touch and assalaamu aleikum.
      It it clear you have misunderstood a few points so please allow me to clarify them for you. Firstly, I have not “bad-mouthed” my in-laws. You have mistaken my descriptions for criticism. I hold strong family values and worked to overcome any cultural differences that presented an obstacle when I married into a Pakistani family. I feel privileged to have occupied a position not many white people have – in the heart of an Asian family.
      The point you seem to have missed, is that to bridge a cultural gap, both sides must work towards a mutual understanding and acceptance. I see no harm in supporting other religions demonstrations of positivity. Christmas, although not a muslim festival, encourages love and goodwill, and I am happy to join a celebration of that. The difference is that I join in with Christmas, but I celebrate Eid. Despite living in countries where it is not a recognised holiday we hold our own personal celebration, and if people from other faiths wish me “Eid mubarak”, give gifts to my children or join us for a meal, it makes my heart swell with joy. But neither they, nor we, believe they are betraying their religion by doing so. Acceptance brings happiness, exclusion only sadness.
      If I am wrong in putting up my Christmas tree, can you tell me why Saudi Arabia and the UAE, both muslim countries, are the biggest importers of Christmas trees during the Christmas period? You mention that you have “read in depth about Islam”. I would question the validity of your reading material, it does not seem to have conveyed the message of tolerance and compassion that is at the heart of this oft-misunderstood religion – that much is obvious from your judgmental closing remark.

  6. Really wanted to make a comment about a comment.

    It does not say in the Koran that we should celebrate Christmas and it does not say either that we should not.

    You are quite right to say that Jesus is spoken of in the Koran and is considered a Prophet in Islam, so why should we not celebrate his birth.

    1. 🙂 Thanks for your comment. I had a look at your blog. You’ve had a tough time growing up in the UK. I was interested to read about your experiences because my children, with their Irish mother and Pakistani father, may have to deal with similar situations. It was interesting to hear what you had to say – I know I’ll be back…

  7. I think it’s sad when you don’t feel able to/or want to take part in celebrations of other faiths and countries. You can explore other faiths/cultures without muddying your own and it’s great for children especially to be aware and understand in order to be tolerant of different ideas and beliefs.
    Thanks for inspiring my own post on Christmas traditions, I will give you a mention 🙂

  8. Brilliant !!! I too celebrate Christmas, why not Jesus did a lot worth celebrating. My faith as a White Muslim is not compromised by this and my family being a mixture of with is brought closer together over the seasons celebrations.

  9. I think the important things here are that you and your husband are creating your own family traditions and teaching your children to respect others whether they have the same belief system or not. I wish all people had the same attitude as you do, the world would be a much nicer place.

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