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Christmas/New year celebration: No celebration, but we must be hospitable

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One of the things that every Muslims should be proud of in recent time is the action of Ramatu Tijjani, a peace ambassador and interfaith professional mediator in Kaduna state.

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An hijabite sister, (if you dont mind) decorated the residence of Pastor Yohanna Buru, the general overseer of Christ Evangelical Church Sabon Tasha, Kaduna few hours to Christmas day.

She decorated the Pastor’s house with light, wreaths, stockings and ornaments. Shen said it was meant to strengthen peaceful co-existence and a better understanding of different faiths among citizens of Nigeria. Since action shall be judged according to intention, she will be rewarded for strenthening the ties of her people especially in a clime where suspicion on religious interest is the order of the day.

That issue brings to the fore, greetings for the season. My five year-old daughter asked recently: “Since you said the celebration is not meant for Muslims, if a Christian say to me: Merry Christmas, what should I say. Just as I was about to respond, her elder sister, two years older, interjected, “You walk away, Christmas is forbidden for Muslims. Greetings is part of the celebration.”I was numbed to the reality of what was running in their heads and the ideas that must have been inculcated in them from their schools. To be sure, I turned to the older one and asked. Why did you say that?

She said: “Our teacher taught us that it is forbidden for a Muslim to celebrate Christmas and also forbidden to eat Christmas food.

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Ah! that is hateful, I said.

I immediately asked: During our eid-l-Adha, we shared our meat and foods with non-Muslims, and they expressed appreciation. If we are enjoined by Allah to deal with all manners of people with justice and kindness, why should we behave otherwise?

The Quran says: “Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes – from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly. (Q60: 8-9) We are only forbidden to make friends with only those who stops us from practicing our religion.

It is true that that as Muslims, we don’t have any business in the celebration of Christmas and New Year. Even some group of Christians do not even believe in the festivity, like the Deeper Life, the Jehovah Witness, Seventh Day Adventist among others. To these groups, it is absolutely forbidden, much less to Muslims. But we dont have to be too scrappy and unfriendly since they have never stopped us in the practice of our religion.

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What the Prophet Mushammad (s.a.w) said on the two holidays of the people of Madinah when he first got to the city was very instructive. He expressly told the Muslims that: “Allah has given you something better instead of them: Yawm al-Duhaa (Eid al-Adha) and Yawm al-Fitr (Eid al-Fitr).”

Again, Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “As regards the festivals of the mushrikeen: they combine confusion, physical desires and falsehood, there is nothing in them that is of any religious benefit.

In doing this we also have a moral duty to respect other people’s beliefs and practice. The Islamic ethics which are emphasized in many Quranic ayahs and sayings of the Blessed Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) enjoin Muslims to treat people kindly and justly too, no matter their religion as long as they do not fight against you.

This also brings us to the issue of greeting during the celebration. There is nothing wrong in responding to greetings the way you are greeted. In fact, the holy Quran says: “When you are greeted with a greeting, greet in return what is better than it, or (at least) return it equally.” (Surah 4: 86). You may not initiate the greeting as they are non-Muslims, but when they greet you, you have moral duty to respond with the same greetings or at least reply just as the Prophet replied the jew that greeted him, ‘And the same to you’

We all know, many of us in this multicultural and multi-religious society, are entwined within families and communities of different religious beliefs. In a purely Islamic environment, this will be a non-issue. In this environment, if we must live as one without compromising the tenets of our religion, we must be kind to to those who are kind to us as stated in the Quran stated above. We must be very careful not to break ties and relationships. We must not destroy the peaceful co-existence that has subsisted, and endeavour to make amends where necessary just as Ramatu Tijjani did last week. We must respect our Christian neighbours or friends; we must appreciate his feelings just as we expect them to do to us. Your religion is yours while their religion is theirs.

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