“Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way! Oh, what fun it is to ride in a one horse open sleigh, hey!... Okay, next should I sing a winter song or a Christmas song?” my five-year-old niece asked me. I looked at her and smiled, “a winter song,” I replied.
Christmas is everywhere. The month of December is nearly synonymous with Christmas. But, for a Muslim family, what is the appropriate attitude during this holiday? In the current climate of Islamophobia, Muslim parents know that it is important for their kids to feel a sense of belonging within the fabric of American society. At the same time, we don’t want to compromise our faith in the process. So, the question stands: how do we talk to our children about Christmas?
Part I: What is Christmas?
With the ubiquity of Christmas-related content in stores, on screens, and in schools, chances are that your children have been exposed to Christmas. They also have likely developed some understanding, though perhaps incorrect, of what the holiday is. These pieces of the puzzle can serve as a starting point for the conversation.
At a basic level, share some helpful definitions. The word “Christmas” actually comes from two separate words. “Christ” means “Messiah,” or leader and promised deliverer. “Mass” means a religious ceremony. Therefore, Christmas, at its roots, is a religious celebration of the life of Jesus Christ. In Islam, we call him the Prophet ‘Isa (AS).
Part II: Emphasize the Commonalities
Though Muslims and Christians have differences in both belief and practice, the two groups share many similarities. One of these is a common Abrahamic origin. Children should understand that we believe in the same prophets as Jews and Christians do, and the fact that they all came from Allah (SWT) to teach us right from wrong. For a creative way to teach kids about the prophets and how they relate to one another, see this wall decal.
At this time of year, we have the opportunity to focus specifically on Prophet ‘Isa (AS), sharing what we believe about him and the key lessons we can learn from him. The following are talking points to share:
- Islam teaches that Prophet ‘Isa (AS) is among the five greatest messengers from Allah (SWT). The others are Ibrahim, Musa, Nuh, and Mohammed (SAW).
- Just as Prophet Mohammed (SAW) brought the Holy Qur’an, Prophet ‘Isa (AS) also brought revelation from Allah (SWT). We believe in this guidance, called the Injil, or Gospel.
- Prophet ‘Isa’s (AS) mother, Lady Maryam, is one of the four greatest and most honored women. In fact, there is an entire chapter of the Holy Qur’an called Surah Maryam, which we read to learn about this pious lady.
- We believe in the miracles of Prophet ‘Isa (AS) including the virgin birth, speaking from the cradle, healing the blind, healing lepers, and bringing the dead to life, all through the power and will of Allah (SWT).
- The purpose of prophets is to serve as role models for all of humankind. From Prophet ‘Isa (AS) we should take his example of absolute humility, simplicity in worldly possessions, and the love and compassion he showed to all those around him.
Part III: Be clear about the differences
While it is valuable to showcase the similarities Muslims and Christians share, it is essential to be clear about the differences as well. According to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Politics and Religion, there is evidence to suggest that “learning about other faiths may actually strengthen one's own beliefs.” Therefore, parents should not shy away from these conversations for fear of confusing their children.
The first difference that must be mentioned is that we do not believe that Jesus is the son of God. Simply stated, “the example of Jesus to Allah is like that of Adam. He created Him from dust; then He said to him, "Be," and he was” (3:59). This ayah puts forth the idea that we should believe in Prophet ‘Isa’s (AS) miraculous birth in the same way that we believe in the creation of Prophet Adam (AS). Allah (SWT) cautions further, “O People of the Book (Jews and Christians), do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was but a messenger of Allah and His word which He directed to Mary and a soul [created at a command] from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And do not say, "Three"; desist - it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And sufficient is Allah as Disposer of affairs” (4:171).
The second distinction we must make is that Christmas is not our holiday. According to Anas ibn Malik (RA), the narration is as follows: “The Prophet (SAW) came to Madinah during two days in which the people played. The Prophet (SAW) asked: What are these two days? They said: These are two days we used to play in, during the time of ignorance. The Prophet (SAW) said: Allah has replaced them with two better days: Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr.” From this we learn that we have our own holidays worthy of celebration and that Christmas is not one of them.
An important note here is that we must cultivate respect for other people’s beliefs and practices. Our perspective should align with the one reflected in the Holy Qur’an: “For you is your religion, and for me is my religion” (109:6).
Part IV: Decide as a family how to navigate Christmas day
Most often, forbidding something outright makes it more enticing. Ask anyone who has a very curious young child. Instead, find ways to help your children decide for themselves that Christmas is not their holiday, and provide an alternative path to participate. One activity that we’ve developed to achieve these goals is to bake cookies for Christian neighbors and friends, along with a card that shares our love for Prophet ‘Isa (AS) too. Through this, we can build bridges and educate others about what Muslims believe about this important figure. Check out this link to view the recipe and download the card.
Part V: Instill the love for Islamic holidays within your children
Another way to dissuade children from yearning for Christmas celebrations is to make Islamic celebrations more attractive. There are many things we can learn from Christmas. This is not to say that we should imitate non-Muslims in their celebrations. After all, we have our own rich Islamic tradition. But, there are some key learnings that we can glean from the Christmas holiday. Here are a few ideas:
- Teach kids nasheeds. We all know the popular Christmas carols, and may even find ourselves humming to the tunes while cooking or showering. Making a conscious decision to teach children nasheeds can provide them with meaningful Islamic songs that they can recite instead. Popular artists include Yusuf Islam, Dawud Wharnsby, Zain Bhikha, and One 4 Kids (Zaky). Teaching nasheeds is a way to reinforce beliefs and is a form of dhikr!
- Build excitement. We all love having something to look forward to. Living in the West, we often get excited about holidays from work and school, which are based on secular and Christian calendars. But, we should have even more excitement about Islamic holidays. This excitement can be created by taking time off from work and school, decorating the home, and gathering family and friends together.
- Make it memorable. Each family has its own culture. However, parents often play a huge role in developing and maintaining this culture. Therefore, it is wise to invest in family traditions. This may mean giving thoughtful, meaningful gifts to one another. Or perhaps it is quality time spent as a family, listening to stories and discussing the importance of the occasion. Whatever it is, ensure that it is special so that your kids will remember these traditions year after year.
- Share your joy. During Christmas-time, everyone feels the Christmas spirit. But, during Eid, oftentimes we don’t share our Eid spirit with non-Muslim neighbors and friends. Invite them over for some tea and dessert. Send them a card with pictures of your kids dressed in their Eid outfits. Use this chance to discover commonalities and share what makes your family’s celebration unique.