If you come to my house during the holidays, you'll probably hear Dean Martin and Nat King Cole singing holiday classics softly in the background, only to be interrupted every so often by the Muslim call to prayer. And lying next to my ornament-lined Christmas tree, you'll find an ornate prayer rug, purposefully chosen to match my yuletide decor. For most people, these symbols might feel contradictory, but for me, this is just what it's like to be Muslim during the holidays.
[I was raised by] immigrant parents who taught me that appreciating different faiths and cultures wouldn't take away from my identity but instead enhance it.
I'll be the first to say that this isn't the typical Muslim Christmas experience. I was born and raised in Chicago by immigrant parents and godparents, who taught me that appreciating different faiths and cultures wouldn't take away from my identity but instead enhance it. I come from an interfaith, inclusive household. My Pakistani-Christian godmother would drive me to Quran classes everyday, and her Muslim husband would take us to church on Christmas. My practicing Muslim father made sure everyone had presents under the tree, while my artistic mom spent hours ensuring they were wrapped perfectly. We celebrated Christmas every year at my godparents' home with home-cooked food, holiday music, and gifts with our closest family and friends.
As an adult, I continue my family's Christmas tradition, but unfortunately, it doesn't come without criticism and judgement. Some of my Muslim friends try to convince me that Christmas isn't "our holiday" and that I would be punished by God for observing it. I've had others imply that I only celebrate because I'm trying too hard to assimilate to Western culture. But the truth is, I'm not a poser, because I've celebrated the holiday ever since I can remember. And as far as God is concerned, I believe that the spirit of love, kindness, and generosity that comes with Christmas is universal, which is why the holiday plays a meaningful and significant part in my personal religion and culture.
Today, my kids are growing up with the same values and Christmas traditions I had, and this time of year is just as magical for them. That smell of freshly baked cookies and the sounds of Christmas music that fill my house the Saturday after Thanksgiving signifies the start of our holiday season. We have our own tree-trimming party, where we hang stockings, put up lights, and line the tree with our favourite ornaments. The day ends with an order of pizza and a marathon of our favourite holiday movies.
Come Christmas Eve, my house is filled with laughter and excitement, as my family and friends gather to celebrate. We have dinner, open presents, and savor the joy on our kids' faces. After we open a few gifts, we sip on chai and recall our fondest family moments. Since the recent loss of both my father and godfather, the family celebrates their lives by swapping fun stories and collecting funds to send to their favourite charities.
My Muslim Christmas experience certainly isn't common, but it's also not unique. Plenty of Muslims around the world — especially in religiously diverse countries like Lebanon and India — celebrate the holiday and recognise that Jesus's birth is just as substantial in Islamic ideology as it is in Christianity. Ultimately, everyone's beliefs and values are different, and how they choose to spend the holiday is their own prerogative. For me, Christmas is rooted in years of family tradition that's so meaningful to me. And at the end of the day, that's all that matters.