This time of year, people who know my full name, Walid Abdul Jawad, interrupt me mid-sentence asking "Do you celebrate Christmas!?" as I’m ranting about how Christmas is an obligatory national shopping season augmented by an unhealthy dose of collective gift buying stress. I always take a deep breath before smiling, "yes, I celebrate Christmas" then quickly continue with my rant. I am contemplating giving myself a break this year so long as people don’t expect me to send them cards or buy them presents believing that I’m exempt as a non-Christian.
I was born in St. Elizabeth hospital in Texas with an oversized cross covering the side of its five-story building, my tonsil removal surgery as a child was in the Coptic hospital of Cairo, Egypt (no, I am not Egyptian) where I was attended to by cross bearing nuns, and my first wedding I’ve attended as a little child was at a church in Italy (I’m not Italian either obviously) when my Muslim uncle took a Christian wife. I grew up being taught to revere Jesus, just like other Muslim kids who were told the story of the virgin birth and the many miracles he performed.
Above all, I was taught that Islam is a revival of Christianity because, as it were, god’s true teachings were lost in translation as evident by the bible’s different books, therefore he sent Mohammad to renew his true message. This blurred the religious divide for me, so much so that I viewed Islam as simply another Christian denomination. Very few people understand Jesus's centrality in Quran; he is mentioned over 30 times while Mohammed only four. So it shouldn’t be a surprise when other Muslims celebrate Christmas either.
When prophet Muhammad first moved to the holy city of Medina he saw its Jews celebrating the day when god saved Moses and the Israelites by parting the sea. He turned to his followers and directed them to celebrate with the Jews in the same fashion, by fasting. Muslims are to celebrate Christmas not only because they would be following Muhammad’s lead in interfaith understanding, but also because Islam, in fact, is an extension of Christianity; same teachings, same commandments, same god.
Granted, celebrating Jesus’s birth on December 25 is not based in reality thanks to Emperor Constantine for moving Jesus’s birthday to the pagan celebrated day of Dec 25, in effect, voiding Christmas of its religious depth. Today we celebrate a shopping season wrapped in a façade of religious symbolism. The reality for most is that Christmas is simply a commercialized annual pilgrimage, worshiped by ad executives and prayed to by CEOs. Now that we have cleared the confusion over Christmas timing and Islam’s relation to it, we are better suited to salvage what would enhance our collective betterment.
To that end, we must not be confused that Christmas is an occasion with a religious flavor and we should all approach it as such; celebrated by those who believe and observed by the rest of us to commemorate and honor our humanity. One thing is for sure, Christmas should be a time for all of us, Christian and non-Christians, to reflect on the good things we have in our lives and to recommit ourselves to our fellow brothers and sisters in humanity. If you’re like me not buying into the religious aspect of the season then you can always embrace the spirituality emanating from 2 billion Christians around the world - humanity will be better for it; Merry Christmas!