Celebrating Holidays in Western Societies
We live in North America. This culture is completely different from Islamic culture. For example, people here celebrate several holidays, such as Halloween at the end of October, Thanksgiving towards the end of November, Christmas towards the end of December, New Year’s Day and Valentine’s Day. Should we allow our children to participate in these celebrations? If the answer is no, what should we do to prevent our children from feeling inferior to their peers because they do not participate in these celebrations?
This is a very important question that is being asked in almost every workshop we conduct and every lecture we deliver during national conventions and regional conferences in North America. We also receive similar questions via e-mail from Muslims in various parts of the world.
To answer this question we should emphasize the following points:
- As Muslims we must be careful not to group all celebrations into one category. Parents should look at each celebration separately and objectively, and then make an informed decision. For example, Thanksgiving is completely different from Christmas or Halloween.
- Parents should ask themselves the following questions about the celebration under consideration:
- What is the origin of the celebration?
- Does it have a religious dimension or connotation?
- What kind of message will this celebration send to my child?
- What kind of impression is this celebration going to have on my child?
- Is it a once-in-a-lifetime event or a regular celebration that will be a part of my child’s life and personality in the future?
If we ask ourselves these questions about the above-mentioned celebrations, we can easily say that we should not celebrate or allow our children to celebrate Halloween, Christmas, or Valentine’s Day.
Thanksgiving, however, may be different. We should give thanks to Allah SWT and teach our children to be grateful to Him for all His bounties all the time, not just one day a year. However, if somebody observes Thanksgiving, this is not a sin or a crime.
Having said this, what should parents do at the time of these celebrations, particularly if their children attend public school where these holidays are regularly observed and encouraged by the school system? Here is some advice for every Muslim parent to help them deal with this dilemma:
- Meet your child’s teacher early in the school year to tell him or her that your child is a Muslim and will not be celebrating Christmas. However, you do not want your child to miss out on the academic lessons. Since most public school systems use thematic methods for teaching, talking about Christmas in the classroom can start as early as mid-November. Ask the teacher to allow your child to do other activities that are not related to the holiday. For example, your child could draw a star or a crescent instead of a Christmas tree, or write a letter to his grandpa instead of to Santa. This way the child will still be part of the lesson, but with a reduction of the religious aspect of the holiday and its effect on your child.
- On the day of the big Christmas party, do not send your child to school. Make that day special and fun for your child at home. You could invite some of her Muslim friends, who are also not going to school that day, and have a small gathering for them. In addition to the fun time, you can take the opportunity to teach them about Prophet Issa SAAW , his miraculous birth, the miracles he performed by Allah’s permission, and so on.
- Be careful not to ridicule the holidays and celebrations of others. Some parents may become frustrated and overwhelmed with their children’s attraction to the beautiful Christmas decorations, and might make comments such as “Christmas lights are ugly!” This is not right, nor is it true. In addition, it could give your child the wrong impression. In such a situation, parents must always acknowledge that the decoration is nice, that the lights look good, and always tell the truth.
- It is very important to make Ramadan and the two Eid celebrations very special and filled with fun and good memories for your children, to compensate for them not being a part of the other celebrations.
- Some of the early scholars issued fatwas indicating that Muslims should not congratulate non-Muslims on their religious celebrations. These fatwas may have been applicable during their time and in their environment, but they are not applicable nowadays or in the North American environment. As a matter of fact, other fatwas indicate that there is nothing wrong with extending congratulatory wishes to non-Muslims during their religious celebrations.
Please refer to chapter nine of our book entitled Muslim Teens – Today’s Worry, Tomorrow’s Hope for more tips on how to deal with Christmas and Halloween celebrations. Another good source is the SoundVision Website, where you can find samples of letters to send to your child’s school administration to help you say no to such celebrations.
 Dr. Yusuf Al-Qaradawy, Contemporary Fatwas, Volume 3, Dar Al Qalam for Distribution and Publications, Kuwait, 2001.
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