Faith & Reason: The Muslim revenge for Christmas excess

Last year we tried to join in with halal turkey, but this year I have been forced to conclude that the modern Christmas is incompatable with celebrating Ramadan
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The Independent Online
RAMADAN WITH the festive season is tolerable. But Ramadan with both Christmas and the Millennium celebration is unbearable. One could co-exist with Father Christmas, old Bond movies and even Sir Cliff Richard at the top of the charts. However, the anxiety perpetrated by doomsday prophets, the hullabaloo over the Millennium Dome and its wishy-washy Faith Zone is just a bit too much. Thank God it won't happen again for at least a thousand years.

It's all so different from last year when the convergence of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, with the Christmas festive season inspired much enthusiasm. In retrospect, however, it all seems so unfounded. We were, literally, blinded by the decorative lights that normally light our high streets during this time of the year. We Muslims believed that, even at full flow, Mammon was not strong enough to dent the spiritual shield protecting Ramadan. Was it not true, according to Islamic belief, that Satan was under lock and key during the holy month?

But how we underestimated the Tempter. By the time Eid - the festival to mark the month of physical restraint - arrived, it was no longer a holy day but a horror experience. Sandwiched between the gluttony of Christmas and the insanity of the New Year sales, Eid was, sadly, an anti- climax: an ordinary and boring "holy" day. As we went around on Eid day obstructing traffic and dressed up as Christmas trees in our colourful shalwar kamizes and thoubs, we could not ignore the uneasiness that gripped our souls. Deep inside we knew that in reality we had no reason to indulge in much celebration on this auspicious day.

The victory of our nafs (soul) over the material objects of the senses that Ramadan is supposed to facilitate was as convincing as a Prince Naseem fight that went the full 12 rounds. After 29 days of self-denial amidst the voraciousness of the festive season Eid became more than the celebration of the end of the fasting month. It became a day of revenge - a "halal" Christmas.

Instead of marking the day in prayers and with the sick, the disabled, the disadvantaged and the holy, we went berserk stuffing ourselves with halal turkeys and biryanis and competing in opening gifts - sometimes under a proper Christmas tree with lights and tinsel.

Somehow we survived, barely. This year it promises to be even more difficult for we do not only have Mother Christmas to deal with but also Y2K and the Millennium Dome. For the former we can perhaps rehash last year's answers but for the latter we have to construct new realities. Of course, explaining the difference between the Gregorian and the Muslim Hijra calendar is a good way to introduce your nine-year-old son to a number of fundamental historical facts in the development of both Christianity and Islam.

But it does get all funny when you come to putting the Millennium Bug in context to somebody who is a product of the X-files and belongs to that twilight zone known as the cyberworld. Me and my son, Nadir, are at the moment in a spiritual stalemate: he can't understand how somebody who seems able to decipher the holy Book can have so many problems following the "simple" instructions on a new DVD machine. I can't understand how he can memorise the names of all the 150 Pokemons but struggles to remember the 30 last chapters of the Koran.

As a British Muslim committed to a pluralistic multi-faith, multi-racial and multi-cultural society, I welcome the new millennium with much hope and optimism. Unfortunately, it is also with some trepidation and as an inter-faith cynic. Modern Christmas, in my opinion, is as incompatible with Ramadan as modern Christianity is with Islam.

It has taken some time to acknowledge and accept but this is not a society of "people of the book": it is a society of admen, spin-doctors and their books. Under the circumstances, if we are to be taken seriously we need to re-evaluate our role and that of the "people of the book" and others in this society.

British Muslims should realise that as much as the Christmas season is no shield to the spiritual purity and essence of Ramadan, modern Christianity has little in common with Islam. British Islam should blossom in the full light of society, not in some cosy "spirit zone" otherwise our faith will be as much in danger of being "Christianised" as our Ramadan is threatened with being "Christmasised."

The eve of the new millennium - right in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan - is the right time to take stock and adopt new strategies. We could begin by showing the all- inclusive approach we hope to adopt for the future by calling upon our community to buy both the new release of John Lennon's "Imagine" and Sir Cliff Richard's "Millennium Prayer" for Eid. That way we would be seen as building a useful bridge in our society between the imaginary and the reality. But come next Eid, the first in the new millennium and - insha'Allah (God Willing) - we could have our own chart- topping re-release song titled "Morning Has Broken" sung by our own Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) and bought by everybody.

Fuad Nahdi is the editor of `Q-News', the Muslim magazine