What do Muslims do on Christmas?

It’s the question Muslims get asked every festive season but, as Aisha Rimi discovers, the answer isn’t one-size-fits-all

Friday 24 December 2021 14:17
<p>‘Some Muslims take part in Christmas celebrations, others choose not to — how we choose to spend the day is a personal decision’ </p>

‘Some Muslims take part in Christmas celebrations, others choose not to — how we choose to spend the day is a personal decision’

As the UK gears up for a Christmas full of uncertainty, there’s a community of us for whom this festive period tends to pass uneventfully. For many Muslims, Christmas is just like any normal day in the calendar year, but acts as more of a marker for a period of rest and winding down as the rest of the country comes to a halt.

I, like many other Muslims, spend much of the time leading up to this period answering different variations of the “What are you doing for Christmas?” question. It’s a question that, depending on my mood and my willingness for a chat, receives a varied answer.

Sometimes to avoid awkwardness and to hurry things along, I say it’s going to be a quiet one, which is generally true in my case. Other times I’m honest and say I don’t celebrate, which comes with its own follow-up questions.

As a Muslim I do, however, have my own festive celebrations during the year. Over three million Muslims in England gather to celebrate Eid-al-Fitr — to mark the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, and Eid-al-Adha — to commemorate the prophet Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice his son to show his dedication to God.

There are parts of Christmas I like — namely the lights, the festive spirit and, of course, the cheesy films. But what I like most about Christmas Day is that it’s my one guaranteed day of rest in the entire year, where emails and other responsibilities are locked away (at least for the ensuing 48 hours).

Yet, just like the diversity of people within the Muslim community, the way in which we spend Christmas Day reflects that. Some Muslims take part in Christmas celebrations, others choose not to. Ultimately, how we choose to spend the day is a personal decision. On this note, I’ve spoken to six other Muslims about how they celebrate the festive period.

Nusiba Taufik, 30, Liverpool, Doctor

“This Christmas I’ll be working just like I’ve done for more or less the past six years. Often colleagues who celebrate Christmas want to swap shifts with me and I’m happy to do so.

“It’s like any other day in the hospital — I work in obstetrics and gynaecology, so babies come whenever they want to, but Christmas babies get Christmas-themed baby hats. Some people might wear festive clothing and we have some holiday music in the background and food for staff.

“Before I became a doctor, Christmas was just a normal day spent at home with my family — plus the odd Christmas film.”

Aisha Rosalie, 24, London, Youtuber

“I converted to Islam two years ago, but my mum celebrates Christmas so I’ll be visiting her on the day. Usually, we’ll go and watch the annual Christmas Day swim at Hyde Park, as well as cook and eat lots of food.

“We also like to do something charitable on the day, so in the past, we’ve given out sandwiches and snacks to the homeless.

“We used to exchange gifts, but I no longer take part in that anymore. While I don’t celebrate Christmas, I’m happy to be with my mum and to support her to the best of my ability on the day. I feel like I get a free pass out of the stuff I didn’t enjoy anyway, like the materialistic side of it all.

“I prefer to replace giving gifts with making better decisions with my money and putting it in places where people really need it.”

Zahra Iqbal, 22, Manchester, Communications Officer

“I’m from a really big Pakistani family and everyone’s all over the place, and so Christmas is sometimes the only time in the last months of the year where we all get together. Unlike Eid, Christmas is a 100 per cent guaranteed time when everyone in my family is free.

“It’s more about spending time together as a family, all cosied up with a nice roast dinner and a cup of tea. Before Covid, there were probably around 30 of us coming together on the day.

“I think people believe that because we’re Muslim, we don’t like Christmas films or festive music, but it’s quite the opposite. A lot of us are born here, participate in activities as kids and Christmas culture gets instilled into us. We just put our own spin on it.”

Sabah Ahmedi, 27, London, Imam

“Islam teaches to respect others’ values and culture. As Muslims, we don’t celebrate Christmas but as a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, we help people attend church services, take part in food drives and try to help and play a part in the joy of those individuals who are celebrating alone.

“On a personal level, my in-laws aren’t Muslim so I spend the day with them and partake in their happiness while they celebrate Christmas. They give presents to my children and we give them presents, and we also have a halal roast dinner. It’s important for me to be with them at this special time and they also come and celebrate both Eids with us.”

Aisha Hassan, 33, Doncaster, Marketing Officer

“Usually I spend the day at home with the family, often watching Christmas films. We’re just waiting for the next day when we can go out again to hit the shops for the Boxing Day sales.

“This year, we’ll be staying the night in a hotel in Manchester — we fancied a change of scenery and the shops are great there too, so we can be prepared for the sales the next day.

“We also have some family friends who are Christian and often invite us over to eat and celebrate with them. As we’re all Nigerian, the dinner is usually a mix of a traditional roast dinner and Nigerian food, so there’ll be turkey alongside the likes of pepper soup and jollof rice.”

Farah Chowdhury, 28, London, Communications Manager

“This Christmas we are spending it pretty much the same way we spend every Christmas. My mum is usually in charge of the kitchen, but Christmas is the one time when I get to be in charge.

“I make a meal for the family, which is our take on a Christmas meal. We don’t have turkey, but we’ll put an Asian twist on everything else, which means everything is spicy — spicy potatoes, spicy vegetables, spicy rice and more. We’ll also watch some films and maybe play a board game.

“Given the way my family’s work schedules are organised, we take advantage of all being off on Christmas Day. It’s all about being together and being able to rest at the same time.”

These interviews have been condensed for clarity.

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