There aren’t many Muslims who don’t appreciate the warmth and cheer that the UK collectively indulges in at this time of year.
For my own family, Christmas was the time that TV really upped its game. My dad would buy the Radio Times and, once he’d finished marking out his schedule of James Bond films, my siblings and I would descend upon it, scouring through its pages for Mary Poppins and The Snowman.
Our house began to fill with Christmas cards from colleagues and school-friends. Then probably to ensure we wouldn’t feel left out in playground conversations post-Christmas break, we started receiving gifts from our parents, lovingly arranged by our gas fire for us to wake up to on Christmas morning.
It was around this time we were invited to our first specially-organised Christmas dinner at The Earnshaws: my best friend at school’s practising Christian family who considerately provided a halal chicken and omitted all pork-based products from the table for our sake.
Seeing how easy it was for us to have the fullest Christmas experience, we went on to emulate this for ourselves every year since. My Muslim family’s Christmas dinner proves to be an almost identical experience to the original – with a few tweaks. All the vegetables can remain just as they are, though the Turkey is, of course, halal – and ideally marinated overnight in the choicest spices. In fact, not feeling obliged to stick to the letter of tradition, we’re free to concede that Turkey isn’t all that great anyway and go for chicken or roast lamb instead. The same laissez-faire attitude cannot be applied to Brussels sprouts, of course. Even Muslims recognise that Christmas just wouldn’t be the same without them. Shloer (a fizzy grape juice in suitably fancy bottles) provides the perfect non-alcoholic substitute. And of course no pigs in blankets here please. No pig in anything for that matter.
Christmas is a very special time for us as a family. Like the rest of the country, it’s one of the few times of year when our now-disparate clan can get together. We appreciate the values associated with the festive season: the spirit of giving, sharing and concern for our fellow human beings resonates with our own Muslim beliefs. Any opportunity to participate in the recognition of these values is a welcome one.
Also in accordance with our Muslim beliefs is the commemoration of Jesus (upon whom be peace) as an honoured, revered and important prophet for us. His birth is a joy we also feel entitled to share with our Christian neighbours.
This isn’t a call for every non-Christian family in the country to feel they have to join in with Christmas as much as we do, or even at all. But those who do choose to take part in the celebrations will recognise the special affinity it allows us to share with our neighbours. Being able to partake in the happiness of those around us is a genuine privilege and an intimate gesture. Far from taking away from who we already are, it strengthens those values and bonds that hold us together.
As a tumultuous 2016 draws to a close, it feels like these affirmations of what we have in common are more important than ever. It’s in this spirit, therefore, that I’d like to raise my glass of non-alcoholic bubbly and wish all my neighbours across Britain, whatever their faith, a very merry Christmas, peace on earth and goodwill to all.
Avaes Mohammad is a researcher at the independent thinktank British Future and coordinator of the Unknown & Untold project to highlight the contribution of Muslim soldiers to Britain in the First World War
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