Muslims and Midnight Mass (and Donald Trump and Santa)

A Christmas tree in the Emirates Palace hotel, Abu DhabiI’ve done two previous blog entries (at least) here about Muslims and Christmas — specifically, about Muslims participating in Christmas, being encouraged to do so (often by other Muslims) in the name of ‘integration’ or being accused of trying to prevent others celebrating (you can find them here and here). This year I came across something that has apparently been going on for ten years or more but of which I was previously unaware, which is a mosque (a Shi’a mosque in London) “teaming up” with a local Christian church and some of the congregation attending Midnight Mass, which is a long-standing Christian tradition. Needless to say, hearing this made a lot of Muslims angry and there was an ill-tempered ‘debate’ between one of the participants (who is well-known as a writer on British Muslim issues and who works for the Muslim Council of Britain) and a well-known ‘salafi’ blogger and social-media personality.

My stance is that no Muslim should be participating in Christmas more than they absolutely cannot get out of (e.g. unmarried converts with family who will make it difficult to avoid, people who are required to attend social functions at work, teachers whose schools are holding a Christmas event of some sort for the children, nurses whose patients are missing their Christmas and want to mark it somehow). When it comes to being expected to take part in rituals of any sort, we say no. This is because Christians, with the exception of one or two small denominations, believe that Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) is not simply the Messiah and a prophet but the “begotten not made” son of God and every Christian church service acknowledges this, as anyone who was brought up in it will know. We recited the credo every Sunday morning so we know what their stance is (you can read different versions of it here). Generally as Muslims we are not supposed to “hang around” places where people sin; we are not supposed to sit with people who are drinking alcohol (which is also part of the Christian Mass for adults, by the way) and we are not allowed to witness usurious contracts. Why would we sit with people when they recite a statement of aqida that contains open shirk (polytheism) when this is the worst sin in the whole of Islamic law?

This does not mean that Muslims cannot maintain good relations with their Christian or Jewish neighbours, help the homeless together or campaign on shared moral issues or for religious rights such as non-stun slaughtering. However, we just do not see other religious groups attending the worship of other religions — it seems to be only Muslims who are being prevailed on to do that. One person who defended the practice on Twitter said:

Muslims need allies. They need allies to practice their faith freely. They also need allies to protect all faiths in a world which is increasingly becoming antagonistic to faith, especially Islam. Celebrating the joy of Christians is not a religious act, it’s a sociopolitical act

But there are acceptable ways of building alliances and there are ways that are unacceptable in the Shari’ah. We are not allowed to commit acts of shirk even to save our lives. There are circumstances in which the haraam becomes halal and they are always circumstances of extreme necessity or mortal danger, such as it becoming permissible to eat animals that are normally banned, such as pigs, dogs and cats, when we are starving. That does not mean when there is no other meat; it means no other food. (In practice, there is a long list of permitted animals that we do not normally eat that come before the three mentioned — Reliance of the Traveller mentions foxes and badgers, for example — though perhaps they are less easy to come by.) We can take refuge in a church if there is a storm or if there is a gun battle going on in the street. Merely maintaining good relations is not a good reason when there are many other ways of achieving this. We do not have to explain why in a way that offends anyone; we must just say “our religion does not allow us to do this”. If they are sincere, they will understand. If they are not, we will not impress them anyway. Most times when people of different religions are at conflict, there are other reasons such as race, a past invasion or some other grievance. The Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland were not at war with each other for 30 years because of transubstantiation; it was because one group, who dominated the state, denied the other their rights for several decades and the oppressed finally struck back.

Finally, Christmas right now would not be Christmas — indeed, no occasion would be complete — without an expression of cluelessness, heartlessness or both by Donald Trump, and this time it came in the form of his telling a child that his age (seven) was a ‘marginal’ one for still believing in Santa Claus. I still did believe in him at that age, and I had to be told the truth the year after when I did not sleep much of the night because I was nervous about not being asleep when ‘Santa’ came and, therefore, would not receive any of the presents (and neither would my sister, who was 6). I do not really understand why parents tell their children that most of the presents they buy them, and often the biggest and most exciting ones, come from someone other than themselves. Maybe because the child could not direct any disappointment at an unwanted present at them, or because they do not want to burden the child with any debt of gratitude. It’s amazing that parents can go that many years without a child at school, possibly one whose parents are too poor to sustain the myth, telling their children that there is no Santa.

Of course, it’s not Donald Trump’s place to put a 7-year-old right on Santa not being real. But it’s something parents should consider when encouraging their children to believe this nonsense. At most, have ‘Santa’ bring a few small presents and tell them the truth about the rest. Because there comes a point where a harmless fairytale just becomes a pointless lie, and it’s certainly no longer fun if it causes tears.

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