Being a Muslim in a predominantly Christian country, especially during Christmas can be quite an experience.
Every mid-November, neighbour Sam, dubbed “self-styled Santa,” eagerly reminds everyone on the street that it was time to decorate for the festive season. He doesn’t care about the mounting power bills, or that some seniors couldn’t afford to light up so soon or that some of us are Muslims and so Christmas had no religious significance to us.
“When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” I told my family. So in the spirit of good neighbourliness and in the spirit of Xmas, I would religiously – no pun intended – decorate my home. In all honesty, we Muslims do not want more trouble than we already have. Those terrorists had smeared our names and brought disrepute to our religion after 9/11 and I had no intention of creating another international incident!
I recall our first Christmas in Canada in 1973. We were respectfully called new Canadians then instead of Pakis. It was a proud label. “I am a new Canadian from Tanzania,” I used to proudly tell my colleagues in the office. My son, who was a two-year-old at the time, wanted a Christmas tree. We wanted to assimilate and become true Canadians so I didn’t object, but some friends who heard that I, a Muslim believer, was going to put a Christmas tree in my house were outraged. “This is not in our religion or our belief?” I was told.
My Christmas tree has nothing to do with religion was my reply. We were now in Canada and we should live like and behave like Canadians, but acknowledging that we should not forget our religion and culture. It didn’t satisfy them but each to thy own.
The message of Christmas is universal, bringing peace, harmony and unity among all mankind. It today’s world, plagued with wars, destruction, poverty and terrorism, such goodwill and unity in religion is necessary and wanted.
Immigrants and new Canadians are trying hard to adjust and adapt to Canada’s political and social environment. Some immigrants may wear different clothes and may look different, but underneath, they are the same like everyone else and they enrich Canada’s multicultural and multiracial landscape. It is not that Muslims are ignorant of Xmas. What is less well understood is that Muslims also love and revere Jesus as one of God’s greatest messengers to mankind. To a common person, Christmas represents a big party, with feasting, drinking and in some cases, getting drunk.
Christmas is a great time of the year. The fact that it is the time of the year when families get together to celebrate is enough for me. Families go to distance places, sometimes under great personal and financial sacrifice, to be with their loved ones shows how important Christmas is that they want to be home with their loved ones. Is the one time of the year when families want to be together.
If it were not for the Christmas or Thanksgiving holidays, family relationships would be worse than they are. In fact, in some families, these are the only times that many families make an attempt to mend broken relationships.
But the only thing I don’t like about Christmas is that Christmas is becoming increasingly secular. Commercialism has sunk in so much in our society that it is a shame to see that ”Merry Christmas” has given way to ”Happy Holidays” or ”Seasons Greetings.” One has just to see the number of fliers and pamphlets that are distributed weeks prior to Christmas. And the sales accelerate enticing consumer to buy more as the final Christmas Day approaches.
After being in Canada for over 40 years, now I no longer feel the need to put up Christmas lights despite pressures from my neighbourhood Santa. Muslims also get together with their families, friends and neighbours on Christmas Day and enjoy their company and camaraderie.
I feel I am a proud Canadian accepted within the country’s religious diversity and cultural mosaic where all religions are nourished and enriched. Canada’s multicultural policies have provided a unifying force under a national umbrella under which all religions are allowed to exist side by side. This is one aspect of Canada’s pluralistic society that should provide a lesson to other countries.