By Zaharah Othman
December 23, 2018
IT is that time of the year again? Wasn’t
it 20 or 30 years ago that we dealt with this issue and thought it was over and
“Do we celebrate Christmas, Tuk Mama?”
asked my 4-year-old grandson, Iskandar, as we navigated our way along Oxford
Street dripping with Christmas lights as songs of the Christmassy nature filled
He had just dropped a £1 coin in the hat of
a group of buskers playing We Wish You a Merry Christmas!
“Do we celebrate Christmas?” That was the
question his father and his siblings asked more than 30 years ago as we drove
past rows and rows of houses with all kinds of Christmas decorations.
He and his siblings took to playing who
spotted the most Christmas tree decorations in the windows during long and
boring car rides.
As Muslims living in a host country that is
predominantly Christian, we are aware that this is a delicate issue that we
have to deal with sensibly especially when faced with four pairs of wide-eyed
innocence looking at you for an answer.
We, as parents and now grandparents,
realise that they need to learn and understand about Christmas and about how
the institutions and organisation of British life have been shaped by Britain’s
We also realised that it is our duty, too,
to provide them with the basic knowledge and understanding of our own religion.
But how do we strike a balance in managing this?
Not too long ago, when we received a letter
from Iskandar’s nursery about a Christmas play, needless to say, there was some
hesitation. It was deja vu all over again.
His uncle at his age was allowed to
participate in a nativity play. This was at a time when there was a lot of
hoo-ha about Muslim children’s participation in Nativity plays in school. Some
Muslim parents chose to take their children out and some schools chose to
downplay their celebrations.
We decided to allow our youngest to take
part after he pleaded that his role was only as the hind legs of a cow.
Soon and true enough, he did his part and
moved on as he acquired more and more understanding of his own religion and
He and his siblings had done that posing
bit on Santa’s lap in his grotto and even had pictures to show for it. And that
is just about it.
So, Iskandar in his elf outfit was allowed
to participate in the Christmas concert, the same way his non-Muslim friends
enjoyed and participated in the Eid, Divali and Chinese New Year celebrations
They all started learning about each
others’ religions and celebrations and hopefully go on to celebrate these
differences and diversity.
With the religious guidance that he is
getting at home and also at his weekly religious classes at SOFA College, Iskandar
is already at ease reciting the Selawat Nabi (praises to Prophet Muhammad) as
he perched comfortably on his Tuk Wan’s shoulders walking down the streets of
Once in a while, he belts out, Jingle
bells, Jingle bells, Jingle all the way.
We try not to make too much fuss about this
but we have to make sure that in making him understand, we have to emphasise
common ground that Muslims and Christian share. We also need to be clear about
the differences in a way that a 4-year-old could handle and digest.
As we entered our 39th year living in this
host country, we hope that our own experience arriving here as newlyweds, and
then raising four children and now managing a grandson, will put us in a better
position to guide our extended family living life as Muslims in a non-Muslim
I remember our first Christmas dinner with
an English family. Although we were made to wear silly hats and exchange
presents, I never did interpret this as a religious occasion. I suspect neither
did our hosts.
To them, it was just an excuse to eat and
drink and watch repeats on television.
Having been educated in a convent during a
huge part of my life, a simple celebration with friends from a different faith
did nothing to dent mine.
In fact, this celebration with our English
friends continued every year until they moved away. We were considered family.
At work, there was no escaping Christmas
parties although no one would invite us to their homes as Christmas is very
much a family affair.
Actually, my first exposure to Christmas
was in Malaysia. During Christmas breaks, we would enjoy holidays in Port
Dickson and Uncle Dorai would dress up as Santa Claus while Aunty Tata made her
delicious capati and lamb curry. That was Christmas — and we were all given
Those were the days when it was still all
right to wish each other Merry Christmas. Now, it seems, we have to watch what
we are wishing and how we are saying it.
Just the other day during one of our
discussions, a friend asked about joining in Christmas parties and giving and
One friend quipped that if we knew there
was going to be dance and drinks, then you shouldn’t go.
But what does that do to friendships and
working relationships? Most non-Muslims do understand that Muslims do not drink
and they do provide alternatives. I personally do not see any harm in just
being there to join in the spirit of friendship and promoting camaraderie.
The same goes for giving presents and
cards. Do we shy away and disappear and pretend Christmas doesn’t exist while
we actually live among those who celebrate it? What excuse do we have when we
are accused of not being able to integrate?
Thirty-nine years living in this host
country with all their Christmassy trimmings has done nothing to dent my faith.
If anything, it serves to strengthen my belief in the faith that I was born in.
And with that, I hope that I am able to bring up my family, the way I was
brought up with my beliefs.
As Iskandar takes his strides in life as a
Muslim child in this very non-Muslim environment, it is our duty to see that he
does that in a manner that every Muslim parent would be proud of.