By Ro Waseem
December 24, 2015
Have you ever wondered whether you would
incur “Allah’s wrath” if you wished Merry Christmas to your Christian friends,
or celebrated Christmas? As it turns out, chances are that if you’ve been
raised in a conservative household, this has kept you occupied!
To be honest, it seems awfully absurd to
me—this idea that celebrating Christmas has theological implications and
consequences. But as Facebook reminds me, this wasn’t always the case. A few
years ago, I shared the following quote by Zakir Naik, a Muslim scholar, on my
“When you’re wishing merry Christmas to
them… you’re agreeing that he is the begotten son of god, which is shirk
(association with God)”
Evidently, it was quite a popular post,
gathering many “likes” from my Facebook friends. Now that I am confronted with
an embarrassing aspect of my past, I feel, at once, both relieved and ashamed.
It reminds me of the potentially devastating consequences of ignorance on a
person, and society at large.
I didn’t know much about religion, then. In
fact, I practically knew nothing aside from the 5 pillars and the very basics
of Islam. But I shared it anyway since Zakir Naik is a “scholar” who enjoys
considerable support from Muslims and I assumed he knew what he was talking
about. Besides, since such sentiments are popular, I probably posted it to gain
social currency and validation.
This glimpse into my past offers me an
insight as to why such simplistic and divisive notions are so popular and go
unchallenged. For one, as far as I’ve observed, many of us are socially
programmed to respect the “status-quo” (read: anyone with a beard who can talk
religion), and not think critically about matters of faith. The reasoning goes
that thinking might lead to kufr (disbelief), so it is best avoided.
Instead, the status quo is given the luxury
of our blind obedience, deeming their interpretations as God’s truth. And since
many of these imams espouse a very reductive and cursory reading of Islam, it
creates a culture where religion is mainly used as a source of pushing an “us
vs them” narrative, infiltrating societies with intolerant attitudes and a lack
of appreciation for diversity and pluralism.
It is no wonder that attitudes towards
Muslim minorities such as Shias, Ahmadis, LGBT’s etc. are so morally repugnant.
Of course, decades of brutal dictatorships in Muslim majority states hindering
democracy and secularism don’t help either.
Secondly, much of mainstream Islamic
discourse today revolves around trivia and pedantry. We’re often found
discussing the permissibility of dogs, music, “correct” ways of worship, and in
this particular case, whether it is permissible to wish Merry Christmas and
celebrate a “pagan” festival.
This, too, contributes to a culture where
people are discouraged to pursue independent thought in fear of “getting it
wrong” and remain tangled in a series of non-issues. All the while, the really
pressing issues that face us are swept under the rug.
Such is the lack of introspection that when
non-Muslims in the West express their solidarity with initiatives like “Wear a
Hijab” day or fasting a day in Ramadan to combat Islamophobia, these acts are
lauded, and rightly so. But when it’s our turn to express solidarity with
non-Muslims, in some cases theology comes into play. What is this, if not
No, neither wishing Merry Christmas nor
celebrating Christmas implies that you believe Jesus is son of God. If that
were the case, the very mention of Thursday (Thor’s day) would, by the same
logic, imply that you believe Thor is a son of God. The whole idea really is
that absurd—a fallacious argument employed by short-sighted religious preachers
like Zakir Naik who know no better.
It is high time we stop glorifying such
mediocre preachers, and seek out genuine scholars who are able to provide more
nuanced arguments. Moreover, let’s not be afraid of thinking critically about
religious matters. You’d be surprised how much the Quran emphasis critical
thinking and not following religious leaders blindly.
To quote Immanuel Kant, “Dare to know! Have
the courage to use your own intelligence!”
So, pity the likes of Zakir Naik while you
go out and build bridges of love with Christians. What’s the point of religion
if not to make us more compassionate, more receptive to each other?
Here’s my admission of Kufr: Merry
Ro Waseem is a progressive Muslim and founder of this blog. He aims to
promote pluralism, unity, and critical thinking in matters of faith.