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Interfaith Dialogue ( 16 Dec 2014, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Let’s Celebrate Christmas


By Salman Ali

December 16, 2014

Why is this state complicit in the killings and discrimination of minorities, especially Christians?

Every year, on December 25, Christians around the world gather to celebrate Jesus’ birth. In autumn, when the leaves on trees change their colour and begin falling, the event signals the year reaching its maturity and a harvest ready for reaping. December is an important month in the Christian community because it is a month for ceremonies. Each year, at the end of the season, the custom has been that Christians around the world present their respective communities with a special gift and that is the celebration of a Christmas play.

We are all aware that Christmas is a celebration, which includes spending time with family, decorating the entire house inside and out and shopping for the people we love. It is a time to give and forgive, celebrated everywhere as a joyous family affair. On this occasion, Christians make great preparations. All houses and churches are cleaned and whitewashed. The Christmas tree is decorated with artificial stars, lights and tinsel decorations, and we see night candles and electric bulbs on its twigs.

As a Pakistani, I think it is a great coincidence and blessing that on the same day — December 25 — it is also the birthday of our founder, Quaid-e-Azam, whose message was to share blessings with those who are less privileged. Moreover, how can we also forget the contribution of minorities in the creation of the country during the independence movement? Christmas Day is for all to be united as one, spread the love and share blessings with all. Sadly, the Christian community in Pakistan is not safe nor is it enjoying its due rights, which are mentioned in the Constitution of Pakistan. Pakistan’s population consists of about five percent Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parsis. Sadly, Pakistan is a country where discriminatory laws and violence against minorities are major concerns, according to Human Rights Watch’s (HRW’s) 21st annual report.

But I am confused here. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan should believe in brotherhood, peace and friendship with all religions. Why then is this state complicit in the killings and discrimination of minorities, especially Christians? Although Pakistan is called the Mumlikat-e-Khudadad, which means a land given by God, the minorities are insecure in this land. Why? The answer is simple: Pakistan is a diverse society but minorities face threats from religious extremists and society’s outdated customs and traditions. People have interpreted religion according to their needs. As a nation we are very religious minded and want to confirm a place in Paradise by forcing non-Muslims to embrace Islam. If they object, we know what lies ahead for them. Every religion teaches us brotherhood, fraternity, equality and friendship but for that we have to look beyond ourselves and accept other people’s customs and traditions also.

Recently, I had the chance to visit St Peters High School in Lahore as I was invited for a Christmas play. The entire school was decorated with various types of coloured paper flowers, balloons and lamps. In the far corner of the school building was the Christmas tree. The tree, standing brightly lit, was a local fir tree, decorated with silver tinsels, miniature crackers, glass balls of many different colours and little pieces of cotton wool tied to represent snow.

At the top, looking down on the tree, with its myriad of tiny fairy lights, was the Christmas star, shining and silvery as the star in Bethlehem shone once so long ago. Around the base were many parcels tied up with bright Christmas wrapping paper and cheerful silver strings. Indeed, it was amazing to look at. The crux of the play was to build peace, prosperity, brotherhood and tolerance of all faiths.

I guess many of my Muslim friends are confused about whether to celebrate this day or not but I have a strong belief: every religion teaches us about love for humanity, brotherhood, tolerance, respect for all and peace.

As a Muslim, you need not necessarily go to church but just send a tirade of texts like we do on Eid day; do remember that there is nothing wrong in wishing all our Christian friends and colleagues a merry Christmas. We do not have to bake a Christmas cake; instead we can take Kheer or Sewaiyan (local desserts) for our friends regardless of whether they are Muslims or Christians. Encourage those who do not celebrate Christmas to get into the spirit and humble themselves to the various gifts God has given us. We have to show respect towards each other and accept differing cultures and traditions.

One of the things I enjoy most during Ramzan is when my friends, who are not Muslim, take part in the fast. There is a great sense of solidarity when you are fasting with friends who are making an effort to share an experience that is alien to them. When invited to join others’ celebrations I am always excited to see what is in store for me. After all, loving and caring for people is one of the best ways to serve humanity, something I learnt during my school days from my teachers.

Have A Merry Christmas Everyone!

Salman Ali is a social and political activist based in Lahore