For the past week, I have been seeing a lot of offensive comments regarding Christmas by Muslims on various social media sites. One of such said “stay away from the festivals of the enemies of Allah” and another blatantly mocked the holiday and Christians in general. These are just two of the many examples I witnessed. For some reason they have stayed in my memory and it is for this reason I will focus on them to make my point clear. Although I started out on this harangue with the intention to defend Christmas and all of its glory, I came to realize that the root of my anger went deeper than a religious holiday. Not only is the subject of “Christmas is halal versus Christmas is haram” tired and frustrating but we are not making progress. For those who disagree that Christmas has merely become a secular commercial festival I will never change their mind, and it is not my job to do so. Then, what is my problem? I will tell you. We, as respectable Muslims, are commanded in the Quran and through the example of the Prophet (SWS) to show respect to the people of the book, as well as every living thing on earth. So my problem is the lack of respect toward these holidays along with wrongly naming someone an “enemy of Allah” or a Kafir. And I am not talking about the salty yoghurt drink from Lebanon!
So, where should I start? Oh I know! How about the one where you do not arbitrarily pick and choose who to call an enemy of Allah or kafir?! Yes, this sounds about right. So perhaps we can have a little class on etymology; shall we? Kafir (كافر ), is a word that is often times mistranslated as meaning infidel or non-Muslim; but is this the true meaning of the word? In fact it is not. Infidel is a word that is found in the Christian Bible however it is not in the Quran. It is a word that has been wrongfully ascribed to our wonderful religion by non-Muslims. The word kafir appears in the Quran six times in five different verses and the meaning presented is not “infidel.”
“Not equal is the good response and the bad response. You shall resort to the nicest possible response. Thus, the one who used to be your enemy, may become your best friend.” [41:34]
Now, whenever we look at a meaning of a word in Arabic it is good to find out what the root word is. In this case the root word for kafir (كافر ) is kufr (كفر). Kufr literally means to cover something up and a kafir is someone who covers up the truth; and to be more specific it is someone who knows the truth about something, and then tries to hide it. It is true that there are verses that use this word to mean one who denies, but it is imperative to read these passages in order to get the full context of the meaning. For example “And when people are gathered together (at the Resurrection), they (who were invoked) will be hostile to them and reject their worship (altogether)!” (46:6) In this verse, it is the idol which will reject the worshipping of the worshiper. In contrast to the following verses which depict what a true rejecter of the time was: “They disputed with you about the truth after it had become clear, (and they went forth) as if they were being driven to death while they saw (it).” (8:6); and “Surely those who disbelieve and turn away from Allah’s way and oppose the Messenger after that guidance has become clear to them cannot harm Allah in any way, and He will make null their deeds.”(47:32) My point in using these two verses is that the truth was clear to the people deemed as “disbelievers”, or “rejecters”. They had the pure message because they lived with the Prophet (SWS), we do not have this luxury. Therefor we must do our best with Quran, tafsir, books and lectures.
How many people do you know that live as the Prophet did 100%? No one does. Also, because we do not have a pure example it is much more difficult to show what Allah says in every situation because we do not have that divine link to Allah in the way that the Prophet (SWS) had. How can we say that we have made someone understand the deen and everything within. We do not have the authority to call someone a kafir because we do not know what they have understood and misunderstood. This does not mean they are covering something up, or rejecting Islam. Since we do not know who is truly covering up the truth we cannot go around calling non-Muslims kafirs or an “enemy to Allah.” They may very well be, but you cannot be certain. The conclusion: Kafir does not equal non-Muslim.
“Do not argue with the people of the scripture (Jews, Christians, and Muslims) except in the nicest possible manner…” [29:46]
This brings me to my next point, which is showing respect to the people of the book. Not only that, but showing respect to everyone! There are many quotes from the Quran reminding us to be humble and avoid arrogance. One example of this is in chapter 31 verses 18-19 where God almighty says, “You shall not treat the people with arrogance, nor shall you roam the earth proudly. God does not like the arrogant show-offs. Walk humbly and lower your voice – the ugliest voice is the donkey’s voice.” Another example is in chapter 49 verse 11, which states, “O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule [another] people; perhaps they may be better than them; nor let women ridicule [other] women; perhaps they may be better than them. And do not insult one another and do not call each other by [offensive] nicknames. Wretched is the name of disobedience after [one's] faith. And whoever does not repent – then it is those who are the wrongdoers.”
This is further highlighted in the following hadith which states that the Prophet (SWS) was looking into marrying Safiyyah (ra). Aisha (ra) saw her yet out of natural jealousy really didn’t want the Prophet (SWS) to marry her. So the Prophet asked Aisha (ra) about her and Aisha (ra) said she was nice and everything was good about her, but then Aisha (ra) made a gesture with her hand to show that Safiyyah (ra) was short. In response to this the Prophet (SWS) said, ” if she were to put just this gesture into an ocean it would stain the whole ocean. [Sunan Abu Dawud, 41:4857] If you truly reflect on the meaning of this proof you will come to realise that if even making a hand gesture about the size of a person could be seen as offensive then why in the world do you think it is ok to verbally degrade someone? When you degrade others by mocking them you are not doing justice to them and you are not doing justice to the deen of Islam. One should always be mindful of their conduct in dealing with non-Muslims and with one another for that matter.
“Behold, you received it on your tongues, and said out of your mouths things which you had no knowledge; and you thought it to be a light matter, while it was most serious in the sight of God.” [24:15]
In the end there will always be a difference of opinion regarding what to do. I am not a scholar and therefore I realize that I have no right to make a fatwa for or against whether Muslims can partake in the holidays of those from other religions. In the end I am accountable to God and it is for this reason that I will continue making my decisions based on the Quran, hadith and good old common sense. The only advice I can truly give is to remember that the message of the Prophet (SWS) was to build bridges and bring all of humanity together under one umbrella. We are not creating a cohesive or welcoming environment for non-Muslims when we laugh at them, belittle them and call them names like “kafir.” All we are doing is pushing people away from Islam.