For Muslims, Prophet Isa (Jesus) is of great significance. He is considered one of the Ulul-Azm Prophets and of the ones given a Divine Book. The depth of his position can be understood from the fact that the Quran mentions the day he was born. In Surah Maryam, verse 33, the Quran states:
وَالسَّلامُ عَلَيَّ يَومَ وُلِدتُ وَيَومَ أَموتُ وَيَومَ أُبعَثُ حَيًّا
Peace is to me the day I was born, and the day I die, and the day I am raised alive.’
Since the Quran recognises the day of Prophet Isa’s birth as significant, and with Christmas being the traditional date linked to Jesus’ birth, Muslims often find themselves indulged in the ‘Christmas spirit’. In light of this, an important question arises: does Islam consider Christmas (25th December) as the birth of Prophet Isa, and how far can Muslims celebrate this event?
Birth of Jesus in Christian Sources
The discussion regarding the birth of the Prophet Jesus is connected with the complexities of the Christmas narrative. When we look at Christian literature, it presents various possibilities for Jesus’ birth year, location and date. For example, in the texts, we find that for the place of his birth, Bethlehem Judea and Bethlehem Galilee are considered the most probable locations.
Similarly, narratives concerning the year of his birth vary from 3 BC to 6 BC.
However, the trickiest part is finding the precise date of Prophet Jesus’ birth. The biblical scriptures do not mention any date and even amongst the varying dates mentioned by early Christian groups, 25th December was never considered correct.
So, where did 25th December come from?
The most widely accepted theory associating December 25th with the birth of Jesus comes from the 3rd century AD. In Western Europe, people participated in pagan celebrations on this date, making sacrifices to Odin and the planet Saturn. Hence, the Roman Emperor Constantine strategically established December 25th as a day to commemorate the birth of Jesus, aiming to redirect people’s focus from pagan rituals towards a Christian observance.
Birth of Jesus in Islam
When we examine Islamic literature, we find that the Imams of Ahlulbayt have provided insights into Prophet Jesus’ birth, according to both the Islamic and Gregorian calendars.
In one narration, Hassan ibn Ali Al-Washaa narrates that on the night of the 25th Dhul al-Qa’da, Imam Ali al-Reza said, “On the night of twenty-fifth of Dhul al-Qa’da, Ibrahim (peace be upon him) was born and Jesus son of Mary (peace be upon him) was born…” [Wasail al-Shia, Vol. 10. Pg. 449]
Similarly, Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq was informed about Christians claiming the night of (after) 24th December to be the night of Jesus’ birth. The Imam rejected their claim by stating, “They utter a lie. It (the night of his birth) is in the middle of June.” [Tuhfal Uqool, Pg. 375]
Islam’s Key Problem With Christmas
Even though Islam does not consider Christmas as the day of Prophet Isa’s birth, it does not have a problem with celebrating this day. The real problem is the underlying belief that Christmas represents, as it is used as a symbol to express gratitude for the birth of ‘God’s son’.
The notion that Jesus was born out of God’s flesh as His son, or even as God Himself in human form, poses a great concern. Not only does Islam deny this belief, but the Holy Quran considers those who accept this idea as disbelievers.
The Holy Quran in Surah Maidah, verse 72, states:
لَقَد كَفَرَ الَّذينَ قالوا إِنَّ اللَّهَ هُوَ المَسيحُ ابنُ مَريَمَ
They are certainly faithless who say, ‘Allah is the Messiah, son of Mary.’
Thus, in Islamic principles, if Christmas promotes the idea of Jesus being the son of God, celebrating it will be regarded as participating in Kufr (infidelity).
Taking Inspiration From The People of Cave
In Christian-majority communities, Muslims may encounter the challenge of blending into the festive atmosphere. Some Muslims might experience peer pressure in their community or workplaces to participate in these festivities. And considering most Christmas celebrations promote the idea of the Trinity, the challenge to avoid them or limit participation is real.
In the Quran, Allah dictates two inspirations for Muslims to learn from in order to navigate through such societal influences.
i) The first and the most relatable example of this issue is that of ‘Ashaab al-Kahf’ or the ‘People of the Cave’. This small group of Christians resisted the concept of the Trinity despite facing threats from their townspeople and king. Eventually, they chose to leave the town for the sake of Allah and for that they were praised in the Quran.
In Surah Kahf, verses 9 and 13, respectively, the Quran says:
أَم حَسِبتَ أَنَّ أَصحابَ الكَهفِ وَالرَّقيمِ كانوا مِن آياتِنا عَجَبًا
Do you suppose that the Companions of the Cave and the Inscription were among Our wonderful signs?
نَحنُ نَقُصُّ عَلَيكَ نَبَأَهُم بِالحَقِّ ۚ إِنَّهُم فِتيَةٌ آمَنوا بِرَبِّهِم وَزِدناهُم هُدًى
We relate to you their account in truth. They were indeed youths who had faith in their Lord, and We had enhanced them in guidance
ii) Similarly, Prophet Ibrahim rejected the norms of his time, by denouncing Kufr in the form of idol worship and associating partners with God. Despite pressures and attempts at assassination from his community, Prophet Ibrahim did not budge and for this reason, Allah rewarded him with the title of ‘Hanif’, ‘someone devoted to the worship of one true God’.
So is it Haram to celebrate Christmas? What Do The Maraje Say?
The ruling is pretty straightforward in this regard. If one’s celebration does not promote the core belief (Holy Trinity) that the majority of Christians hold today, there’s no harm in it. The Maraje allows us to celebrate Christmas with our families or exchange greetings and gifts with our Christian neighbours and colleagues. However, there are some key considerations that a Muslim, particularly a follower of Ahlulbayt, must follow while celebrating this day:
- Stay away from Fasad
Any gathering that involves forbidden activities must be strictly avoided. This includes parties involving alcohol, music, etc.
- Do it differently
Make sure your celebrations reflect your beliefs about Jesus, as a Muslim. For example, when giving Christmas cards to your Christian colleagues, include verses of the Quran related to him.
- Avoid Christian rituals
Even though Christmas trees and the story of Santa Claus became part of Christmas celebrations later on, they now represent the Christian identity, so it is preferable to avoid them.
- Give priority to the Holy Infallibles
Under no circumstances should Christmas celebrations be greater than the commemoration of the days associated with the holy Imams of Ahlulbayt– especially the later Imams.
- Consider the environmental impact and Israf
Ensure that Christmas celebrations are not harming the environment and cannot be considered as extravagant spending. Consider spending on beneficial causes instead of these celebrations.
The Quran encourages socialising, building connections and understanding people in our surroundings. In Surah Hujurat, verse 13, the Quran says:
يا أَيُّهَا النّاسُ إِنّا خَلَقناكُم مِن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثىٰ وَجَعَلناكُم شُعوبًا وَقَبائِلَ لِتَعارَفوا ۚ إِنَّ أَكرَمَكُم عِندَ اللَّهِ أَتقاكُم ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَليمٌ خَبيرٌ
O mankind! Indeed We created you from a male and a female, and made you nations and tribes that you may identify yourselves with one another. Indeed the noblest of you in the sight of Allah is the most Godwary among you. Indeed Allah is all-knowing, all-aware.
However, this socialisation should not come at the expense of compromising Islamic beliefs or Muslim identity.