Official Reply: Celebration of Christmas by Minhaj-ul-Quran for promoting interfaith Dialogue
Abu al-Awwab Hashmi
Some people having vested interests dub ceremonies organized to celebrate Christmas under the banner of Directorate of Interfaith Relations of MQI and Muslim-Christian Dialogue Forum (MCDF) as opposed to the Holy Quran and Hadith and violation of the Islamic teachings. They criticize Shaykh-ul-Islam Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri for his patronage of such functions. Responding to such objections and malicious propaganda campaign has not been the practice of MQI. However, some associates and workers of MQI are of the view that since such mentally perverted people misguide others by posting material on internet, therefore, the issue needs to be presented in correct perspective. This explains why this write-up has been written.
It is important to keep in mind at the outset and there are no two opinions on it that Christmas is purely a Christian religious festival and it is not desirable that the Muslims celebrate it. The Christmas ceremonies held under the aegis of MQI and its centres abroad are purely meant for the Christian community and not for the Muslims. The members of the Christian community participate in these programs, while the leaders of MQI take part in such ceremonies as a mark of solidarity and good will. Neither is Christmas celebrated as Islamic festival nor is it meant for the Muslims. Therefore, this is totally baseless allegation that the purpose of holding Christmas programs is to popularize this festival among the Muslims or to be affiliated with the Christians.
This point is worthy of mention that it was MQI, which expressed solidarity with the Christian community some twelve years ago but now it has become a standard practice of the religious scholars of various sects in Pakistan. Every year the pictures of Christmas celebrations wherein the leaders of the diverse Muslim religious opinion also participate and cut cakes are published in the national newspapers. Therefore, it is justified to demand of those who object to MQI and its leader that they should also pass religious verdict on these people.
It is the result of reconciliatory approach employed by Minhaj-ul-Quran International that there is a decline in the hatred against the Muslim community at the global level and other nations have started coming closer to the Muslims. They organize feasts and programs to celebrate the Muslim festivals as has happened in the UK at the official level (its details would follow). Likewise, the programs on Mawalid al-Nabi (blessings and peace be upon him) have started to be held in the Churches of Pakistan.
It is the fruit of MQI’s reconciliatory efforts and policies aimed at promotion of peace that Mawlid al-Nabi (blessings and peace be upon him) Conference was held in the Baptist Church in February 2010 for the first time in the history of the sub-continent. So much so that the Christian community organized protest demonstrations as a mark of solidarity and support for the Muslims against the blasphemous images of the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him). A meeting held in Presbyterian Church in Noulakha is a case in point in which the Christian community joined hands with their Muslim counterparts in condemning the blasphemous images. On declaration of online competition of blasphemous caricatures on Facebook, the organizers had to face to stiff resistance from within the western world. Resultantly, they had to abandon their pernicious and unholy plan.
Pastor Terry Jones, a priest from Florida State, declared to celebrate 9/11 as the “Burn Quran Day”. But following the severe criticism from the Muslim and non-Muslim world, he withdrew his decision. These steps were made possible by following a policy of reconciliation and harmony.
Dear readers! The world has become a global village in the contemporary age. Muslims live in their large numbers in the Christian and non-Muslim worlds. They enjoy complete freedom to celebrate religious festivals and practice their religious values and injunctions in these countries. Large-sized mosques have been built up there where the faithful offer their prayers five-times-a-day including the Friday prayer. Muslims book huge halls and big parks and celebrate Eids collectively. The Muslim students are given holiday on the occasions of Eid etc. The governments of these countries and other organizations arrange meetings at the official level and the Muslims are invited to these programs.
On the occasions of religious festivals of the Muslims, the foreign leaders and heads of states felicitate and wish their Muslim counterparts every year. We read and hear their statements on Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha and the advent of holy month of Ramadan in the papers and on TV channels. I was invited to one such program on Eid al-Fitr by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office this year where a large number of Muslims including religious scholars belonging to all sects and businessmen were also present. Five ministers of the British cabinet also attended the function. Few days after the Eid al-Adha, Eid get-together was arranged at the 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the British Prime Minister for the first time in UK’s history. The proceedings of the program got underway with the recitation of the Holy Quran followed by Na`t and recitation of sending the blessings on the Holy Prophet. The arrangement of post-Eid get-togethers for the Muslim expatriate community by the western governments and other political and social organizations has become a standard practice these days.
In order to secure the rights and ensure safety of the Muslims living in the non-Muslim communities, it is important to convey a message to the host countries that Islam is an inclusive religion, which discourages conservatism and stands for human integration and establishment of a cosmopolitan society. If the Muslims also choose to reciprocate the feelings of goodwill on the religions festivals of the non-Muslims, there is no harm in doing so.
Minorities enjoy equal rights in Islamic state including the complete religious freedom. Their life and honour enjoys as much sanctity as does that of a Muslim. They have the same set of rights and duties as their Muslim counterparts. Imam Abu Yusuf narrates in Kitab al-Kharaj that when Khalid b. al-Walid (may Allah be well pleased with him) went to Iraq and Iran from the borders of Syria and Damascus on the orders of the first Caliph Abu Bakr al-Siddiqu, the agreement he struck with the local residents of Aanat contained the following provisions:
Their Churches and convents would not be demolished.
They can play their music instruments without any constraint except during the prayers time.
They can take out their Cross on Christmas.
There are a number of incidents in the life of the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) wherein he allowed the non-Muslims to celebrate their festivals uninterruptedly with complete independence. He also allowed the Muslims to celebrate pre-Islamic festivals within the limits of the Islamic law. A few examples are given here below:
1. There is an agreed upon narration of al-Bukhari and Muslim:
عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ رضي اﷲ عنهما أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم لَمَّا قَدِمَ الْمَدِيْنَةَ وَجَدَهُمْ يَصُوْمُوْنَ يَوْمًا يَعْنِي عَاشُوْرَاءَ؟ فَقَالُوْا: هَذَا يَوْمٌ عَظِيْمٌ وَهُوَ يَوْمٌ نَجَّى اﷲُ فِيْهِ مُوسَى، وَأَغْرَقَ آلَ فِرْعَوْنَ فَصَامَ مُوْسَى شُکْرًا ﷲِ. فَقَالَ: أَنَا أَوْلَى بِمُوْسَى مِنْهُمْ، فَصَامَهُ وَأَمَرَ بِصِيَامِهِ.
It is reported by Abu Abd Allah b. Abbas (may Allah be well pleased with him) that when the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) migrated to Medina, he found the Jews of Medina keeping fast on the 10th of Muharram. He enquired the reason of keeping fast. They told that on this very day, Allah Almighty had freed the Children of Israel from the oppression of Pharaoh by drowning him with his entire battalions and blessed Musa (peace be upon him) with victory. Musa (peace be upon him) kept fast to pay his gratitude to his Lord. So we also keep fast to mark the same. At this the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) said: (Being a Prophet), I have more right on Musa (peace be upon him). Then he also kept fast himself on the same day and ordained (his Companions) to keep fast. (Narrated by al-Bukhari in al-Sahih, vol.2, p. 704 # 1900; and Muslim in al-Sahih, vol. 2, pp. 795–796 # 1130.)
According to this agreed upon hadith, on the basis of his prophetic relationship with Musa (peace be upon him), the Holy Prophet Muhammad (blessings and peace be upon him) kept fast himself and also ordered his Companions to do the same. Secondly, the Jews were allowed to celebrate this day as per their traditions. Thus the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) established a grand example of Islam being a religion of love, mercy and peaceful coexistence.
2. According to another agreed upon tradition, it is clearly proven that once the Holy Prophet Muhammad (blessings and peace be upon him) was at his home on the occasion of Eid when the girls of Medinan Helpers were singing a song. The tradition is as follows:
عَنْ عَائِشَةَ رضي اﷲ عنها قَالَتْ: دَخَلَ أَبُوْبَکْرٍ وَعِنْدِي جَارِيَتَانِ مِنْ جَوَارِيَ الْأَنْصَارِ تُغَنِّيَانِ بِمَا تَقَاوَلَتِ الْأَنْصَارُ يَوْمَ بُعَاثَ. قَالَتْ: وَلَيْسَتَا بِمُغَنِّيَتَيْنِ. فَقَالَ أَبُوْبَکْرٍ: أَمَزَامِيْرُ الشَّيْطَانِ فِي بَيْتِ رَسُوْلِ اﷲِ صلى اﷲ عليه وآله وسلم؟ وَذَلِکَ فِي يَومِ عِيْدٍ. فَقَالَ رَسُوْلُ اﷲِ صلى اﷲ عليه وآله وسلم: يَا أَبَا بَکْرٍ، إِنَّ لِکُلِّ قَوْمٍ عِيْدًا وَهَذَا عِيْدُنَا.
Narrated by Aisha (may Allah be well pleased with her). She said that Abu Bakr (may Allah be well pleased with him) came and two girls of the Medinan Helpers were singing songs of bravery demonstrated on the occasion of battle of Bu`ath. She says that they were not (professional) singers. Abu Bakr (may Allah be well pleased with him) said: Satanic music instruments in the home of the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him)! And this is what happened on the Day of Eid. The Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) said: O Abu Bakr! Every nation has Eid (to celebrate) and this is our Eid (so do not scold these girls). (Narrated by al-Bukhari in al-Sahih, vol. 1, p. 324 # 909; and Muslim in al-Sahih, vol. 2, p. 607 # 892.)
The traditions reported in Ibn Hibban’s al-Sahih prove that by the days of Eid were meant the days of Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca).
Establishing Islam as a moderate faith, the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) did not forbid the Muslim girls to sing those songs which was related to the pre-Islamic days. He went to the extent of restraining Hazrat Abu Baker Saddiqu from scolding these girls. What can be a greater example of Islam being an accommodating religion that the Muslims remember the incidents of their period of ignorance on the occasion of Eid!
3. Another agreed upon hadith proves that in 7th year of Hegira, a delegation from Abyssinia presented their local dance in the courtyard of the Prophet’s Mosque on their festival. The Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) did not forbid them. He not only saw it himself but also made Aisha (may Allah be well pleased with her) see the scene by standing behind him. The words of reported tradition in Sahih Muslim are:
عَنْ عَائِشَةَ رضي اﷲ عنها قَالَتْ: وَاﷲِ، لَقَدْ رَأَيْتُ رَسُوْلَ اﷲِ صلى اﷲ عليه وآله وسلم يَقُوْمُ عَلَى بَابِ حُجْرَتِي، وَالْحَبَشَةُ يَلْعَبُوْنَ بِحِرَابِهِمْ فِي مَسْجِدِ رَسُوْلِ اﷲِ صلى اﷲ عليه وآله وسلم، يَسْتُرُنِي بِرِدَائِهِ لِکَي أَنْظُرَ إِلَي لَعِبِهِمْ ثُمَّ يَقُوْمُ مِنْ أَجْلِي، حَتَّي أَکُوْنَ أَنَا الَّتِي أَنْصَرِفُ.
Aisha (may Allah be well pleased with her) narrates that she saw the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) standing at the door of her room and the Negroes were doing war exercises in the Mosque of the Prophet with their weapons. The Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) was hiding me in his blanket so that I could continue watching their exercises. The Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) kept on standing there for my sake until I was done with it and I myself returned from there. (Narrated by al-Bukhari in al-Sahih, vol. 1, p. 173 # 443; and Muslim in al-Sahih, vol. 2, p. 608–609 # 892.)
The last words of Tradition prove that the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) continued observing the sport for a long time and this is how he presented practical example of moderation and accommodation of Islamic faith.
Abu Hurayra (may Allah be well pleased with him) has narrated the same tradition in the following words:
بَيْنَا الْحَبَشَةُ يَلْعَبُوْنَ عِنْدَ النَّبِيِّ صلى اﷲ عليه وآله وسلم بِحِرَابِهِمْ (وفي رواية للبخاري: فِي الْمَسْجِدِ) دَخَلَ عُمَرُ فَأَهْوَى إِلَى الْحَصَى، فَحَصَبَهُمْ بِهَا، فَقَالَ: دَعْهُمْ، يَا عُمَرُ.
Some Negroes were playing with their weapons in the presence of the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him). Hazrat Umar (may Allah be well pleased with him) came and descended to pick up pebbles so that he could stop them. (Forbidding him), he said at this: O Umar! Do not forbid them! (Narrated by al-Bukhari in al-Sahih, vol. 3, p. 1063 # 2745; and Muslim in al-Sahih, vol. 2, p. 610 # 893.)
The hadith reported by Imam Nasai and Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal contain the following words:
فَقَالَ رَسُوْلُ اﷲِ صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم: دَعْهُمْ، يَا عُمَرُ فَإِنَّمَا هُمْ بَنُوْ أَرْفِدَةَ.
The Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) said: O Umar! Leave them. Verily, they (belong to) Banu Arfida (i.e., people of Abyssinia). (Narrated by al-Nasai in al-Sunan, vol. 3, p. 196 # 1596; and Ahmad b. Hanbal in al-Musnad, vol. 2, pp. 308, 540 # 8066, 10980.)
This narration is also reported by Aisha (may Allah be well pleased with her) in which she mentioned the incidents of girls of Medinan Helpers and sport of the Negroes together. The narration goes like this:
عَنْ عَائِشَةَ رضي اﷲ عنها قَالَتْ: دَخَلَ عَلَيَّ رَسُوْلُ اﷲِ صلى اﷲ عليه وآله وسلم وَعِنْدِي جَارِيَتَانِ تُغَنِّيَانِ بِغِنَاءِ بُعَاثَ، فَاضْطَجَعَ عَلَي الْفِرَاشِ وَحَوَّلَ وَجْهَهُ، وَدَخَلَ أَبُوْ بَکْرٍ، فَانْتَهَرَنِي، وَقَالَ: مِزْمَارَةُ الشَّيْطَانِ عِنْدَ النَّبِيِّ صلى اﷲ عليه وآله وسلم؟ فَأَقْبَلَ عَلَيْهِ رَسُوْلُ اﷲِ صلى اﷲ عليه وآله وسلم فَقَالَ: دَعْهُمَا، فَلَمَّا غَفَلَ، غَمَزْتُهُمَا، فَخَرَجَتَا، وَکَانَ يَوْمَ عِيْدٍ يَلْعَبُ السُّوْدَانُ بِالدَّرَقِ وَالْحِرَابِ، فَإِمَّا سَأَلْتُ النَّبِيَّ صلى اﷲ عليه وآله وسلم وَإِمَّا قَالَ: تَشْتَهِيْنَ تَنْظُرِيْنَ؟ فَقُلْتُ: نَعَمْ، فَأَقَامَنِي وَرَاءَهُ، خَدِّي عَلَى خَدِّهِ، وَهُوَ يَقُوْلُ: دُوْنَکُمْ يَا بَنِي أَرْفِدَةَ، حَتَّي إِذَا مَلِلْتُ قَالَ: حَسْبُکِ؟ قُلْتُ: نَعَمْ، قَالَ: فَاذْهَبِي.
It is narrated by Aisha (may Allah be well pleased with her) that she said that the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) came to her and two girls (standing with her) were singing songs related to the battle of Bu`ath. He retired on the bed with a view to taking rest and turned his face towards another side (for sake of rest). Then Abu Bakr Siddique (may Allah be well pleased with him) came there and he scolded me pointing to Satanic music instruments in the presence of the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him). At this, the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) got attentive to Abu Bakr Siddiqu (may Allah be well pleased with him) and said: (Abu Baker) leave them. (Aisha says that) when Abu Bakr drew his attention away, I pointed to the girls to leave. Likewise, it was a day of Eid of (Negroes) and Negroes were playing with their shields and weapons. I submitted to the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) (or he said it himself): (O Ayesha! do) you want to see? I submitted: Yes. He made me stand behind him and my cheeks were closer to those of the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) and he (blessings and peace be upon him) kept on saying: O people of Arfida, show more till when I got fed up, he said to me: Enough? I said: yes (O Prophet of Allah)! He said: Turn away. (Narrated by al-Bukhari in al-Sahih, vol. 1, p. 323 # 907; and Muslim in al-Sahih, vol. 2, p. 609 # 892.)
Ibn Hajr al-Asqalani, interpreter of Sahih al-Bukhari, interprets this narration in Fath al-Bari (vol. 2, p. 443): “Aisha (may Allah be well pleased with her) says that “it was a day of Eid.” So this shows that this Hadith has been derived in the same manner as the other one, which states that “people of Abyssinia were dancing in the Mosque on that day”. The mentioned tradition of al-Zuhri states that “people of Abyssinia would play in the Mosque” and in another tradition, he has added words (with their weapons of war). The tradition narrated by Muslim states the following words: (people of Abyssinia came to the Mosque to dance). Muhibb al-Din al-Tabari says that this context suggests that it was their habit on every Eid that they would play in the Mosque (with their weapons of war). It is stated in the tradition reported by Ibn Hibban that when the delegation from Abyssinia came over, they began dancing in the Mosque (with their weapons of war) and this suggests that they were granted permission of this on their arrival. There is no contradiction between both things because it is very probable that they may have come there on Eid and it may be their habit to play on Eid. So they might have done this as per their habit. Then they may have started doing so on every Eid. This stance is also supported by a tradition which Abu Dawud has quoted Anas (may Allah be well pleased with him) as saying that he said: When the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) came to Medina, the people of Abyssinia danced with their weapons of war as demonstration of happiness on his arrival and there is no doubt about this that to them, the day of the Holy Prophet’s (blessings and peace be upon him) arrival in Medina was far more prestigious than days of Eid (and all other happiness).”
Dear Readers! One objection raised by a particular section of people is that the Christians regard the Prophet Isa (peace be upon him) as their Lord and majority of them believe in the Trinity. Therefore, they utter such sentences in the Christmas ceremonies which are in conflict with the real concept of Oneness (Monotheism). What one can say by way of answer is that this view was also held by the Christians of the Holy Prophet’s (blessings and peace be upon him) times. The Holy Quran states about this belief of Christians:
لَقَدْ کَفَرَ الَّذِيْنَ قَالُوْۤا اِنَّ اﷲَ ثَالِثُ ثَلَـثَةٍ وَمَا مِنْ اِلَهٍ اِلَّآ اِلَـهٌ وَّاحِدٌ.
Certainly, they (also) become disbelievers who say: ‘Allah is the third of the three (Gods),’ whereas there is none worthy of worship except the One God. (al-Ma`ida, 5:73)
Allah Almighty says in the Holy Quran at verse number 171 of al-Nisa:
اِنَّمَا الْمَسِيْحُ عِيْسَى ابْنُ مَرْيَمَ رَسُوْلُ اﷲِ وَکَلِمَتُه، اَلْقَهَآ اِلَى مَرْيَمَ وَرُوْحٌ مِّنْهُ فَاَمِنُوْا بِاﷲِ وَرُسُلِهِ وَلَا تَقُوْلُوْا ثَلَـثَةٌ.
The fact is simple that the Messiah, ‘Isa, son of Maryam (Jesus, son of Mary) is Allah’s Messenger and His Word which He conveyed to Maryam (Mary) and a Spirit from Him. So believe in Allah and His Messengers and do not say: ‘There are three (Gods).’
Likewise, it was also the belief of the Jews that `Uzayr (peace be upon him) was the son of Allah. The Holy Quran says:
وَقَالَتِ الْيَهُودُ عُزَيْرُ نِ ابْنُ اﷲِ وَقَالَتِ النَّصَرَى الْمَسِيحُ ابْنُ اﷲِ.
And the Jews said: ‘‘Uzayr (Ezra) is the son of Allah,’ and the Christians said: ‘The Messiah is the son of Allah.’ (al-Tawba, 9:30)
But despite all that, the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) inked agreements with the Jews of Medina, gave them complete religious freedom as head of the Medina state and decided matters according to their religious law.
In the same manner, despite the belief of Trinity held by the Christians, the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) meted out humane treatment towards them. So much so when Islam attained victory, a Christian delegation of Najran stayed in the holy city of Medina for twenty days and performed worship as per their religious law in the Prophet’s Mosque. It must be kept in mind that the Christians subscribed to the creed of Trinity at that time. But we do not come across any hadith or narration whereby the Holy Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) might have entered into debate with the Christians about their belief or placed such condition that they would not perform worship based on utterance characterized by polytheism in his Mosque.
That is why the Holy Quran has restrained the Muslims from castigating the false gods of others lest they should also speak ill of true God of the Muslims. Allah Almighty says:
وَلاَ تَسُبُّوا الَّذِيْنَ يَدْعُوْنَ مِنْ دُوْنِ اﷲِ فَيَسُبُّوا اﷲََ عَدْوًا بِغَيْرِ عِلْمٍ.
And, (O Muslims,) do not abuse these (false gods) these (polytheists) worship besides Allah, lest these people should (also, in retaliation,) revile against Allah’s Glory wrongfully due to ignorance. (al-An`am, 6:108)
It becomes manifestly clear from the above-mentioned incidents and authentic traditions that Islam stands for tolerance, moderation and accommodation. Therefore in the present times when Islam is being castigated as promoter of extremism and terrorism in the world, the participation of the religious and political leaders of religious parties and governments in the religious festivals of other religions should not be regarded as something harmful. This would help project real face of Islam, which has otherwise been blighted by the scars of terrorism and extremism. We need to promote the real teachings of Islam in the world such as tolerance, endurance, peaceful coexistence, justice, fair play and love. In a globalized world where distances are of no consequences, reaching out to people of other faiths in a spirit of harmony is what constitutes the best service rendered to promote the cause of Islam in the world. It calls for employment rational and logical understanding of Islamic teachings. However, those mired in ignorance cannot help themselves. About such people, the Holy Quran says:
صُمٌّ بُکْمٌ عُمْيٌ فَهُمْ لَا يَرْجِعُوْنَ.
They are deaf, dumb and blind. So they will not return (to the right path). (al-Baqara, 2:18)
The purpose of arranging Christmas ceremonies for the Christians under the banner of MQI is not to encourage common people to participate in their programs at mass-scale or to start holding such functions of Christmas. The symbolism involved in holding these programs is to promote the interfaith goodwill and tolerance. These endeavours are geared to build bridges by plugging the gulf between Muslims and non-Muslims so that Islam is known as a religion which promotes peace, harmony and integration.