Dilly Hussain: What Christmas meant to me as a kid and what it means to me now

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Deputy Editor of 5Pillars, Dilly Hussain appeared on Channel 4’s 4thought.tv last year and explained what Christmas meant to him as a British born Muslim.

I was surprised when 4thought.tv selected the angle they went ahead with for their documentary. The actual interview itself took nearly two hours and within that time we discussed many topics including Christmas, the secularisation of Christianity, the position of Prophet Isa/Jesus (as) in Islam, and how capitalism has commercialised the birth of Jesus.

The director of 4thought.tv, Marie Irvine was a very interesting person. Originally from Northern Ireland, she was born into a Roman Catholic family but didn’t believe in a God – there was a lot we spoke during filming.

What Christmas meant to my father

Marie and her cameraman had lunch round mines, and over rice and curry she asked my father what Christmas meant to him when he arrived in the UK during the early 1960’s.

My father explained to Marie that up until his 30’s, he and his friends celebrated Christmas, which included going out for meals, gifting work colleagues with presants or forwardly saying “Merry Christmas” to non-Muslims.

He described how he felt that third generation Muslims have changed their outlook compared to their fathers and grandfathers who came to Britain as economic migrants. My father said that the Muslim youth of today hold on to their Islamic identity with confidence in comparison to their forefathers who didn’t hesitate to imitate white English folk to be “accepted”, and at times were apprehensive to be overtly Muslim (whether in discussion or appearance) in fear of racial attacks.

What Christmas means to me

This is my stance on Christmas and Muslims celebrating it:

– As a child, I enjoyed Christmas very much and looked forward to it. Even though there was no acknowledgement of it in my house, it was mainly due to school trips, colourful decorations and the school nativity play, which I partook in.

– Christmas holidays would involve visiting family (who were off from work or studies), watching lots of television (Home Alone, Snow Man etc) and shopping on Boxing Day with Dad.

– In my early teens, I began attending Qur’an classes at mosque and started reading up on the lives of the Prophets (as). When studying the life of Jesus (pbuh), I realised how distorted and different the Christian account of his life was compared with Islam’s, and since then I stopped acknowledging Christmas; which from my understanding had more to do with Coco Cola’s version of Santa Clause and Roman Hellenistic pagan symbols.

– Throughout university and then working in a office environment after graduating with predominantly non-Muslims, I refrained from Christmas parties. However, I used this opportunity to discuss the subject of Christmas and the life of Jesus, as many of my colleagues were either “Christian by name”, atheists or agnostics.

– I believe Christmas has been hijacked and commercialised by corporate capitalists, and the true message and example of Jesus has become non-existent. Evidently, Christmas has become more about shopping-mania and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, the latter which inevitably results in increased immorality and criminality during the “festive” period.

– I follow the opinion (there is only one opinion on this matter) that actively celebrating Christmas or any other religious festival besides an Islamic one is sinful. However, there is no harm with returning Christmas greetings with generic responses such as “enjoy the holidays”, “best wishes” or “happy holidays”, and receiving lawful gifts from non-Muslim/Christian neighbours, friends and colleagues.

– People are entitled to believe and follow what they want. God has blessed mankind with free will and it’s upon this free will that we will be judged upon. I have absolutely no intention to impose my way of life on anyone – similarly, no one should impose their way of life on me just because celebrating Christmas is somehow perceived as a “cultural norm” of being “British”.

– Like every other Muslim, I have a duty towards my brethren. I desire for them what I desire for myself, and ultimately that is Paradise. So if I do meet Muslims who celebrate Christmas, it is incumbent on me to tell them what the Islamic position is on this matter –  what they do after hearing my advice is between them and God.

Dilly’s 4thought.tv clips is no longer accessible online. It was aired on Thursday 26th December 2013 on Channel 4.