Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), and fataawa (religious rulings), are specialized topics in Islam. One thing about them both is when you render a ruling in each of the two disciplines, you must give your premise or thesis it’s proper intellectual due process according to the foundation of the discipline. The same goes for enjoining the good and forbidding the evil. All three disciplines of the sharia mentioned above, are themselves bound by the sharia.
In other words, in Islam, the eventualities of law, are bound by the law. The foundation of all actions, (other than acts of worship) is that the basis of an action is permissibility; (al-asl fee ash’yaa’i al-ibaaha) That is the way that legitimate sharia rulings and application work.
Keeping family ties is one of the foundational commands of Islam. It is part of what Allah and His Messenger (SAWS) called to ever since the beginning of the prophethood. “Allah the Most High said: “And serve Allah and do not associate any thing with Him, and be good to the parents and to the near of kin and to the orphans and the needy and the neighbour of (your) kin and the alien neighbour, and the companion on a journey and the way-farer and to those whom your right hands possess; surely Allah does not love him who is proud, boastful.” There is nothing in the Quran or the Sunna that even indicates that this command is abrogated on a particular day, or a particular holiday, or on a particular occasion. It is not the sunna of the Prophet (SAWS) to separate yourself from your non-Muslim family when you become Muslim if they are not fighting you in your religion and not kicking you out of your homes. That is the sunna of the ignorant. Those who call to or promote such behavior are calling to other than Islam. “Allah forbids you not from being kind and just to those who do not fight you in religion, and do not kick you out of your homes, for verily Allah loves the just” 60:8 al-Mumtahina
The basis of the ruling of permissibility
Christmas Day is a man made holiday. Religious to some, secular to others. However, in each case, the rendering of December 25th as a United States national holiday commemorating the birth of Jesus the son of Mary (AS), who Muslims regard as a prophet, and who some Christians regard as the son of God is not sufficient to invalidate any of the commands, exhortations, and instructions of Allah Be He Exalted and Glorified. Nor is it sufficient to render prohibited, what Allah has made allowable. Men and women, who are the creations of Allah, cannot invalidate the words and commands of Allah, who is their Creator. Thus, visiting one’s family, an action allowed and encourage by the Lord, Allah, Who has no partners, is just as allowable for a Muslim on Christmas day, as it is the day before Christmas, or the day after. Otherwise, we would be taking Christmas day, as a day in which spending time with, eating with, or visiting our Christian family members, as a day in which these acts become prohibited, and we have no authority from Allah, to do that. That itself, would be making Christmas day a partner with Allah (shirk). We would be in such case, allowing a man-made holiday, render prohibited, what Allah has allowed, which would be clearly associating partners with the Lord. Ignorance, and putting our whims above what Allah has revealed, has it’s consequences. I’d like you to take a moment and let this sink in. Furthermore, an individual Muslim is not held accountable for what another person believes or does according to our scriptures. “And the bearer of a sin, does not bear the burden of another“.
But isn’t Christmas Day a shirk holiday?
There is no such thing as a shirk holiday. There are actions that can be regarded as shirk, there are beliefs that can be regarded as shirk, and there are days that to some, celebrate beliefs regarded as shirk. American Muslims cannot control people’s holidays, beliefs or their times of joy, sadness or celebration. You can only control what you believe, what you do and who you worship on any given day. Allah does not curse any of His days. There is not a single day that Allah has cursed in His Kitaab. All of the days belong to Him and days are a part of time and the Prophet (SAWS) prohibited us from cursing time. It was narrated in the hadith of Abu Hurraira that the Prophet (SAWS) said, “Do not curse the time, because Allah is time (dahr)” – Muslim. He also said (SAWS) Allah said; “Ibn Adam troubles me, he curses the time, and I am the time, I flip night and day” – Bukhaari. That’s why there are no shirk days. Shirk does not have a day. On every day that there will ever be, until the last day, it shall remain that there is no God except Allah. Which is further proof, that you cannot haram a people’s holiday. You can only render haram, what people do on any particular day, and you can only do it with authority and with proof. Otherwise, you can easily end up forging a lie against Allah, which is considered a sin. “Do not utter the lies your tongues make up: “This is lawful, and this is forbidden,” in order to impute lies to God; for they who impute lies to God will not find fulfilment“. 16:116
Wouldn’t visiting them on Christmas day be shirk by association?
If you visit your family on Christmas Day and even if they are in prostration before a statue of Jesus (AS), that does not make you a mushrik, or supporting shirk. It just makes you a visitor in their home. Just as it would if you visited the day before, or the day after. It might even be the home where you yourself lives. If you show kindness to them on that day, it doesn’t mean you are supporting shirk, it just means that you are supporting kindness. Every soul will be held accountable for it’s own deeds. That is scripture. Don’t let Christmas or Christmas day prevent you from showing the kindness and connection with your family that you have been showing to them all of the other days of the year. To do so, is shirk itself by singling out a particular day to boycott your family, whereas Allah has commanded that you be connected to them. Ignorance of religion has its price.
Is visiting my family on Christmas, shirk by proxy?
Shirk by proxy is a notion born out of ignorance of the Sunna of the Prophet (SAWS). To be clear, there is no such thing is Islam as “supporting shirk” by proxy. That is something made up by people unfamiliar with our laws. Either you worship a god other than Allah, or you don’t. There is no such thing as worshipping other than Allah by support or by association with someone who does. Such a belief is totally false. The Prophet’s uncle, Abbaas ibn Muttallib was allowed to stay behind in Mecca when the Prophet (SAWS) made the hijra to Medina in order to conduct the distribution of zam zam water at the Ka’ba, as that was the responsibility of Banu Haashim. At the time there were 360 idols in the Ka’aba and people used to come from all around to worship them. Yet, Abbaas who was Muslim, oversaw giving them zam zam water to quench their thirst, and the Prophet allowed that.
Should I boycott my family on Christmas day?
In the 13 years that the Prophet (SAWS) spent in Mecca after he was dispatched as the Messenger of Allah, the majority of Banu Haashim were idol worshippers. There is no evidence at all that he boycotted visiting them, or being around them on the particular days of their festivals, holidays, and special gatherings. To prohibit people from being with their families on Christmas or any other da is to make prohibited what Allah has allowed without evidence. “And do not say about what your tongues assert of untruth, “This is lawful and this is unlawful,” to invent falsehood about Allah . Indeed, those who invent falsehood about Allah will not succeed.” 16:116 There is no evidence anywhere in the Quran or the Sunna that prohibits Muslims from visiting with their families on any day of the year, and boycotting family gatherings was not the Sunna of the Prophet (SAWS).
But What about accepting their gifts, feeling joy, admiring Christmas lights, or watching or liking a Christmas story or related movie?
Gibing gifts back and forth is a basic human social function that has gone on for thousands of years. Accepting gifts are permissible in Islam, unless you know for a fact that the gift was stolen, acquired by unlawful means, or the person had no right to give you the gift as it belonged to someone else other than the gift giver. In such a case, you should return the gift to it’s lawful owner. “Verily Allah commands that you return the trust (amaanaat) to it’s (lawful) owners“. Otherwise, accepting gifts from a non-Muslim, a Christian, a Jew, a polytheist, or an atheists is permissible in the religion of Islam. This is true whether the person is giving the gift because of a specials occasion, as payment, as a sign of gratitude, or as a peace offering. A Muslim has the full right to refuse any gift he or she wants to. However, to render a gift unlawful without evidence is to make something haram (prohibited), that Allah has made permissible.
Additionally, to even suggest that a Muslim, by accepting a gift from their family on Christmas, or humming a Christmas song, or feeling any joy about the season by witnessing an act of kindness, or seeing a touching Christmas story on the news, or watching “A Christmas Carol” on cable, or admiring Christmas lights downtown, or to be happy seeing their non-Muslim family members happy, that somehow, they are intending to commit shirk, or assisting shirk, or agreeing with shirk, is a suggestion without merit, or proof from the Kitaab or the Sunna. Although such prohibition is a popular notion amongst dome Muslims in the United States, it is not backed by any evidence except whim. It also suggests that we, as American Muslims are complete idiots. That we’re no more than dumb animals, and that our faith is not really faith at all, but just a fleeting sentiment. If by accepting a gift from your relatives on Christmas day, you are acknowledging that Jesus is the son of god, or if you must say that as a condition of accepting a gift, then it is prohibited. However, that has never been the case (urf) in the United States in our relationship with our non-Muslim families. The Prophet (SAWS) said that, “Deeds are reckoned by intention” [Muslim]
What about eating with my family on Christmas?
Eating is a fundamental act of human existence and survival. “There is not upon the blind [any] constraint nor upon the lame constraint nor upon the ill constraint nor upon yourselves when that you eat from your [own] houses or the houses of your fathers or the houses of your mothers or the houses of your brothers or the houses of your sisters or the houses of your father’s brothers or the houses of your father’s sisters or the houses of your mother’s brothers or the houses of your mother’s sisters or [from houses] whose keys you possess or [from the house] of your friend. There is no blame upon you whether you eat together or separately. But when you enter houses, give greetings of peace upon each other – a greeting from Allah, blessed and good. Thus does Allah make clear to you the verses [of ordinance] that you may understand.” This verse is not abrogated because of Christmas day, Thanksgiving day, or any other day. Holidays made by men do not abrogate verses of Kitaabullaah which were sent down from seven heavens.
Can’t I simply visit my non-Muslim family members on another day besides Christmas?
Yes, you can visit them anytime that is normal and convenient for you and them. That is not the issue in this ruling. The issue here is making it prohibited to visit your family, or enter their homes on Christmas day or any other particular day that recurs every year, or every month or every week. Entering the homes of your family, and sitting with them, visiting them, sharing food with them, sharing time with them, are all permissible by Quran and Sunna. It being Christmas, Thanksgiving, Palm Sunday, Easter, or New Years day, does not render visiting them prohibited. These are simply popular notions circulating around some Muslims in the United States and perhaps elsewhere. However, these notions are not based upon our religious laws or the practices of our Prophet (SAWS).
It is permissible for a Muslim to visit his or her family on Christmas day, just as it is permissible for them to do so the day after or the day before. The fact that it is a holiday to them does not make visiting them haram. There is no evidence in our scriptures or in the life of the Prophet (SAWS) or the companions to that effect. This is why the Prophet (SAWS) never even approached this topic in the first place. And Allah knows best.
Imam Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad
Imam Abu Laith is an Imam and resident scholar at the The Toledo Masjid al-Islam, He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org