The festive season that has just passed posed many lessons for me to ponder. One is with regards to "celebrating" the occasion of Christmas by exchanging gifts, and second, in wishing someone else's a "Merry Christmas!" By extension, the issue also includes wishing someone else a "Happy New Year!"
As a preamble, I just wish to say that in my personal opinion, we are all sweating out on the small stuffs and missing out on the big picture/important things. Or, we are magnifying small issues into big ones as smokescreens for our failures on other real issues that matter, such as discerning quality of education, lack of internalizing our faith, lack of emotional maturity of the Ummah, and the list goes on.
But first, in this short musing, I must say how irritating it is to keep receiving constant queries, year after year, of the permissibility of wishing someone else's a "Merry Christmas." But, my irritation is not upon the common Muslims who are earnestly striving to be good Muslims, but on the commanding, divisive (and condemning) opinions of the "specialists" (note: I did not use the word 'scholars' on purpose).
Such absolute opinions (being either just black or white on issues) on the exclusivity of a Muslims' place in this world reeks of ignorance, insensitive irrelevance and narrow-mindedness of a person living in this world community. I am fine if that is a personal choice of one's own character, but if that is his 'learned religious opinion,' it has devastating implications on Islam and the way Muslims and others view Islam. That is a real concern, because Islam is a vast and extensive way of life. It is not as narrow as sometimes we make Islam out to be.
If such opinions are allowed to prevail, Muslims will slowly and surely, become hollow individuals devoid of contextual realities of his world. Much to my chagrin, with the addition of this and other hollowed opinions, it will even drive Muslims away from their own religion as seemingly burdensome.
I just want to close this chapter by inviting you to consider this logic: if by wishing others a "Merry Christmas" we automatically become a kafir or Christian, then it must lead to the logical conclusion that if a Christian were to wish us "Selamat Hari Raya," then equally and automatically he will become a Muslim. Its the only conclusion - this is Logic 101 learned by first year philosophy undergraduates. This should suffice to prove the absurdity of such arguments as seen circulating on the internet.
On the issue of exchanging gifts, this is not the exclusive culture of Christmas. In Islam, our Beloved Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. said in a hadith: “Exchange gifts. This will generate mutual feelings of love and eliminate feelings of animosity and estrangement from your hearts.” [Mishkat]
But why do we only associate this practice with Christmas? The logical answer is simple: instead of simply labeling this practice as "haram" or blaming St Nicholas - it is because Muslims are not practicing this Sunnah. This is the simple truth.
Therefore, let us start cultivating this habit of exchanging gifts (it is not the amount that matters, but your sincerity). Perhaps one day in the foreseeable future, insyaAllah, the world will attribute the practice of exchanging gifts as an Islamic culture instead. Then, as an Ummah, we will have arrived.
But for now, forget about the things that distracts us. Harness our intellects, our hearts and our minds into being a good Muslim and into being a beneficial human being.
Islam is not a religion for simpletons. It demands that we think for our faith. Think, and your understanding will set you free.
This is the beauty of Faith.