Thursday, December 22, 2011

A first Christmas.

New tradition: Take photos that look like decorated Christmas trees.

Instead of the Dutchman's last Christmas, this year on 25 December, will be my first Christmas.

Last year I escaped this dilemma of whether to spend Christmas with his family, by escaping to Belgium to visit a friend where I ate a yummy Christmas dinner with her family and watched them open presents. (I know, the irony isn't lost on me.)

But this year we are dutifully spending three days on his mother's side and one afternoon on the father's side. All in Dutch (but of course!).

Since he became a Muslim in the eyes of the law and society of my country, there's been some social pressure for him to behave according to the social norms of Malay Muslims. Specifically, he should try to become as conventionally Malay (learn Malay, dress Malay) and as conventionally Muslim (celebrate only the two Eids, and a handful of optional celebrations) as possible.

But we decided that he should not give up a tradition that grew up with, because there are aspects of it that are good. We are not trying to Islamise the entire celebration, but we are looking carefully and critically at the purposes and intentions of the aspects of the celebrations. Because listening to scholars just makes me feel close-minded and dangerously arrogant at the superiority of being exclusive.

How does saying 'Merry Christmas' become equivalent to drinking alcohol and eating pork? Because a scholar thinks he has the power to forbid. And a prominent American male convert says that this is copying the religion or deen of others.  Oh heck, sometimes you don't even have to give a reason -- just say it is haraam.

The purported pagan origins of the 25 December Christmas is another reason for Muslims to not partake or acknowledge it. Then how do we deal with the 7 January Christmas of Orthodox Christianity? While we like to point fingers at other religions, we hardly look at ourselves. What about the links of dubious Muslim 'celebrations' of certain dates in the Islamic calendar beyond those clearly stipulated in the Qur'an, sometimes based on weak ahadith, but celebrated anyway? Let's not say that we just follow what people have done before (5:104).

Here's a wonderful piece by a female convert who tries to incorporate Muslim, Christian and secular traditions into her interfaith family. I especially liked that she took the opportunity to present Saint Nicholas to her daughter as a pious man. Another learning opportunity for the end of the year is to talk about Mary, the mother of the Prophet Jesus (she's the only woman mentioned by name in the Qur'an by the way!) -- this is exactly what a mosque-based theatre group is doing on 24 December.

I am starting to think about this more and more, since it will be important when we have children, in order for them to have meaningful family traditions that does not ignore both our upbringings.

Right now though, we are doing what we have chosen to for the same reason as the author above (2:83, 4:36, 6:151,17:23, 19:14, 29:8, etc.). We're "showing kindness" to his mother, who basically brought him up to be a man with amazing, upright character and a compassionate personality. Besides, she's cooking stuffed organic chicken when she doesn't usually cook. How can I leave roast chicken to waste! :)

We may not share the same religious beliefs but hey, as long as she's not bringing up Geert Wilders in every conversation, and respects our beliefs, we've decided that we can have a halal dinner with her and the extended family. We will give her presents and a nice handmade card because I consider gift-giving a secular aspect of Christmas.

You'd be heartless to reject a sheep wearing a hat.

Besides, for much of Dutch society, Christmas is a time to meet the family, eat good food, and buy nice things for others. As a testament to the secularity that they are so proud of: churches, which are normally empty for most of the year, needs to give out 2 euro tickets for Kerstmis or Mass on the eve of Christmas.

I'm looking forward to my sharing my first Christmas with a fellow Muslim -- can you tell?

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