MY TRANSITION FROM AMERICAN TO ISLAMIC HOLIDAYS
Updated: Jun 25, 2020
By Raya Shokatfard
Driving through the streets of Ashland, Oregon in 2010 and just days before Christmas, with all lights and decorations as far as I could see and visit stores, I had an incredible sensation that words cannot express. I was there on a visit after five years.
It was only a few years ago that my kids and I looked forward to these colorful days to buy gifts, decorate our Christmas tree and wait for the magic moment to open our presents. It seemed as if this time families around the country would make plans to visit; have the famous ham and turkey dinners with apple pie and lots of delicious goodies to fill a person for a whole week.
This was our world. Although I was born and raised in a Muslim country, I had no problem to leave all that and integrate into the new American culture and embrace all that they embraced. I wanted to be one of them and I became just that at the expense of leaving Islam.
My kids were more Americans than I was as they never experienced the Middle Eastern culture and family celebrations. They were born in US with an American father and were fully American other than some blood in their genes that said they are part Middle Eastern.
We celebrated all holidays and, as we finished one, we looked forward to the next. Sadly though, each one would cost money, especially Christmas. But this was a given fact of life.
Some people would save up all year so they can buy loads of Christmas presents for their loved ones.
I never thought I would live any other way until the table turned completely!
Discontented with the western material life, I looked for more meaningful spiritual fulfillment.
After a long journey of embracing other religions, I finally found Islam as the only religion that answered all my questions and the only one God that I could worship without slipping into worshipping others or multiple gods.
Upon my return to Islam, I had to take a hard look at not only my inner spiritual life, but also how I lived outwardly and if it was according to the Islamic way of life. I started questioning the Christmas celebrations and dug into it deep to see where it came from. It was highly unlikely to me that Jesus sanctioned such extravagance and waste for his birthday.
I found that Jesus never celebrated his birthday, neither did his followers. It was only 300 years after Jesus and through the reign of Constantine that many things changed. As the king converted to Christianity, many pagan customs were merged with Christianity. One most important one was Christmas which was a pagan holiday known as “Saturnalia” on December 25th.
It is clear that Jesus was not born in winter but in summer or spring as the shepherds were grazing their flock and the wise men following stars to find the new born Jesus, according to the Bible.
I knew that I could not compete with all the Christmas activities. One cannot get away from it, no matter which way we looked.
Thus Jesus time and day of his birth has not been a matter of dispute among the scholars as not being December 25th., but centuries of following a certain custom, and you can’t get people away from it.
Searching into the origins of other American holidays, I found that nearly all had pagan origins. This realization had such a huge impact on me that I was willing to sacrifice anything in order to fully embrace Islam and stay on track.
Children & The Christmas Dilemma
Giving up all the holidays as well as some other activities that were not sanctioned by Islam was not easy for my kids. Even I struggled at times, but after looking for the right religion for 15 years, I was not about to jeopardize my faith to satisfy my feelings. I was getting stronger by the day through studies and connection with Muslim communities.
I found being connected with a community of like-minded Muslims would make a world of difference, especially for the kids. They all celebrated the two Eids and had functions that were suitable for Muslims.
In fact in my community, there were mostly converts and some were the good old America cowboys with their horses and ten gallon hats. Some were like mountain people and lived a very rural life. To my surprise, these were the ones who were more adamant in leaving Western holidays and adhering to Islamic ones. They would ask their non-Muslim relatives to withhold the Christmas gifts for the kids till the Eid and many were successful in this.
Well, I did the same, as my extended family was also American and non-Muslim. It took a while but they were very respectful of our choice and abode by the request.
I knew that I could not compete with all the Christmas activities. One cannot get away from it, no matter which way we looked. So, I had to find substitutes for the kids to make it ok for them to restrict so many holidays for only two.
They seemed to be ok with it and always helped decorate the house for the Eids and we exchanged gifts. But I knew deep inside of them, they were missing the holidays as the Islamic faith had not grown deep in their hearts. Had they not been a part of all these celebrations for many years, would have made a big difference, but there were, by then, one of the members of American Society.
There are many Muslim schools in the U.S. with Islamic curriculum that suits the needs of the Muslim children.
This was manifested once they left home and went to university. They were homeschooled all the way through elementary and high-school with academic and Islamic education, but once on their own, they returned celebrating all the holidays. What does that tell us?
To live in a non-Muslim country, expose your kids to that life and expect them to behave like a practicing Muslim is an unrealistic expectation each parent has to know. If they are too isolated then they cannot function in the society once they are on their own. So what is the solution?
Frankly, there is no easy solution. Of course the best would be to move to a Muslim country; but not many people are able to do so. Also letting kids go to public school where all holidays are celebrated would either cause the Muslim kids to feel isolated, or he/she would join.
There are many Muslim schools in the U.S. with Islamic curriculum that suits the needs of the Muslim children. The problem is that most of the levels will not reach high school due to lack of trained teachers or funding.
So, the kids will go from one extreme to another once they enter public schools and universities, and the end result, we find many kids just join the environment they are in.
Parents are saddened and pressured to do something, but by the time the kids reach high school or university age, the control will be in their own hands.
Perhaps we cannot solve all problems Muslims living in the West have rearing their kids, but one thing we can do for sure, is to start with ourselves if we are single, we concentrate on strengthening our faith and do our best to stay with the community of Muslims, as this was suggested by Prophet Muhammad and if we have a family, we need to find creative ways to involve, educate and entertain them.
I lived in the US for most of my life and when I finally moved to Egypt, I saw the huge difference. Although there are Christians living in Egypt and can freely celebrate their holidays, one will hardly notice western holidays there. It seems that the whole society is bound together with the Islamic holidays and traditions.
In Ramadan, streets would be blocked due to the over-crowds spilling out of the mosques. In my first Eid in Egypt, when I was walking with some friends to a mosque to pray, I started crying. I saw people by thousands were flocking toward the mosques to pray and many city streets were blocked to accommodate the crowd. People were praying in streets long ways away from the mosques!
I cried with joy to see such unity and at the same time realized all the years that I missed this. How I wished I had the wisdom to move out of US when my kids were much younger!
Published on: Friday, 20 December 2013