The Pagan Roots of Christmas and how a Muslim should behave during this Season

The word ‘Christmas’ means ‘mass of Christ’ which later became shortened to ‘Christ-mass’. It was the Roman Catholic Church who spread the term among other Christian denominations and non-Christians. So where did the Catholic Church get the celebration from? It is not in the New Testament, and certainly not in the Old Testament since that pre-dates the arrival of Jesus son of Mary by several hundred years. The truth is that the practice in its earliest form began well over three hundred years after Jesus (peace be upon him). Christmas was not practised by the disciples of Christ or his early followers. The celebration was a pagan practice introduced into the Christian faith by the Catholic Church. The Catholic Encyclopedia (1911 edition) itself states, “Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the church. The first evidence of the feast comes from Egypt… Pagan customs centring around the month of January gravitated to Christmas.”

So this was centuries after Jesus (peace be upon him) was taken up into the Heavens. In the same Catholic Encyclopedia under the title ‘Natal Day’, the early Catholic father, Origen stated, “In the Scriptures, no one is recorded to have kept a feast or held a banquet on his birthday. It was only the sinners who made great rejoicings over the day in which they were born into this world.”

In the 1946 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, it states, “Christmas (or the Mass of Christ) was not from the earliest festivals of the church.” It is clear from these short references that the well-known festival has no basis or authority in Scripture. The 1944 edition of Encyclopedia Americana states, “Christmas: It was, according to many authorities, not celebrated in the first centuries of the Christian Church.” Elsewhere the Encyclopedia states regarding Christmas, “A feast was established in memory of this event (i.e. the birth of Jesus) in the fourth century. In the fifth century, the Western Church ordered it to be celebrated forever on the day of the old Roman Feast of the birth of Sol, as no certain knowledge of the day of Christ’s birth existed.”

Sol was the solar deity in the Ancient Roman religion. According to at least one ancient source dating back to 354 CE, the Romans held a festival on the twenty-first of December called, “the birthday of the unconquered one” which refers to ‘Sol’, the solar deity. The winter solstice (or midwinter) marks the day with the shortest hours of daylight and the longest night of the year. The day after is the day when the sunlight hours start to extend once more, so they saw this a great day to be celebrated.

Julius Caesar introduced his own calendar in the year 45 BCE and he marked the winter solstice as the twenty-fifth of December, though it is actually the twenty-first or twenty-second of the month. It is this twenty-fifth day of December that eventually found its way into the Christian Religion, and is celebrated across the world by ill-informed and unlearned Christians, as well as groups of clueless Muslims and people of many other religions.

So for the first three hundred years after Jesus (peace be upon him), the celebration had no connection to Christianity, then in the fourth century it was instituted, and in the fifth, it was ordered by the Western Church. This is similar to what some Muslims have done by introducing a celebration in memory of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). These practices have no basis in scripture or revelation, rather they are latter-day innovations rooted in pagan festivals.

Once this information is absorbed and understood, we can clearly see that Christmas has nothing whatsoever to do with Jesus (peace be upon him) or the message he was sent with. Islam is very clear about such celebrations: they have no place in the lives of Muslims. Indeed, even Christians should distance themselves from such practices and really study the life of Jesus (peace be upon him) as reported in the Qur’an because it is clear that Christian leaders after the fourth century practically re-wrote the mission of Christ to suit their own doctrines, sectarian goals and ambitions.

Muslims participating in Non-Muslim Festivals and Celebrations.

The Messenger of Allah Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was the final Prophet of Almighty God. He was sent as a mercy to all of creation, a bringer of glad tiding to the pious who followed the Scriptures and a warner to the wrongdoers who opposed them. Prophet Muhammad followed the footsteps of the Messengers and Prophets before him. The Disciple, Abdullāh Ibn ‘Amr (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) stated,

إِنَّهُ لَمْ يَكُنْ نَبِيٌّ قَبْلِي إِلاَّ كَانَ حَقًّا عَلَيْهِ أَنْ يَدُلَّ أُمَّتَهُ عَلَى مَا يَعْلَمُهُ خَيْرًا لَهُمْ وَيُنْذِرَهُمْ مَا يَعْلَمُهُ شَرًّا لَهُمْ وَإِنَّ أُمَّتَكُمْ هَذِهِ جُعِلَتْ عَافِيَتُهَا فِي أَوَّلِهَا وَإِنَّ آخِرَهَا سَيُصِيبُهُمْ بَلاَءٌ وَأُمُورٌ يُنْكِرُونَهَا

“There was not a Prophet before me except that it was a duty upon him to guide his people to whatever he knew of goodness for them and to warn them from whatever he knew of evil for them. Indeed this nation of yours, its wellbeing is in its first part and its latter part will be afflicted with tribulations and things you will hate.” (An-Nasā’ī no. 4191) Through this final Prophet, Allah perfected the Religion, and completed His favour and chose for mankind the Religion He was was pleased with for them.

الْيَوْمَ يَئِسَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا مِن دِينِكُمْ فَلَا تَخْشَوْهُمْ وَاخْشَوْنِ ۚ الْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ وَأَتْمَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتِي وَرَضِيتُ لَكُمُ الْإِسْلَامَ دِينًا ۚ

“This day, those who have disbelieved have given up all hope of your religion, so fear them not, but fear Me. This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.” (Al-Mā’idah 5:3) This Revelation that was sent to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) is protected from loss and corruption. So no matter what individuals from the Muslim community engage in of misguided practices, they will never be able to alter the true message of Islam. It will remain as a preserved source for all those who seek guidance. The Revelation itself, whether the Qur’an or the Sunnah cannot be contaminated or corrupted because every assertion and claim can be measured against the original protected Revelation. Allah, Most High, said:

إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا الذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُ لَحَافِظُونَ

“Indeed, it is We who sent down the Revelation and indeed, We will be its preserver.” (Al-Hijr 15:9) And incursion into this final Revelation is rejected just as the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “Whoever introduces any practice into this Religion of ours will have it rejected.” (Bukhārī and Muslim)

Islam forbids imitation of the practices of other religions, and to participate in the festivals of those religions. The Disciple, Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) stated that when the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) migrated to Madinah, he saw that the people celebrated two specific days annually. Some scholars have stated that they were the holidays of the Persians. So the Prophet asked, “What are these two days?” They informed him that these were days of celebration of festivals from before the advent of Islam (i.e. from the era of jāhiliyyah). So he said,

إِنَّ اللَّهَ قَدْ أَبْدَلَكُمْ بِهِمَا خَيْرًا مِنْهُمَا يَوْمَ الأَضْحَى وَيَوْمَ الْفِطْرِ

“Indeed Allah has replaced these days with days better than them: the Day of Adhā and the Day of Fitr.” (Abu Dāwūd, no. 1134) The Day of Adhā is the ‘Eid celebration after the annual Hajj pilgrimage, and the Day of Fitr is the ‘Eid celebration after the fasting month of Ramadān. Islam does not allow for newly introduced practices borrowed from other religions because it considers those religions to be either manmade or a distortion of the messages of previous prophets as is clearly the case with the Christian religion and its celebration of Christmas. Whenever a person pursues the practices of other religions, Allah does not accept them:

وَمَن يَبْتَغِ غَيْرَ الْإِسْلَامِ دِينًا فَلَن يُقْبَلَ مِنْهُ وَهُوَ فِي الْآخِرَةِ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِينَ

“And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted from him, and in the Hereafter, he will be one of the losers.” (Āli ‘Imrān 3:85) So any religious practice or celebration that is not specifically referred to in the Islamic texts is not accepted by Allah, no matter how much the people seek to justify its practice. Some unlearned Muslims state that they celebrate these festivals as a part of their integration into the host country and its culture but Islam forbids any act that involves borrowing practices that are specific to other religions. That is because Islam has its own unique identity and law that has been laid down in the Qur’an and Sunnah. It is for that very reason that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) exchanged the days of celebration that were practised in Madinah with uniquely Islamic celebrations. And whoever opposes the Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) in his guidance and that of the earliest believers, then for them is a severe rebuke in the Qur’an:

وَمَن يُشَاقِقِ الرَّسُولَ مِن بَعْدِ مَا تَبَيَّنَ لَهُ الْهُدَىٰ وَيَتَّبِعْ غَيْرَ سَبِيلِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ نُوَلِّهِ مَا تَوَلَّىٰ وَنُصْلِهِ جَهَنَّمَ ۖ وَسَاءَتْ مَصِيرًا

“Whoever contradicts the Messenger after the right path has been shown clearly to him, and follows other than the path of the believers, We shall leave him in the path he has chosen, and burn him in Hell – what an evil destination.” (An-Nisā 4:115) So integration into any society should never entail a Muslim contradicting the commands of the Messenger, nor his guidance. When a Muslim seeks to resemble the non-Muslims in such matters it shows that he is not confident about his own religious identity and seeks the favour and approval of other faiths— and he attains that through imitating their religious practices. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said,

مَنْ تَشَبَّهَ بِقَوْمٍ فَهُوَ مِنْهُمْ

“Whoever resembles a people is from them.” (Abu Dawūd, no 4031) The more a person resembles a group of people, the more he counted among them. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) informed the Muslims, “You will surely follow the ways of those who came before you, handspan by handspan, cubit-length by cubit-length such if one of them enters into a lizards hole, you too will enter it.” They asked the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), “Do you intend the Jews and Christians?” He replied, “Who else?” (Bukhārī and Muslim) This narration perfectly fits the condition of those who follow the crowds in their celebration of Christmas, because it inolves following them blindly, without thought or reference to Islam and the Revelation— they mimmick without reflection: Firstly, Christmas is not rooted in the teachings of Jesus (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Secondly, it is an ancient pagan practice that revolved around the worship of the Sun and its deification. Thirdly, the Christians innovated this practice devoid of guidance and scripture. Fourthly and finally, the clueless Muslims follow them just as the Prophet foretold they would.

What should a Muslim do?

A Muslim should remain aloof from the celebrations of the non-Muslims, and explain to them that Islam is the Religion of God with its own unique heritage and distinct identity that does not allow us to indulge in un-Islamic practices and celebrations that are not explicitly mentioned in the Qur’an and Sunnah. If a person asks where is specifically disallowed to participate in the Religious festivals of the non-Muslims, then we have already cited the clear statement of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), “Indeed Allah has replaced these days with days better than them: the Day of Adhā and the Day of Fitr.” Added to this are the various other citations that forbid imitating the practices of other religions.

It is obligatory for a Muslim to avoid gathering at the non-Muslim places of worship and where they hold mass. The Prophet’s Companion, Abdullah Ibn ‘Amr (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “Whoever settles in the lands of the non-Muslims, then he celebrates their festivals of Nayrūz and Mahrajān (of the Persians), and he imitates them and then he dies whilst in that state, he will be gathered with them on the Day of Resurrection.” (Sunan Al-Kubrā of Al-Bayhaqī, 9/234, Ibn Taymiyyah stated that its chain of narration is authentic in Iqtidā As-Sirāt Al-Mustaqīm, 1/457)

Similarly, the Companion, ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattāb (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “Do not visit the polytheists in their churches on the days of their celebrations because that is when Allah’s anger descends upon them.” (Sunan Al-Kubrā, 9/234, Abdur-Razzāq in Al-Musannaf, no. 1609, Ibn Taymiyyah stated that its chain of narration is authentic in Iqtidā As-Sirāt Al-Mustaqīm, 1/455).

Ibn Taymiyyah after his citation of several narrations in this topic stated, “So if the anger of God descends upon them on the day of their festival due to their practices, then whoever joins them in their practices or in some of their practices, then is he not also subject to the same punishment?” (Al-Iqtidā, 1/458) He proceeds to explain that the texts prove that the greater one’s participation in the religious celebrations of the non-Muslims, the more he exposes himself to Allah’s anger.

Celebrating the so-called birthday of Jesus the son of Mary carries alongside it huge amounts of doctrine that contradict the core message of Islam such as their claim that “Jesus Christ, the only begotten son of God was born on this day.” Allah stated, “They have disbelieved who say: God is the Messiah son of Mary.” (Quran 5:72). The Christians worship him as a God and count him in the Trinity about which Allah said, “They have disbelieved who say: God is the third of three [in a Trinity].” (Quran 5:73). These affairs run contrary to Islamic teachings. So Muslims must avoid the celebrations of the non-Muslims and instead, be pleased with the blessings and bounties that Allah has granted them in Islam.

Ibn Taymiyyah (died 728 AH) said, “Whoever gives to the Muslims a gift on these days of celebration that is different to normal everyday practices outside of this celebration, then the gift is not accepted– especially if the gift is something that is used to aid in resembling them (in their religion) like the gift of candle wax and so on on the birthday [of Christ], or egg, milk and sheep on the Thursday [Christian Lent] at the end of their fasting days. Likewise, the Muslims are not to give gifts on these festivals due to it being a festivity [of non-Muslims] especially if it is something that will aid in resembling them as we have mentioned.” (Iqtidā as-Sirātil-Mustaqīm 2/12)

Ibn Nahās said, “And know that from the ugliest of innovations and the worst of them is the agreement of the Muslims with the Christians in their annual celebrations, in imitating them in their foods, actions, giving them gifts, and receiving gifts from them of food during their festivities. And this innovation is something experienced, and practiced by the people of Egypt—and in this, there is a weakness in one’s Religious adherence.” (See Tanbeeh al-Ghāfileen of Ibn Nahās, pp. 307-310)

The Permanent Committee of Scholars (Al-Lajnah ad-Dā’imah), Shaikh Ibn Bāz and Shaikh Abdur-Razzāq ‘Afīfī stated, “It is not permitted for the Muslim to eat that which was prepared by the Jews and Christians or idol-worshippers [specifically] for their days of festivities. And it is not permitted for the Muslims to accept a gift from them in celebration of those festivities because that contains honouring and cooperating with them in making apparent their religious symbols and furthering and promoting their innovations and partaking in the happiness of their festivals. And this may ultimately lead to taking on their festivals as our own festivals…” (22/398-399, Fatwa no. 2882)

Shaikh Ibn Uthaimīn was asked, “What is the ruling on congratulating the unbelievers during their Christmas celebrations? How are we to respond to them if they congratulate us with Merry Christmas?” So he answered, “Congratulating the non-Muslims during their Christmas celebrations or other religious celebrations is forbidden by a consensus cited by Ibn Al-Qayyim in his book, Ahkām Ahlidh-Dhimmah

If they congratulate us during their celebrations, then we do not respond to that, because it is not our celebration and it is a celebration that Allah is not pleased with. That is because either it is a celebration that they have innovated into their religion or it is one that is legislated in their religion but was abrogated with the advent of the religion of Islam which the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was sent with to the whole of mankind. It was regarding this that Allah said, “And whoever seeks a religion other than Islam, it will never be accepted from him, and in the Hereafter, he will be one of the losers.” (Āli ‘Imrān 3:85) Therefore, to accept an invitation from them at Christmas is forbidden because to participate with them (in a Christmas meal) is even more severe than congratulating them.” (Majmū’ Fatāwā 3/45-46, abridged)

So when a situation arises where a Muslim is congratulated with the words, “Merry Christmas” or “Happy new year”, then he or she should simply respond with, “Good day”, or “Good morning,” or “Good evening,” followed by, “Christmas is not my religious festival, I am a Muslim.” If they seek further clarity, then direct them to a person of knowledge, website or audio; or give them a booklet, leaflet or send them an article through your mobile device. At this time of year, it is always good to have a few leaflets with you (in your bag or pocket) so that you can help non-Muslims understand Islam and the Muslim position towards Christmas. This article itself is a useful read for Muslims in general and any non-Muslim.

You can also refer to the following article:

Jesus the Messiah in Islam, in Christianity and in reality: 10 points every Christian really must know.

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