Wishing you the best during the holidays and into the New Year. This is one of my favorite times of the year, because December isn’t any longer just a month leading up to Christmas, but it also leads up to Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, the start of a New Year and many many more holidays. More and more people are embracing celebrating their religious holiday in an interfaith style. Only a few weeks ago, I sat at my desk with my sparkly mini-Christmas tree, listening to Christmas music on Pandora and unknowingly began singing-a-long while responding to e-mails, when my colleague started laughing and said, “There’s something wonderful about a Muslim singing Christmas carols”. It made me smile to know that I had unintentionally shown him my appreciation for his religious holiday- and also grateful for my parents decision to send me to a Catholic school when I was younger!
People question me about whether a Muslim can celebrate Christmas or go into a church….and I don’t mean other Muslims, but also non-Muslims. This questioning always leads to a longer conversation about pluralism, traditions, and sacredness. But, to me when I’m asked about why I like Christmas carols or celebrating other religious holidays, I always think to the Christmas Sermon on Peace by Martin Luther King Jr. and his insistence that not only are we “all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny”, but everyone can make Christmas more than just a ‘utopian’ ideal by having good will toward men; because as MLK said, “If we don’t have good will toward men in this world, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own instruments and our own power.” Yes, religious holidays have been capitalized on and transformed into hallmark holidays, but at the same time they mean something to people who can’t even afford a hallmark card. Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us of this by describing his experience in India:
Yes, as nations and individuals, we are interdependent. I have spoken to you before of our visit to India some years ago. It was a marvelous experience; but I say to you this morning that there were those depressing moments. How can one avoid being depressed when one sees with one’s own eyes evidences of millions of people going to bed hungry at night? How can one avoid being depressed when one sees with ones own eyes thousands of people sleeping on the sidewalks at night? More than a million people sleep on the sidewalks of Bombay every night; more than half a million sleep on the sidewalks of Calcutta every night. They have no houses to go into. They have no beds to sleep in. As I beheld these conditions, something within me cried out: “Can we in America stand idly by and not be concerned?” And an answer came: “Oh, no!” And I started thinking about the fact that right here in our country we spend millions of dollars every day to store surplus food; and I said to myself: “I know where we can store that food free of charge? in the wrinkled stomachs of the millions of God’s children in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and even in our own nation, who go to bed hungry at night.”
It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. Did you ever stop to think that you can’t leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that’s handed to you by a Pacific islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that’s given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that’s poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that’s poured into your cup by a Chinese. Or maybe you’re desirous of having cocoa for breakfast, and that’s poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that’s given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half of the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality. – Martin Luther King Jr. The Christmas Sermon On Peace in on Dec 24, 1967
I celebrate Christmas, not just because I like Christmas music, but also because the celebratory spirit of December makes me feel connected to everyone and everything around me. During this month people embrace the golden rule and treat others as they want to be treated- and that one rule is also in Islam. Hence, the reason I celebrate with my family, friends and neighbors, because I’m treating them the way they are treating me- by showing me kindness with gifts and love.