Some people (Muslims) claim that greeting on Christmas, New Year, Diwali, Holi, etc. is forbidden and sinful; some Muslims even go further to call it polytheism and disbelief. Nevertheless, I offer my greetings to people of other faiths because I consider such things necessary for social harmony.
Looking at social media, one can notice that despite a campaign, Muslims greeting people on social and religious occasions has not fallen. Did they all leave Islam? Two days before the recent Christmas, I attended Friday prayers at a mosque located in an area with almost no Muslim population. The people joining the congregational prayers were mostly those working in offices. The Imam opened his sermon with a warning - it is not permissible to congratulate people on Christmas and that it’s a sinful act. He added that since Christians believe that Jesus is the son of God, therefore, greetings on his birthday go against Islam. He was speaking through a mike and his speech was audible to the residents.
A few months ago, I was in another mosque in Delhi for Friday prayers. There Imam Sahib said in his customary speech before the prayers that the Holy Quran asks Muslims not to be friends with Jews and Christians. No doubt this instruction is then expected to apply to all non-Muslims.
Imam Sahib explained the above command by quoting it out of context. Every verse of the Qur'an has a background which is called Shan e Nuzool. What the Imam said quoting a verse is also incomplete without its background.
It was Christmas Day and I was at home. My 18-year-old son asked me if it was okay for him to reciprocate the greetings of his friends on Christmas. With his question, I realized how far the echoes of what the Imams say in the mosques go. However, the Imams who are mostly ignorant of the world's happenings, do not know that they are doing a disservice to Islam. However, a smaller class of imams are wise, educated, and visionary too.
After that, I deliberately wrote a Christmas greeting message in Urdu on my Facebook page. I had no idea if any Urdu-knowing Christian was on my friends list but my post was flooded with angry messages. The vanguard of Facebook muftis and neophyte clerics attacked me.
A devout Muslim seeking Allah's blessings on Friday congregation (Basit Zargar)
Someone issued a fatwa against me calling me a follower of polytheism. They accused me of disbelief, a sinner; others quoted from the fatwas of Muftis and the Holy Quran, etc.
To them, I would like to say that in European countries mosques and Islamic centers have special arrangements on Christmas. The Muslims don’t limit themselves to offering greetings but distribute gifts to those facing financial difficulties. They can search on Google to know all about this practice.
Islam is the universal message of Allah and not a narrow-minded religion. It regards all human beings as children of one Adam and by this relation brothers and sisters. The Prophet of Islam conveyed the message of Allah to the enemies like Abu Jahl and Abu Lahab and also forgave his tormentors.
Those who stopped worshiping near the Kaaba and threw stones at Taif were also forgiven. The Qur'an and the Prophet's hadith have never divided human beings nor declared anyone as hateful simply because his religion is different. Sufis and scholars of Islam, who spread Islam especially chose regions with a higher population of non-Muslims. Just think of it - When Khwaja Moinuddin Chishty came to Ajmer, how many Muslims were settled here? When Hazrat Ashraf Jahangir Samnani made Kichhauchha the center of his spiritual invitation, how many Muslims were there? When Sheikh Sharafuddin Yahya Muniri made Bihar Sharif a place of residence, how many Muslims were there?
Conscious scholars and thoughtful thinkers know that Muslims can live with the principles of coexistence, whether in India England, or America. This thing will never be understood by these semi-literate gentlemen and their followers who spend a few years in Madrasas and start seeking livelihood and think they have a license to present arbitrary interpretations of the Quran and Hadith from mosques. Divisive sermons are fatal not only for the country but also for the Muslims. Just imagine how we can live if we are cut off from the country and society. How can we not greet the people we live with and share joys and sorrows at festivals?
In India, Jamaat-e-Islami Hind activists set up stalls at pujas and Hindu festival fairs. Its volunteers distribute water and other gifts, as well as Islamic literature and translations of the Holy Quran to non-Muslims. Often I have seen Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians participating in the programs of Jamaat-e-Islami Hind.
I live in a Muslim-majority area of the national capital, Delhi, but I belong to a village in Bihar of about 1,000 houses. Half of the villagers are Muslim and others are Hindu. Our closest neighbours are Hindus. Often houses of Hindus and Muslims share a wall; doors facing each other. Our ancestors have lived with each other for centuries in love and peace. They understood the practical exegesis of the principles of coexistence. Today, those who tell Muslims that greetings on Holi, Diwali, Christmas, and New Year are haram, sin, or shirk, are unknowingly doing the work of breaking social harmony.
They use weird logic. They say greeting people on Christmas means you acknowledge that God became father to his son, Jesus. Such self-styled bigots don’t know that greetings are offered on the birthdays of Hindu Gods doesn’t make a Muslim believe in the concept that ‘Ishwar’ takes a human form. In the writings of some scholars Sufis, Ram, Krishna, etc. are mentioned with great respect and Urdu poets have written eulogies for them.
I say with all humility that many scholars have said and written things for ages that have ended up dividing Muslims into sects, etc. This system has helped some Muslims label others as infidels, polytheists, and heretics and is self-destructive.
Once there was news in the media that some non-Muslim landlords have refused to rent their houses to Muslims, but it's seen that Muslims often prefer to stay cut off from people of other religions. Why complain about their actions? The level of social harmony that Muslims need in contemporary India may never have existed in the past. The reason is that there is a lot of hatred against Muslims in the media and Muslims will also respond to it with hatred, then it will be suicidal for the community and the country. From the experience of the 1947 riots, communities must learn to take the responsibility of nipping the divisive ideas in the bud.
Ghaus Sivani is an author and associated with Awaz-theVoice, Urdu