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Hussam has been a lifelong human rights activist who is passionate about promoting democratic societies, in the US and worldwide, in which all people, including immigrants, workers, minorities, and the poor enjoy freedom, justice, economic justice, respect, and equality. Mr. Ayloush frequently lectures on Islam, media relations, civil rights, hate crimes and international affairs. He has consistently appeared in local, national, and international media. Full biography at: http://hussamayloush.blogspot.com/2006/08/biography-of-hussam-ayloush.html

Friday, December 22, 2006

Muslim-Americans share Christmas spirit, revere Jesus, reject materialism

The Press-Enterprise
Thursday, December 21, 2006
By HUSSAM AYLOUSH

A number of religious celebrations are converging yet again this month, adding to the festive holiday atmosphere, and allowing Americans an opportunity to ponder and change things for the better.

For the past five years, the fact that the end of Muslim religious observances, Ramadan or the Hajj, coincided with Christmas made this period more memorable for my family (this year, the Hajj season started Thursday, and Hajj activities begin around Dec. 29). We immersed ourselves in remembering God's blessings and mercy and will do the same on the occasion of the birth of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps to the surprise of some Americans, Jesus holds a special place in both the Christian and Islamic faiths. Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus, is ingrained in the mainstream culture and is generally celebrated on three levels -- it is practiced privately, manifested in public displays and government-sanctioned holidays, and it is commercialized through department store sales and discounts.

Fast and Pray

When I was a college student in Texas, I had the pleasure of staying with a Christian family with three generations represented at the dinner table on Christmas Eve.

Those times reminded me of family dinners at my house during Ramadan, the monthlong fast during which Muslims deny themselves food, drink and other pleasures during the day.

Although we do not celebrate Christmas, Muslims around the world respect and follow Jesus, as they do other prophets in Islam -- Abraham, Moses, David, Noah, John the Baptist and Muhammad.

In observing Islamic traditions, Muslims celebrate only two holidays, Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha (Dec. 31, 2006), marking the end of Ramadan and the end of the Hajj, respectively.

We celebrate the birth of Jesus and all other prophets privately by fasting, praying and being thankful that God sent them to teach mankind about peace, justice and compassion.

Be Inclusive

During this time of year, government agencies impart the Christmas spirit by featuring Christmas trees or other ornaments on public property. We tread on shaky ground when we attempt to mix religion and state this way, no matter how honorable our intentions.

In government institutions, it is more appropriate and constitutionally sound to be inclusive and reflective of different holiday celebrations rather than celebrate one and risk alienating a segment of the community.

The First Amendment is clear in prohibiting government from favoring or establishing a state religion. So, Americans should neither shy away from displaying a range of holiday-themed symbols -- such as a Christmas tree, a menorah and a crescent -- nor view attempts to include other traditions as a threat to Christian values.

America stands for diversity and represents all faiths and backgrounds. It is through engagement of all communities in the mainstream that we will come to understand and accept one another.

Focus on Spirit

Many think that Christmas is cheapened by the pervasive consumerism seen on television and at malls. Thanksgiving and Christmas sales, even lights and decorations on storefronts, are all signs of a capitalist society at work. Jesus could not care less for such minutiae. Neither can I.

An appetite for buying and gift-giving in itself, as thoughtful as it may be, does not exhibit the true spirit of Christmas.

If there is one lesson we can all take away this Christmas, it is remembering that the essence is Jesus and his teachings. Let us treat each other the way we want to be treated. Let us, as a society, place the same value on other religions as we place on ours. Let us be more appreciative of one another and engage more with one another.

Hussam Ayloush is executive director of the Anaheim-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, Southern California.

9 comments:

Steven Estrada said...

Hello Hussam
Happy Holidays

I wrote a comment to this post but lost it. I should always use Word then cut and paste. I wanted to comment because this post reminds me of the original reasons I wanted to contact you (a better way to say some important things). You offered some good information including Muslim religious observances and about how Jesus is revered by Muslims. Many non-Muslims don’t know about your religion and I bet many would be shocked to learn about the respect for Jesus. This is very important information.

You then get into some of your issues with how Xmas is celebrated. Your title is very revealing. You speak of sharing Christmas spirit, revering Jesus, and then you follow these two wonderful sentiments with “reject materialism”. Ouch! Instead of “reject materialism” maybe “can’t wait for things to get back to normal”. Where is your Christmas spirit? I’ve got to wonder what you think of someone like me that has always celebrated Christmas with honoring the birth of Jesus and gift giving as two of the main components of the holiday.

You mention the shaky ground when religion and the state are mixed together. You speak of government being appropriate and constitutionally sound in terms of inclusion and alienation. You refer to the First Amendment and establishment of a state religion. You do promote a range of holiday related symbols, but you caution Christians to not feel threatened by this broader range. (More to follow on this point) You include yourself with those who think Xmas is cheapened by our American consumerism. My favorite comment was when you wrote about how you and Jesus feel the same about “minutiae” Wow!

The above summary is to show the contrast that exists in your post. On one hand you offer enlightening information. Information that I believe has the potential to unite people. Then you drop the hammer and basically attack how most Americans celebrate Xmas. The average reader will miss your enlightening information because of feeling attacked. Your article appeared in the Press-Enterprise so I can assume there were many average readers who read your words. I’m not sure what your goal was with these readers.

You touched on the subject of how Christians may be threatened by other Holiday traditions. It’s not the inclusion of other traditions that is of concern. It is the taking away of Christian traditions that has Christians taking notice. I won’t get into to detail here, but when “Happy Holidays” became a better choice than “Merry Christmas” we were all forced to take sides. We can discuss the details until we’re exhausted from the endless circles that this subject will generate. I think a better use of our time is how we add to our holiday not how we take away from it. Jesus and gift giving are good parts of how America celebrates Christmas. I’m open to anything else that promotes peace on earth and good will towards men. Amen!

Hussam Ayloush said...

Hi Steve,

I hope that you had a joyful Christmas with your family. Also, happy new year. I pray that this new year brings with it peace and justice to all.

Thanks for your comment. Here are my quick responses:

- I had nothing to do with the title. As all titles, they are always chosen by the newspaper editors. I would not have picked that title.

- I actually think that exchanging gifts is a nice thing, as I said in my piece. What I criticized was those who have turned Christmas to a mere exercise of shop 'til you drop. Steve, you have to remember that Christmas is not only an American holiday. It is an international one and if you visit other parts of the world you will see that other Christians, such as in the Middle East (the birthpalce of Christianity) are managing, with difficulty, to use Christmas day to remember Christ more than indulge in shopping.

- Keep in mind that Jesus is one of Islam's most important figures. A Muslim like me sharing how Muslims remember Jesus and revere him should not be perceived as an attack on Christmas. Different people celebrate Jesus' birth in different ways.

- As Americans, we all have the right and duty to ensure that America remains a pluralistic society and country as our Constitution requires. Encouraging religious inclusion should not be confused by an attempt to undermine Christianity or Christmas. I made my point very clear in my article, please re-read.

- Steve, I think that you are mixing up my article with other debates on Christmas out there. You talk about your concern about "the taking away of Christian traditions that has Christians taking notice" and about "when “Happy Holidays” became a better choice than “Merry Christmas” we were all forced to take sides." I am not sure how such issues specifically relate to my article. I did not discuss any of those issues. If you wish, I can discuss them in a future article.

- My article was merely an American Muslim perspective on the various manifestations of Christmas in my country. As I said before, my aim is not to say what will make others happy. That would be dishonest. My aim is to share my honst views in the hope that we all better understand and appreciate each other as fellow human beings and fellow Americans.

Best regards.

Michael Wagner said...

Dear Mr. Ayloush,

I was raised as a Catholic. Now, I am a spiritual Catholic who has not been to church for a long while. I remember a time when Christmas meant more than just sales at the malls. It is ironic that a Muslim would remind us that Christmas is really about the message of Christ. I guess we can all, Christians and Muslims, use this reminder.

Jill Davis said...

Mr. Estrada,
I read the article twice and as a devout Christian I could not find anything offensive to me. In fact, the growing attempts to materialize Christmas was the topic of a sermon last month at my church. If no action is done, Christmas will just become a secular holiday like the 4th of July or Labor Day.
If anything, we should all add our voice to that of Ayloush and not feel defensive that he is saying what we should all be saying.

Joanne Burke said...

Someone forwarded me your blog. I have to say that I was glued to it, reading many of your articles. I was very pleased and in full agreement with what I read.
You must get those articles into the mainstream media to let Americans hear your commnunity's rational voice. We are made to believe that there are no moderate Muslims in the world. Now I know that this is not true.
Keep writing and I will keep reading.

Steven Estrada said...

Hello Hussam

I didn't know that the title wasn't your's. Oops! I enjoyed reading the other comments.I can't argue about the excess materialism
but like you said some of it is nice.

You said you're not sure what your article had to do with my comments about "Merry Christmas" turning into "Happy Holidays". A further discussion/article is a good idea.
I think the message of Jesus is worth expanding.

I would just like to see a focus
that is more about what's right and important about Christmas
and less about what's not.

The information you offer is very important. I don't want it to get lost or missed because of how you deliver your message. I know your aim is not to say things just to make people happy. I really do get this and support you. You still have a battle to win hearts and minds. My only goal is to help you achieve this.

I always look at things from how most people will comprehend. I will continue to encourage you to consider this approach. Who can I write to about that title?

Happy New Year

Steve

Robert said...

America is a Christian country. If you can't celebrate Christmas or swear on our Bible then leave.
Joanne Burke, you are a very naive to believe that there is such a thing as a moderate or tolerant Muslim.

Anonymous said...

Robert

America is a religious country. Not a Christian one.

What about the great contribution of the Jews? Science, law, and commerce. Do you wish for them to leave as well?

As a Christian, and some one who is not all together comfortable with Muslims, I read Hussam's column frequently. I agree with Joanne that is it refreshing to hear the voice of moderate Muslims. I hope 2007 is the year of cooperation.

Hussam, thanks for this blog and your voice of reason. While I doubt we agree on everything, I enjoy the opportunity to hear your views.

Hussam Ayloush said...

Thanks to all who are commenting. For the sake of fairness and openness, I would ask people not to write as anonymous. Please use your name.