Dec 21, 2012

The Santa Dilemma

By Tara DeLancey AlOmari


This article, aimed at convert sisters, will briefly discuss how to realistically instruct your children during this holiday experience, without compromising their beliefs or becoming a holiday “Scrooge.” No matter how much you may try to isolate your children, the fact is that the “Santa thing” is so prevalent these days in Western society that they are going to encounter it throughout their childhood.

Before we begin, allow us to examine the historical sources that gave birth to this concept of Santa Claus. According to popular belief, the modern-day Santa, also known as Father Christmas or Saint Nicholas, is a fat, jolly old man with a long white beard who lives in the North Pole. Additionally, he rides his magical sleigh, pulled by eight flying reindeer, all over the world on Christmas Eve to deliver toys to the children of the world. This figure has his origins in Dutch folklore and may have also been influenced by other elements of Germanic paganism. While he may have started off as a fairly innocuous fantasy figure, along with trolls and unicorns, Santa Claus is now the central figure of a mammoth holiday-gift industry which is, at its core, a complete lie.

Children are naturally drawn to the fanciful and mysterious, so it is not surprising that even Muslim children will be enraptured by the holiday spirit, and perhaps wish that Santa was real. While our children should know from the beginning that Santa does not exist, so as not to have false belief him, they should also know how to tactfully and gracefully interact with others, their friends, classmates, grandparents, and cousins who do celebrate Christmas.

With Friends and Classmates

It can be very tricky for a child who knows Santa is not real to keep it to him/herself when all their classmates are talking about him. You can make matters easier for your children by advising them that this (Islam) is what we believe. Make sure that you present it in a way that is suitable for their age and maturity. For example, tell them that even though we know Santa is not real, their friends are free to believe whatever they want, and it will hurt their friends’ feelings if they tell them he is not real. This also presents an excellent opportunity to teach them about Surat Al-Kafiroon, in which Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) says:

“For you is your religion, and for me is my religion” (Surah Al-Kafiroon:Chapter 109,Verse 6)

The importance of this is not only to keep them from spoiling the fun of other children, but to teach them respect, tact, and the right way to present Islam through words and actions. We must understand that this is by no means an easy task, and it is one that even adult Muslims struggle with on a daily basis in the West.

With Grandma and Grandpa

For converts with parents who celebrate Christmas: if you have not experienced this already, get ready for an onslaught of Christmas spirit aimed at your children! The only thing that American and British grandparents love more than their grandchildren is their grandchildren on Christmas. Therefore, it is essential to be very sensitive, respectful, and patient with them, even as they plan the most ambitious Christmas celebrations around your children. After all, they are still your parents. Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) speaks about how we should treat our parents in multiple places in the Quran, and this applies to non-Muslim and Muslim parents:

And your Lord has decreed that you not worship except Him, and to parents, good treatment. Whether one or both of them reach old age [while] with you, say not to them [so much as], "uff," and do not repel them but speak to them a noble word. (Surah Al-Isra: Chapter 17, Verse 23) 

And We have enjoined upon man goodness to parents. But if they endeavor to make you associate with Me that of which you have no knowledge, do not obey them. To Me is your return, and I will inform you about what you used to do. (Surah Al-Ankaboot: Chapter 29, Verse 8) 

Even though Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) says that we should not obey our parents if they command us to worship other than Him, there is still an emphasis on good treatment, respect, and kindness we must practice towards them.

This goes beyond the issue of whether or not it is permissible to celebrate Christmas. It is universally agreed amongst scholars, ancient and modern, that celebrating the holidays of disbelievers is a form of bid’a, or unacceptable innovation in the religion. Additionally, the Prophet Muhammad (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) is known to have said:

Whoever imitates a nation is but one of them. (Abu Dawud) 

Therefore, the focus of this issue, for you as well as your children, should be on pleasing your parents without going into the realm of haram or shirk. It’s about maintaining those essential connections of the womb while still adhering to Islam. In fact, maintaining those connections is part of adhering to Islam. Whether or not your decision to spend Christmas with your parents constitutes “celebrating” depends on the continued upholding of your other religious duties, such as praying and wearing hijab. What is more important than that, however, is your intention. According to another Hadith, the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) said:

Actions are only by intentions and every person will earn that which he intended. (Sahih Bukhari and Muslim) 

If your intention is not to celebrate Christmas, but to be merciful, generous, and understanding to your parents, you need to make sure your children are also clear on the family’s intention surrounding this holiday. Additionally, pray for Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) to accept your actions and intentions, and for Him (subhanahu wa ta’ala) to be merciful, generous, and understanding with you just as you have been with them.

In order to help your children navigate through this difficult situation, you can engage in the same age-appropriate discussions with them that you told them to have with their friends and classmates. For example, if you are planning on spending Christmas day with your parents, you can tell them, “When you’re at grandma’s house you can pretend for Grandma’s sake; that will make her very happy, but of course we know that Santa’s not real”.

Opting Out

Of course, you can always just avoid Christmas altogether. If your goal is to save your kids from the potential fitna caused by experiencing others’ holiday traditions, then good for you! That is absolutely a good and laudable decision to make. However, ensure that your parents still have many meaningful opportunities to visit, play with, and buy gifts for their grandchildren. This is what every grandparent desires more than anything and it is essential for you to fulfill their rights over you.

I am not going to tell you that you must not visit your parents on Christmas, or that you must. I will not tell you exactly what to teach your children either; only you and Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) know what the particulars of your situation are. Whatever you do, however, do it with the intention of pleasing Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) and be very careful to maintain the ties of kinship. Do not let your choices this holiday season be a reason to harden people’s hearts against Islam. You must remember that in the end, Islam is about mercy, forbearance, and the unity of mankind.

I'd love to hear your views on this topic. Please post in the comments section below! :)


This was kind of a judgemental article. It should not be directed only at reverts to Islam. I see more born Muslims liking the tree and partaking in festivities with their children...

I agree Lighting, my fiance is Egyptian and has many Christian friends and has grown up knowing of Christmas. My family is Catholic and celebrates. He visited and enjoyed this SECULAR celebration (we also combined Easter and Shams el Nassim in the spring). Please should make their own choices. BTW my Shia Aunt also has celebrated American Christmas since she moved here from Iran in the 1970s. Its not a huge deal, stop making it one.

Dear Guest,

I am sorry if I hurt your feelings, my comment was also judgmental in reply. Please forgive me. I was feeling a bit frustrated that there is an assumption that I as a revert would celebrate Christmas, but that's my own issue.

I feel that my biggest difficulty as a revert is the pressure that other Muslims put on me to follow Islam according to what they think is right. And then on top of it there is pressure from my family that is not Muslim -- be they Jewish, Christian, or whatever -- to do what they want me to do and they think is right. But few people will really respect me or support me in my decision if I say that I looked it up, I thought about it, and I don't want to celebrate Christmas because I don't think it's secular or Islamic to celebrate. But that's my own choice and decision, and to Allah is my return.

The author of the article brought up words like not imitating. Her intentions were good masha'Allah, but it made me feel more alienated from my family that is not Muslim. I can't tell my kids to pretend to celebrate for my family either. But those are my own sensitivities, and nobody is responsible for them but me.

And I love my family even if I don't participate in Christmas.

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