A business partner thus wrote on Facebook:
"Thank you all my Muslim friends who congratulated me on Xmas. Such people fill me with hope for the future."
My Lebanese Maronite friend was of course alluding to the wave of extremism sweeping Iraq, Syria and beyond. He had two hidden premises both of which I want to object to:
1. Muslims marking Christmas increase our safety
2. Muslims not marking Christmas are somehow dangerous
These are both fallacies and they distract us from the real problem which is eliminating terrorism and extremism, and building a peaceful and prosperous future in togetherness.
Let's begin with #1.
Muslims marking Christmas does not moderate Muslims. Those who do are already moderate. (Though they are not the only moderates.) One of the direct results of some Muslims marking Christmas is making others alienated. We can debate their reasons, but this is a fact. If one were to hold an opinion survey among radicalized youth in countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, they will count this kind of "un-Islamic" behavior by their fellow Muslims among the top reasons that led to their radicalization. Therefore, conversely, when you see hordes of Muslims posting Christmas messages, I only worry about how many more extremist sympathizers will now cross the line and turn into wannabe terrorists. Self-disgust and disgust of the ways of fellow Muslims is a powerful motivator when someone is descending the steps of radicalism.
#2 is more delicate and important for me. Of the world's more than 1.5 billion Muslims, only a tiny proportion are extremists. Terrorist numbers run in thousands. The majority of Muslims are moderate and they want to have nothing to do with political Islamists or bloodthirsty terrorists like Daesh or Al Qaeda.
That majority is also observant of their religion. Islam is a religion with rules and regulations. It is far more structured than the extremists make it appear to be. One of the rules that every Muslim is asked to follow is to be different from the other "Peoples of the Book," i.e. Christians and Jews. A Muslim believes that he has to pass Saturday and Sunday like normal days because those days were given by God to the other heavenly religions. Muslim's day of prayer is Friday and that's what he is supposed to observe. Muslims cannot carry the cross as jewelry because that is a symbol of another religion. Yes, we are asked to be different. This is a fact that all of us, Muslim and non-Muslim have to come to terms with.
The non-sequitur is jumping from "being different" to intolerance and then to hatred. Since I want to avoid a deep theological debate, I'll merely focus on extremism and security aspect.
The reason why a moderate Muslim won't feel comfortable marking Christmas is because she follows a very structured religious tradition of hundreds of years. Within the parameters of the same deep-rooted tradition, a Muslim is obligated to believe and practice a few more things, including:
- Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) promised eternal safety to Christians and Jews. He has a letter saying till end of days Christians and Jews, their lives, properties and well-being are guaranteed by Muslims.
- Jesus (peace be upon him) is a prophet according to Islam, and one of the great prophets. A Muslim who doesn't believe in Jesus or virgin birth would be in violation of a basic tenet of Islamic belief.
- In the final days, Jesus will return to the earth to help save mankind.
It is thus quite clear to me that an ordinary Muslim who follows the mainstream of the 1.5bn others, will not be comfortable wishing you Merry Christmas, but that in no way means she is unwilling to wish you well. On the contrary, she is obligated to live with you in peace and harmony. She is in fact, following the Qur'anic commandment that "Everyone's religion is unto themselves."
With my best wishes for peace and eternal happiness for everyone,