Paris - Every Western Muslim has at some point been through this awkward moment in their youth when they ask their parents, ‘Why are we not celebrating Christmas?’
Paris – Every Western Muslim has at some point been through this awkward moment in their youth when they ask their parents, ‘Why are we not celebrating Christmas?’
“Because we’re Muslims,” has long sounded like a more or less legit answer. Being young, it’s hard to justify not getting gifts, while it’s all your friends talk about. But as the magic of Christmas fades with the years, it becomes nearly irrelevant.
Growing up as a French-Moroccan Muslim in Paris, the increasing discrimination I experience in my day to day life, as well as the constant and systematic attempts to deprive Muslims of any means to freely practice their religion and live with it, made me oddly happy I never celebrated Christmas.
France, is country where I am objectively accepted but where some people still consider I’ll never be French as long as I’m Muslim too.
Not celebrating Christmas was almost an act of resistance, where I refused to give up to the general celebration and stand my ground as a Muslim; even though, most people celebrating in France aren’t even religious Christians.
Even when I was recently told by a friend that she thought Muslims in France could celebrate Christmas since “Jews did so”, the first thing that came to my mind is what good did it serve those Jews who were fully integrated in France and still weren’t spared during the war.
But as my horizon expanded, so did my mind and my thoughts. Learning about the Middle East, among societies with native Christians, unlike Morocco, a Muslim-majority country, I remember being surprised that some Muslims actually celebrate Christmas.
I saw veiled women with Christmas hats, buying trees and decorations. I remember being taken aback but still thinking it felt right and that it is how things should be.
Now, a few years later, at a time when people from all places are promoting a “clash of civilizations” and when I not only realize but fully embrace being an in-betweener, I found myself going to the Holy Land for a Christian pilgrimage, from Nazareth to Bethlehem ending in Jerusalem.
I haven’t become less Muslim, or gave up my beliefs. Neither did I give in to those who oppress me and my fellows in France.
But after years of experience and reflection on discrimination and ostracization of ethnic and religious minorities, as well as collective responsibility and punishment, I learned something out of the xenophobia I was victim of and people grouping me with terrorists and blaming me for their acts.
Individuals belonging to a demographic majority cannot be held responsible for each other’s actions. However, they have the power to send a strong message, and it is at best sad, at worse shameful that they don’t always use this opportunity to strengthen the bridges that so many people want to destroy.
I am obviously not a terrorist, neither am I responsible as an individual for ISIS’ actions and the uncertainty surrounding the fate of Middle Eastern Christians. But as someone from the Arab World, belonging to the Muslim faith, thus, to the religious majority in the MENA region, I have an opportunity to send a message and I wish to make the most of it.
Most people will probably think this is naive and doesn’t bring change. Those people probably don’t know that when you feel oppressed, you rarely shed tears when experiencing rejection, but you do when someone shows solidarity.
When we are fighting for a diverse, rich and multicultural world and are about to give up due to the sometimes harsh reality on the ground, and let this fantasy of clash of civilizations become true, these people giving us hope, make us stand our ground and continue to fight for coexistence.
Because of that, it is not enough for me to thank all the men and women who fasted Ramadan or wore the veil in solidarity with Western Muslims.
The most logical following step was for me to take action, because I do belong to a majority in the Arab World, and there is a minority that is struggling among us.
I am not doing this to prove anything to Christians in both of the “worlds” I belong to. I have nothing to prove to Western Christians being myself part of a minority in their societies. I, ironically, can’t make a point when it comes to Middle Eastern Christians, most of them having lived with Muslims for 1400 years and having celebrated with them, both Muslim and Christian holidays. They would probably find it weird that I try to make a point for a coexistence that actually represents their daily life.
But, I have a small opportunity to send a message and live by that creed. I am not giving up on this beautiful ideal of coexistence, no matter what is done to me in other people’s name or what is done to others in my name. And just like other people gave me hope again when I started losing it, I hope I will help strengthen someone else’s faith and fight alongside me for these ideals.
We all realize we are living in a complicated world, but these complexities are what makes it beautiful and I refuse to replace it by this black and white world some people are trying to impose on us.
The same way I have refused to celebrate Christmas in the past as an act to contradict the majority, this year I have decided to celebrate it as an act to contradict people who want to divide us.
To the bigots and those spreading terror in the Middle East, I hope this shows that some of us will fight in every possible way to protect our rich multicultural heritage and find a way to revive it in the future.
And to those outside of the Middle East who are so ignorant of this beautiful past we’ve had and that we can still save despite the present situation, I hope this shows one of the beautiful complexities of this world – Christians fully belong to the Middle East.
Helping Middle Eastern Christians means giving us the means to save this multiculturalism, not spreading the idea that our religions are incompatible and that they can’t live here.
And this is why I am Muslim, but this year I celebrated Christmas in solidarity with Middle Eastern Christians.
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