Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas, Curry and Many Faiths

Christmas, Curry and Many Faiths

Today I went to The Sydney Morning Herald website and searched for Tanvir Ahmed. The result was amazing! Many terrorists and terrorist related news appeared in the horizon. However, the real Tanvir Ahmed article I was looking for failed to turn up!!

After reading the article and related comments I found prejudice, bigotry and ignoramus galore. I won’t ask:

  1. Who Is a Semite?
  2. Do You Know Who Is a True Jew? and
  3. What is a Judeo-Christian culture?

Asking above questions may push me at the edge of “anti-Semite” boundary without any valid reasons or grounds!

However, no one can ignore the fact that:

1. Jesus (PBHUH) is an exalted person and revered by Muslims.

2. The Jews conspired to murder him at Jerusalem and later his brother James at Rome.

You see, the “Jews” do not even accept Jesus (PBUH) and they insult mother Marry. Yet, Blind Australians and Australian Media look up for Judeo-Christian culture and despise Muslims without any corroborative reasons or grounds in the first place.

I suppose the quest of Tanvir Ahmed must go deeper. Eating beacon and egg is neither Christianity nor teachings of Jesus Christ.

Faruque Ahmed

Christmas, curry and many faiths

December 24, 2009

Comments 26

Growing up as Muslim, I never enjoyed Christmas. I was surrounded by rituals, events and hype about something I was told not to believe in. Friends rang my doorbell early on Christmas morning ready to show off their presents. I gawked at their bike or remote-control car but then quietly retreated to my room, wondering when television would graduate from the singing of carols and uplifting stories of sacrifice to being filled with hours of cricket.

As with Palestinians and Iraqis, I felt humiliated and dispossessed by an overbearing show of Western force, outgunned by gigantic Christmas trees and ostentatious decorations.

Nor did reassurance from my parents help. They reminded me that I received presents during our Muslim ''Christmas'', known as Eid, which was also filled with gluttony and, at least in countries that were majority Muslim, crass commercialism.

I was asked to recognise that our community had its own Santa Claus-like figures, armies of long-bearded old men who kept odd hours and retained tabs on who had been naughty or nice. They were known as sheikhs or mullahs. Their presents ranged from fatwas to obscure references to the Koran.

I became resentful about Christmas. Having no outlet to channel my anger, I quietly withdrew to my sporting memorabilia. I dreamt of a world where I could belong, eating bacon and swilling alcohol without fear of retribution.

My younger sister was more aggressive and insistent on celebrating Christmas. Suddenly our home was filled with trees and decorations, tinsel, streamers and even a strange herb called mistletoe. Small presents appeared in our house, although they rarely survived until Christmas morning to be opened.

The food didn't change. There were no Christmas turkeys or mince pies. We continued to eat my mother's parathas, curry and a lassi-like drink that was meant to be like egg-nog, but laced with turmeric.

Given Islam followed a lunar calendar, there were several years when the major Muslim celebration coincided with Christmas, much like the Jewish Hannukah does each year. This was a time of particular joy, for it allowed us to assert our religious festival more forcefully, to trumpet our minority identity in a multicultural society. It was ''Chanukeid'' season.

Some Muslims even began giving greeting cards and decorating their houses. The miracle of the virgin birth was replaced with the miracle of Muhammad splitting the moon. I lobbied for something equivalent to midnight Mass at the local mosque but the clerics rejected it vehemently.

They argued that the mimicking of Christian celebrations was a capitulation to the dominant culture. I told them it was tough showing off to friends about praying five times a day.

Surveys among American Jews have shown that those who are most concerned with assimilation are most likely to go all out for Hanukkah, to entice their kids to keep the faith. This was also true for Muslims, an example of a competitive marketplace in the realm of religious festivals.

The more we attempted to mimic Christmas, the more it became clear Christmas had evolved into a secular celebration as much as a religious one.

Many households of non-Christian faiths such as mine adopt the customs of the day, from Christmas trees with presents for the children to taking the opportunity to have a family get-together. Strict Jews and Muslims treat the day as any other but most welcome the public display of religion in a culture that shuns the outward expression of faith. The celebration of family and community is a universal aspiration.

The degree to which Christmas should be emphasised in a multicultural society may be contentious to some, yet voices of protest rarely emanate from non-Christians. I am particularly amused by the occasions when well-meaning folk have corrected themselves to call Christmas the ''holiday season'' to appear more inclusive for my benefit.

Since Coca-Cola first adopted in its advertising a bearded man in a red and white suit, Jesus has long been supplanted by Santa. Father Christmas may be a jolly figure of secular commercialism but he is arguably more accessible for disparate groups.

I have since married a Christian, caving in to my cultural oppressors. We do not take religion too seriously. I have grown more comfortable sitting next to the Christmas ham. I still receive few presents and when I do, they are usually socks or ties. I have yet to wake my friends to show these off. I await the cricket to begin the following day just as eagerly.

Tanveer Ahmed is a psychiatry registrar.


26 comments so far

Strange and shallow article... you seem more focused on the wrapping paper rather than the actual meaning of any of the celebrations you described

Sarah | Berala - December 23, 2009, 7:39AM

This is actually a much bigger phenomenon here in Britain where there is much more debate about how Muslims should behave in Christmas. I have a number of Pakistani friends and they say it can become quite heated when debating issues like buying presents or having decorations in Xmas. But I agree with the author's sentiment that the celebration has essentially become a secular one- which is actually more inclusive. I didn't think it was shallow at all- it was funny!

Billy | London - December 23, 2009, 8:08AM

You sound conflicted, Tanveer. Why is it that Islam seems to have the most problems in coexisting with other cultures?

Oppressed? Don't make me laugh. I'm oppressed at having to read this endless stream of complaint from interlopers of intolerant cultures.

Paul | Ashbury - December 23, 2009, 8:18AM

Shallow? Really? I would look deeper. Once you remove the wrapping paper it is apparent that the message is not about the meaning of the celebrations but that faith brings eople together regardless of religion.

Navig8 - December 23, 2009, 8:31AM

Sarah, get over yourself. To my mind you are strange and shallow with your criticism of this persons reminiscences. In so many ways I have similar memories of a childhood spent in a foster home.

shortfatbaldguy | Blue Mountains - December 23, 2009, 8:37AM

I think its sad that your family was not able to strengthen its own religious beliefs and bowed to your and your sister's pressure to be like the majority around you. I myself am a Muslim, born and bred here but never felt that I was missing out on Christmas, I just knew its wasn't something I celebrated in our religion.

Paul, Islam doesn't have a problem is only a group of people who have the problem.

mystic - December 23, 2009, 8:57AM

I always have to scoff whenever Muslims in Australia complain of cultural oppression. People in Australia are free to practice whatever religion they want (provided it doesn't violate the laws) or no religion at all.

I wish the same could be said for some muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Malaysia - which actively discriminate against people of non-muslim religions.

mkay | CBD Sydney - December 23, 2009, 9:10AM

Let's not forget that the original celebrations held in late december was the pagan celebration for the Winter Solstice. After the Romans became Christians, the date of the birth of christ was chosen to occur inline with the pagan festival. Most biblical scholars agree that it is highly unlikely that Christ was born in December.

So really this celebration is whatever you want it to be. If you're devoutly Christian, then celebrate Christ. If you're atheist, celebrate the holiday, if you're any other religion then pick some event to celebrate, and if you're the grinch who stole christmas... then write a whiney article.

pk | Sydney - December 23, 2009, 9:03AM

You know, despite the fact that I am a particularly devout Buddhist, I've never had a problem celebrating Christmas. Christmas has never had anything more than a patina of religious celebration about it, and, at least in Australia, has always been a simple Saturnalian celebration of the end of the year dedicated to everyone. I visit my Christian friends' parties; catch up; enjoy and simply luxuriate in the pleasant company of others at a universally accepted celebration time.

And to those who think it's cultural imperialism... I don't remember anyone complaining when I celebrate Tet, or the lunar new year, or any other celebration relevant to my religion. Nor did they probably mope around complaining about it or feeling all "uncomfortable." I think those people who feel uncomfortable about being around others celebrating are genuinely sad people.

Wack - December 23, 2009, 9:44AM

So sick of every article written by a muslim being followed by stupid comments from bigotted people who immediately assume the article is somehow criticising western culture.

This article is clearly observational in nature. It would be strange being surrounded by a celebration that you haven't grown up with. As an athiest, I felt like this on World Youth Day. You feel like an outsider looking in. I think this article is a musing about that. It's perfectly normal, perfectly natural and most of us would feel the same way.

Everything I've read by this author shows that he is an objective thinker who happens to be muslim and one of the few muslim commentators I've read who can comment on our society without sticking the boot into western culture. People should read his articles and use them as an opportunity to empathise and understand.

Sally | Sydney - December 23, 2009, 9:35AM

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