Published in Express Tribune Blogs on 25 December, 2014 > http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/25528/there-is-nothing-wrong-in-wishing-someone-a-merry-christmas/#disqus_thread
Pakistan saw its darkest hour when innocent kids were brutally massacred in Peshawar by terrorists last week. As every single Pakistani was in mourning, the whole world beyond borders and beliefs stood by us. Thousands of miles away here in Canada, Peel District School Board lowered its flag to half-mast for a whole week. In India, every school observed two minutes silence and Twitter trended #IndiaWithPakistan.
The Christian community in Karachi sang prayers for the children of Peshawar. I hear now that the Christian community in Pakistan has decided not to celebrate Christmas this year.
When I heard about this, it took me down memory lane, a decade and a half ago, to the time when I was working in an institution in Saudi Arabia encompassing 27 other nationalities. An Irish Catholic nurse worked with us too. She used to fast in the month of Ramazan with us out of respect for her Muslim colleagues. We loved her for her understanding nature and for respecting Islam.
A few months later came December. It was only a few days before Christmas when Muslim employees quietly circulated a memo. The memo, which each of us was to sign, stated that Muslims were to refrain from wishing Christians on Christmas.
This upset me terribly.
In an effort to understand why such a memo would be circulated, I decided to talk to a Muslim friend. While she tried to avoid discussing this with me, because the decision not to wish our Christian brethren was ‘the right thing to do’, she reluctantly came up with an excuse, which, in my opinion, was meant to placate me. She said,
“Actually, they add rum to the Christmas cake. So if we wish them, we will have to eat the cake too.”
This absolutely ridiculous explanation upset me even further.
I couldn’t understand why saying Merry Christmas had become such a taboo.
Still restless, I came home and decided to search for answers. Hours later I couldn’t find one, neither in favour of it nor against it. All that came up again and again was,
“Allah judges you by your intentions.”
I felt even worse on Christmas Eve. Since Christmas was not a statutory holiday, the nurse came into work. Knowing that Christmas is an important day and she probably wanted to celebrate the day, I went up to her in an effort to alleviate the tension,
“Merry Christmas! How come you are at work today?”
She ignored my wishing her and said,
“Yes I couldn’t take off.”
I could see in her eyes that she knew I had signed the memo not to wish her. I felt horrible. My eyes could not lie. She patted me on my shoulder, and I began to cry.
“I am so sorry, Carol.”
She hugged me and smiled. I tried to change the topic,
“Carol, where is my Christmas cake?”
“It’s at home, I will bring it tomorrow. You can actually eat it. I don’t put rum in the cake. I haven’t done that in many years.”
I smiled sheepishly and said,
“Let’s meet over lunch in the cafeteria. Lunch is on me today.”
We met at the café that afternoon and chatted for an hour where she shared a touching story about an incident.
“In Dublin, some 10 years ago, I used to see an Arab man selling souvenirs on the footpath. When it would be time for prayers, he would pack up his stuff, turn his back on the pile and pray. I was curious. He said he was a Muslim from Tunisia. On asking why he does not keep the pile in front of him, he told me that his God will protect his stuff while he prostrated for Him.
He was an illegal immigrant, yet had so much positivity. Being a Catholic, I thought it was Christianity which preached peace, but he himself was so much at peace, that I was touched.
On my way to the grocers, we used to exchange greetings regularly. He would always ask me how I was doing. Once, on Halloween, I took some pumpkin pie for him. He said he was fasting, but would take it home and eat it when he breaks his fast at sunset. That is when I began to fast, in support for a young man who stood hungry all day, selling things. It was then that I learnt that fasting teaches us self-control. I developed a deep respect for him and for Muslims. Hence, I decided to travel to the Middle East.”
I thought she would continue, but she did not. Instead she said,
“I learnt from this young man how to stay positive even in the toughest of situations.”
This young woman, in her deep respect and curiosity about our religion, travelled all the way to the Middle East to know more about us. She observed Ramazan and displayed many qualities that Islam preached to its followers, so then why was it taboo for us to merely wish them on Christmas?
Recently, a Christian couple was burnt alive for allegedly having committed blasphemy, yet we see the generosity of our Christian community to forego their celebrations for the kids massacred in the Peshawar school attack.
Did we even think of not celebrating Eid when the Peshawar church was burnt down?
Close your eyes, look into your heart and really think, would God really approve of you hurting another person’s feelings? Are kindness, compassion and respect not virtues that Islam endorses? Can we not be grateful to another human for their compassion towards us? Can we not return the favour?
While you ponder over those few questions, I would like to wish all my Christian friends, in Pakistan and the world over, a very happy Christmas.
An Indian gynaecologist, married to a Pakistani, Ilmana is a health activist, and m-Health entrepreneur, who writes on social and health issues as a passion. She dreams of a world without borders and wars.
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