5 Islamic articles on: Islam and non-Islamic Celebrations

IslamQA: Can Muslims celebrate Valentine’s Day and Halloween?

I’m asking bc Halloween and I think Valentine’s Day have pagan beginnings and I wasn’t sure if it would mean you are participating in paganism

In my opinion the origins of these celebrations does not matter. What matters is what the celebration means today. A hundred of million Iranian Muslims, Sunni and Shia, celebrate Nowruz (the spring festival) despite it having originated before Islam, and the majority of scholars have no issue with it.

It is easy for Arab scholars to issue fatwas saying celebrating Nowruz is forbidden because it has pagan origins since it has no relevance to their own culture. But when it comes to Sunni Kurdish and Iranian scholars, the majority would not issue such fatwas because they know this celebration has some importance for the people and has no pagan element the way it is celebrated today. It is just an occasion for celebrating the national history and the coming of spring. Here is a fatwa by a union of Kurdish Islamic scholars saying the Nowruz celebration is permitted.

When looking at Valentine’s Day or Halloween, it is not the pagan or Christian origins that matters. What matters is how people today believe about these celebrations and how the celebrate them. There is nothing religiously harmful in using Valentine’s Day to express love for your wife or mother by buying them flowers or chocolate. While to an Arab living in Saudi Arabia this looks like copying the non-Muslims and watering down one’s religion, a Swedish convert to Islam who has always celebrated Valentine’s Day will be abandoning part of his culture if they had to give it up because they are now Muslim.

So the main question is whether Islam is a replacement for culture or whether it can live side by side with culture. My view and the view of the Sunni Kurdish and Iranian scholars is that Islam should not be thought to conflict with culture because this only harms Islam. It causes people to think Islam is a foreign and hostile element that is opposed to their way of life. It is much better for Muslims to confidently live within their culture without rejecting it, only working to avoid those things that are truly harmful and immoral.

To a Sunni Kurdish or Iranian scholar it seems incredibly ignorant and churlish to reject Nowruz and issue fatwas forbidding its celebration since it will cause anger against Islam in the population without achieving anything positive. Going on a picnic on Nowruz does not do anyone any harm and there is no reasons why Muslims cannot celebrate it in a way that also celebrates Islamic values.

The same applies to Halloween. Today it is just a silly celebration for children that involves candy and scary objects. There is nothing in it inherently opposed to Islam. Letting your children carve pumpkins, play with Halloween stickers, and listen to Halloween songs about monsters and vampires is neither Islamic nor un-Islamic. It is cultural thing that neither harms their religion nor promotes it. A parent who is concerned with teaching their children Islamic values can make it an occasion for teaching their children prayers that one recites when they feel afraid, or they can use other creative ways of helping their children feel both Muslim and part of their local culture.

Personally I have never cared much about these celebrations, and I see no problem with a person avoiding such celebrations out of respect for Islam. But I see no good in condemning them and making them an occasion for expressing hostility and showing people that Islam is opposed to their cultures. Islam is not a replacement for culture or an enemy to it. It is a reformer that can live side by side with it.

Since there is no clear evidence from the Quran and hadith that such celebrations are forbidden, scholars use their own reasoning to judge whether such celebrations are permitted or not. And their reasoning changes based on their culture. A principle of Islamic law is to promote the common good and to choose the lesser evil when faced with two evil choices. Even if we are not perfectly comfortable with the history of Valentine’s Day and Halloween, the lesser evil is to tolerate them rather than fight them, leaving to each person to decide for themselves whether they celebrate them and to what degree.


IslamQA: The Islamic ruling on celebrating national holidays (such as New Year’s Day)

Beginning of translated IslamOnline fatwa

Question: What is the opinion of our religion on the fact of certain countries celebrating holidays such as Victory Day, Workers' Day or New Year's Day and others?

Answer: In the second part of a long study in the book Bayān li-l-Nās min al-Azhar al-Sharīf [A Proclamation to the People from the Noble al-Azhar] it is mentioned that the word ʿīd [Eid or festive holiday] is used to refer to that which repeats annually and is communal, whether at the level of families, villages or regions.

To celebrate these festive holidays means to give them attention. Such holidays can either be entirely worldly or may be religious or contain religious elements. Islam does not forbid celebrating worldly holidays as long as their purpose is a good and the celebration does not contain elements that Islam disapproves of.

As for religious holidays, they may be mentioned in Islamic law, as in ʿĪd al-Fiṭr and ʿĪd al-Aḍḥā, or they may not be mentioned in Islamic law, such as the Prophet’s Night Journey and his birthday. Whatever is mentioned in Islamic law should be celebrated according to the law and should not be done otherwise. As for what is not mentioned in the law, people have two opinions on them. Some prohibit them because they consider them bidʿa [false innovation], while others permit them due to the lack of scriptural evidence prohibiting them.

Those who prohibit them use the hadith mentioned in al-Nasāʾī and Ibn Ḥibbān with authentic chains of transmitters from Anas [ra], who said the Prophet PBUH came to Medina, whose people had two days in which they played/celebrated. He [the Prophet] said:

You had two days when you would play, but Allah (SWT) has given Muslims something instead that is better than them: the day of Fiṭr and the day of Aḍḥā.

According to them everything other than these two days is a false innovation.

The reply to them is that the hadith did not restrict the holidays but merely mentioned the superiority of the Islamic holidays over the holidays of the people of Medina that they had acquired from the Persians, such as the Eid of Nowruz at the beginning of the new year in spring, and the Eid of Mihrajan in the autumn, as mentioned by al-Nuwayrī in his Nihāyat al-Arab. A piece of evidence is that he [the Prophet] refers to the day of Friday as an Eid [meaning that the hadith above does not restrict the meaning of “Eid” to those two days alone].

There is no text that prohibits joy and celebration on days other than those two. The Quran records the celebration of the Muslims at the victory of the Byzantines over the Persians at the beginning of Surat al-Rūm.

Another reply to them is that not every innovation is blameworthy. ʿUmar said regarding making the tarāwīḥ prayer communal: “What a great innovation this is!”

In summary, there is no issue with celebrating any wholesome occasion if its intention is legal and its manner is within the bounds of the faith. There also no issue with calling such days “Eids” [as Arabs do] since the matter has to do with the named objects rather than the names themselves.

End of translated fatwa

Source: Arabic PDF (archived from IslamOnline)

IslamQA: It is permissible to attend Christmas celebrations as a Muslim (with conditions)

assalamu aleikum, so my grandmother’s side of the family are christians and she lives in our home country and we live in europe, she rarely gets the chance to come visit us and so do we, but she came for the holidays season and she’ll spend christmas and new year’s eve here, she wants to celebrate and organize a family dinner because she does back home with the rest of the family, is it haram if we just do that not to break her heart?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

There is some difference of opinion on the permissibility of attending non-Islamic religious celebrations. Among the scholars who permit it are the Egyptian al-Azhar-educated sheikh Ahmad al-Shirbasi and the important Maliki scholar sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah. Egypt’s fatwa authority, which is run by al-Azhar-educated scholars and issues fatwas for all of Egypt, also issued a fatwa permitting celebrating Christmas with Christians. The respected European Research and Fatwa Council also issued a fatwa permitting it.

No alcohol should be present at the celebration while the Muslims are there (it is not permitted to sit in a gathering where people drink alcohol). The celebration should also not include anything else that Islam forbids, but this should be obvious.

Therefore since there are highly respected scholars who permit it, and since there is nothing in it that reason or conscience objects to, I would say it is safe to do it.

Sources (all in Arabic): Collection of relevant fatwas from various scholars | European Research and Fatwa Council’s fatwa

IslamQA: It is permissible for Muslims to celebrate birthdays

Is it okay to celebrate birthdays?

Egypt’s Dār al-Iftāʾ (the authority that issues fatwas for all Egyptians and is peopled by qualified scholars from al-Azhar University) has issued a fatwa that says it is permissible to celebrate birthdays as long as they do not involve anything forbidden by Islam.1 The popular Egyptian caller to Islam Amr Khaled has published this fatwa on his website.2

It is also the opinion of Dr. Ali Gomaa (Egypt’s chief mufti from 2003 to 2013) that celebrating birthdays is permissible, but he recommends that Islamic elements should be introduced into it to make it a spiritual occasion.3

Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of the most respected living scholars today, also supports celebrating birthdays and says Muslim can do it and turn it into a beneficial Islamic occasion. Dr. Amina Naseer, a professor at al-Azhar University, also has this opinion.4

In Arabic, a birthday is called “ʿīd al-mīlād” (literally “eid of birth”). Since it has the word “eid” in it, a minority of Muslims thinks it is a false innovation in religion since it is trying to instate a new eid in Islam. They also say that since all Muslims should replicate the way of life of the earliest Muslims, and since the earliest Muslims did not celebrate birthdays, we should not either.

The majority of Muslims do not accept their thinking, whose view is that in Islam all celebrations are permitted unless there is a reason to prohibit them (for example if it is a celebration of a pagan deity, then that is clearly forbidden). Since a birthday celebration does not necessarily contain anything that is forbidden in Islam, the default ruling about it is that it is permitted.

IslamQA: It is permissible for Muslims to say “Merry Christmas” to non-Muslims

Hi. So I was wondering if it's okay for us as Moslems to say "Merry christmas" to our Christian friends. There's a lot of people around me, including my parents, who told me to not say it because it's haram. If it's not okay, how do we explain it to our Christian friends without offending them?

Saying “Merry Christmas” simply means that you wish that a person has a good day on the particular day known as Christmas. According to a fatwa by the European Council for Fatwa and Research (which has the famous scholars Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Abdullah bin Bayyah as members) it is permissible to say “Merry Christmas” to non-Muslims. The Quran does not forbid us from being kind and civil to non-Muslims, and there is no clear evidence in the Quran or the Sunna to forbid such greetings.


Question from a reader:

is it fine if muslims give christmas presents to christian friends with the intention of giving them a little treat of kindness (not exchanging gifts)?

According to a fatwa by Dr. Abdul Sattar Fathullah Saeed (professor of tafseer and the Quranic sciences at al-Azhar University) it is permissible to give presents when congratulating Christians on their holidays, since there is nothing in the Islamic texts to prohibit this.

What is prohibited is taking part in the celebrations as if you yourself are a Christian, such as attending church on Christmas Eve. However, attending church to merely observe the proceedings without participating in them is permitted.


Followup Question:

I don't want to come of as rude but wishing someone a merry Christmas while knowing its based on a pagan belief that has been bent to fit the Christian standards as a Muslim that knows that its illogical to say them to have a lot of fun sinning.If someone tells you happy holidays and you reply with you too or something is another thing. But in my opinion you shouldn't start it. Not congratulating a celebration we don't celebrate isn't rude. Its not our religion,so we should act as every other day

It very much depends on context. A Muslim convert to Islam who still lives with his or her non-Muslim family can set a good tone on Christmas day by saying “merry Christmas” to his/her family. There are circumstances where a Muslim is moved by some feeling to say “merry Christmas” to a non-Muslim, Wahhabis will say that is a sin since to them the personal is always political, I am saying that it is not a sin and that it is a matter of personal choice.

If for you it would be strange to say “merry Christmas” because you do not live in such a context, then it is perfectly fine for you not to say it. The point is that instead of holding to a rigid “it is haram” line, a Muslim can instead use their own judgment to decide if it is appropriate to say it.

I agree with you that in most cases a Muslim can simply say “you too” and that would be the end of it.

Followup Question:

I'm sorry, but saying "merry christmas" to nonbelievers is haraam by consensus! I know that most muslims do not intend to join christians in their shirk but want to sound polite and inclusive, but politeness with regard to falsehood is not permissible.

May Allah bless you, that is not how consensus works. When a single respected scholar disagrees with the rest, this automatically breaks the consensus. Consensus is not a force to be used to prevent disagreement, that is a highly unethical abuse of the concept. Consensus is something that comes about naturally and organically when all scholars agree on a question without anyone forcing them and without any peer pressure on them. So there is a consensus among scholars that praying five times a day is obligatory. But there is no consensus that saying “Merry Christmas” is forbidden because there are fatwas by respected scholars that say it is permitted.

For more on the true and ethical use of the concept of consensus in Islam please see my essay: Ijmāʿ as Scientific Consensus: Defining Consensus in Islam and Ending Its Abuse