The Malaysian Insider
23 December 2015
It is really easy to get caught in the hype and commercialisation of Christmas.
Let’s be realistic here, Christmas no longer represents merely a religious holiday that marks the birth of Jesus, but rather an occasion for merrymaking with friends over food, that great unifier of mankind.
Of course, in Malaysia, our turkeys are halal-certified and our merrymaking involves being served orange juice in wine glasses.
But even halal turkeys do not stop some from calling for a ban on Christmas, or rather, that Muslims should not celebrate it.
Apparently, such merrymaking would damage our faith. Brunei even issued an overall ban, complete with a possible charge under their penal code for Muslims who publicly partake in Christmas celebrations there, bearing a jail term of up to five years.
I personally think that this is taking things a step too far. Where is the harm in people from different faiths and background sitting together and extending friendship over food?
Honestly, that is all that happens when we don our Santa hats and celebrate Christmas with our Christian friends.
Visiting the houses and being friends with people of other faiths would only promote interfaith dialogue and serves as a tool to promote unity in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country.
Malaysia is unique in this sense as we have multiple occasions throughout the year to implement this.
Yet, perhaps due to the date being close to the end of the calendar year, Christmas always seem to be the one big occasion that brings everyone together, at least for me.
But as I write this, I cannot shake off the anxiety over the uncertainty of how much longer would I be able to enjoy an end-of-the-year celebration with my non-Muslim friends in Malaysia.
This year alone has been fraught with many incidents that seem to discriminate against non-Muslims and Christians in particular.
The Taman Medan Church’s “cross episode” was again brought to my attention recently, not only for the fact that the perpetrators of hate-speech at the inane protest got off scot-free; but a question by a very young man who personally asked me whether it is true that we Muslims will have our hearts turned to stone when we look at a cross.
Apparently, his teacher relayed this information to him.
I was shocked and upset at his question. What are they teaching kids these days?
Then I remembered that we adults too, get overzealous over “protecting” our faiths that we tend to believe such hearsay – just look at Brunei!
I answered the best that I could, perhaps also for my own benefit and rather unscientifically, that God is within our hearts regardless and no symbol can turn it to stone if we believe in God wholeheartedly.
We have segregated trolleys for non-halal products; this is in addition to the segregated non-halal sections in grocery stores and wet markets.
We have prohibited Christians in Peninsular Malaysia from using the term “Allah”, in addition to the long list of banned Arabic words that we Muslims claim are ours.
The anti-Christianisation seminar held in a local university recently was apparently the second of its kind held at the same academic institution.
We seem very keen to not want to make and be friends with Christians. Meanwhile, in the US, Professor Larycia Hawkins, was suspended from her tenured job at an academic institution for donning the hijab in solidarity with Muslims whom she saw were facing an onslaught of bigotry.
When terrorist attacks happened, and the world seems too quick to blame Muslims generally, we saw many similar signs of solidarity from people of other faiths.
Lest we forget, the country that accepts the most number of Syrian refugees currently is Germany, where 66.8% of its population is of Christian faith.
I do not know why we are keen to segregate and discriminate rather than include and understand differences.
Perhaps, my naïve optimistic outlook to life is fed by the fact that for every unkind person I meet, I have met at least another two whom are kind to me.
These people come from different backgrounds, people of different faiths, agnostics and even atheists.
Thus, I urge us all to celebrate Christmas for the values associated with it, regardless of our faiths.
As Muslims, we can visit our friends and invite them over to our homes for a reciprocal visit during Hari Raya.
We can extend generosity through giving gifts to underprivileged children, or perhaps donate some monies for a new set of uniforms or stationeries for the coming school year.
We can extend our hands in friendship, we can sit together for a halal-certified turkey dinner, and we can commiserate our woes and anxiety for this country we love over a good meal and great company.
I sincerely hope that we will be able to do so for many more years to come.
Happy Christmas! – December 23, 2015.