Editor’s note: Mauritanian-born but Saudi-based Islamic scholar, Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah has addressed the contending issue of whether Muslims should wish their Christian compatriots a merry Christmas and even partaking of their meals at such times, if offered.
This issue is without a doubt a very important and sensitive one, especially for Muslims living in the West.
Sometimes a Muslim can feel the favuors of the non-Muslim upon them, as in the teacher who assists Muslim students with sincerity, the doctor who treats Muslim patients also with sincerity, etc.
As the saying goes, the human being is imprisoned by good treatment, and the poet said: Do good to people and you will possess their hearts for doing good has always enslaved the human being.
What is the position of Muslims in relation to non-Muslims who are peaceful with them, do not sow enmity against them, do not fight them in their religion, and have not driven them out of their homes nor have supported ones who tried to do so?
The Quran has established a basis for the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims in two verses from the Book of God the Exalted, which were revealed in relation to polytheists:
“God does not forbid you to deal kindly and justly with anyone who has not fought you for your faith or driven you out of your homes: God loves the just. But God forbids you to take as allies those who have fought against you for your faith, driven you out of your homes, and helped others to drive you out: any of you who take them as allies will truly be wrongdoers.” [60:8-9]
So the two verses distinguished between those who are peaceful with Muslims and those who are not.
As for the first ones (those who are peaceful), the verse has legislated having kindness and just treatment with them. [But the Arabic words used in the verse imply more than this] because the word “qist” means justice, and the word “birr” means doing good with an extra measure of it, which is higher than justice.
[The concept of] justice means you take what is rightfully yours, whereas “birr” means you concede some of your rights. In other words, justice, i.e., “qist”, is to give a person their due right without any diminishment, but kind treatment, i.e., “birr”, [mentioned in the verse] means you give a person more than their due right as an act of virtue.
As for the others mentioned in the second verse, they are those who have declared enmity with Muslims and fought them, and driven them out of their homes without the right to do so except for having declared:
Our Lord is God! This is what Quraysh and the polytheists in Mecca did with the Messenger (s) and his companions.
[Also, note here] that the Quran used the word for kind treatment, i.e., “birr”, for the relationship with those who are peaceful, which is the same word used for the greatest obligation upon the human being after fulfilling the right of God the Exalted; the right of “birr” towards parents.
Moreover, the permissibility of congratulating non-Muslims on their holidays is more confirmed in the case that they also congratulate Muslims on Islamic holidays. We have been commanded to return good with good, and to respond to a greeting with one that is better than it, or at least the same as it. The Exalted said:
“But [even in battle] when you [believers] are offered a greeting, respond with a better one, or at least return it.” [4:86]
So it is not befitting for a Muslim to be less generous or have a lower status of good character than others. A Muslim is supposed to be the one who is most kind and having the noblest character as it has been transmitted in the Hadith:
“The most complete in faith among the believers are those ones with the noblest character.”
As well as the other statement of the Messenger (s): “I was only sent to complete noble character traits.”
The Prophet (s) had a noble character and a generous in relationship with the polytheists of Quraysh despite their harm towards him and gathering against him and his companions.
[Lastly] the usual words used to congratulate during these occasions do not entail acceptance or adopting of non-Muslim creed. They are simply words of courtesy that are customary during these occasions.
There is also no deterrent from accepting gifts from them and rewarding them with gifts in return, because the Prophet (s) accepted gifts from non-Muslims, with the condition that these gifts are not that which would be impermissible for a Muslim, such as alcohol or swine meat.
[It should be mentioned] that we are not for Muslims celebrating the religious holidays of polytheists or People of the Book. We see some heedless Muslims celebrating Christmas the same way they celebrate Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Ad’ha, or even more. This is not permissible because we have our religious holidays and they have their religious holidays. But we do not see harm in congratulating people on their religious holidays for those who have social relationships with them.