My First Christmas, aged 25 (and a bit!)

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By Humza Yousaf
 
As the son of Pakistani and Kenyan Muslim immigrants, who came to Scotland in the 1960’s, celebrating Christmas is never something I have done before. It is not unusual for those who emigrate to a new country to be protective of their cultural and religious identity.
 
Jesus is a revered prophet in the Islamic faith; however, celebrating Christmas was seen as an endorsement of the idea that Jesus is the son of God – which is incompatible with Islamic doctrine. As a result celebrating Christmas was, and in some Muslim households still is often frowned upon.

By Humza Yousaf
 
As the son of Pakistani and Kenyan Muslim immigrants, who came to Scotland in the 1960’s, celebrating Christmas is never something I have done before. It is not unusual for those who emigrate to a new country to be protective of their cultural and religious identity.
 
Jesus is a revered prophet in the Islamic faith; however, celebrating Christmas was seen as an endorsement of the idea that Jesus is the son of God – which is incompatible with Islamic doctrine. As a result celebrating Christmas was, and in some Muslim households still is often frowned upon.

For me and my siblings Christmas was just another ordinary day – no Christmas tree, no turkey and to our continual dissapointment, definitely no presents. When I was growing up, gadget-envy was a common symptom among young Muslim boys and girls when returning to school after the Christmas break. Goodness knows how much worse it must be today with the advent of the ipad, kindle and xbox!
 
It is just over six months since I married my wife Gail, who converted to Islam a number of years ago. Throughout her time as a Muslim she has continued to take part in the festivities of Christmas, maintaining the bonds of kinship is a fundamental of Islam and faith or non-faith should not come in the way.
 
This year I was invited to Christmas celebrations with the family and jumped at the chance to take part in my first ever Christmas.
 
Even though my wife’s immediate family are not practising Christians, I thought I would make my way to evening mass on Christmas Eve in order to get into the Christmas spirit.
 
Wherever I travel to in the world I often like to stop in at the local Church or Cathedral, most recently paying a visit to St Michael’s Cathedral in Brussels. Although I was brought up, and continue to be, a practising Muslim I appreciate the peace, calm and tranquillity to be found in any holy place.
 
I was warmly received at St Patrick’s Parish in Glasgow’s West End. The Very Rev. Robert Canon Hill conducted an uplifting service reminding the congregation of the greater purpose of Christmas celebrations, the sacrifice of Jesus and reminding us to glorify God throughout our everyday lives. By the end of the service I couldn’t help but feel that ninety percent of what had been said by Canon Hill could have easily been repeated in any Mosque during the Friday prayer without any member of the congregation batting an eyelid.
 
In the Islamic faith we celebrate two major festivals a year; Eid Ul Fitr- to mark the end of Ramadan and Eid Al Adha – which focuses on the sacrifice of the Prophet Abraham. On both these days a morning visit to the Mosque is compulsory before beginning celebrations. It was clear from my discussions, over festive shortbread and tea, with those who had attended evening mass that Christians felt a visit to the Church was just as important to Christmas as the Mosque is to Eid.
 
On the day of Christmas itself my wife and I made our way to her parent’s house where traditionally the family open presents together in the morning. The drive over was laced with slight trepidation. If this was to be anything like Eid then my acting skills were going to be put to good use, “Another patterned knitted jumper?! Thank you, just what I needed!”…. Luckily, I’m happy to report a BAFTA winning performance was not required this time round.
 
On our arrival at Stranraer, where the extended family stay, it was clear there was only one thing on everyone’s mind – the Christmas dinner – and with good reason. Special mention must go to our Aunty Kate who had bent over backwards to accommodate the nuances of this weegie Muslim. Not only had a 20lb halal turkey been sourced and cooked to perfection but for every dish that contained alcohol there was a non-alcohol substitute for me and my wife.
 
By the end of the gargantuan meal consisting of leek and potato soup, prawn and salmon cocktail, turkey, roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, peas, red cabbage, gravy, bread-sauce, cranberry sauce, Christmas pudding, meringue gateaux, fruit salad and banoffee pie – the sound of belts loosening was ringing in the air, the universally recognisable sign that a hearty and enjoyable meal had just been consumed.
 
The rest of the evening was filled with family members catching up with one another, recounting past stories of days gone by and of course playing traditional party games. While trying desperately to think of a musical instrument beginning with ‘A’, during our second game of ‘Stop the Bus’, it became clear to me that the perfect formula for any festival, be it Christmas, Eid, Diwali or Hannukah consists of three main ingredients; good company, good food and party games – I was also glad to note that regardless of culture everyone has that one competitive uncle!
 
It is an unfortunate truth that far too often, as a society, we focus on the small things that divide us rather than on the many things we share in common. Fear of the unknown and unfamiliar has always been the starting point of bigotry, racism and hatred.
 
The Quran tells us:
 
“O mankind! We created you from a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know and honour each other (not that you should despise one another). Indeed the most honourable of you in the sight of God is the most righteous.” (Chapter 49 Verse 13)
 
A good reminder that we truly are one nation many cultures