Many Muslims and Jews are ambivalent about celebrating Christmas. On one hand, Muslims respect Jesus (a) as a Prophet; and Jesus (a) can be a bridge connecting Muslims to Christians during the festive time of December. On the other hand, church going Christians are celebrating the birth of Jesus (a), the Son of God; and this is definitely not an Islamic or Jewish belief.

In fact, most Imams would say that since there was no tradition of making a big celebration on the birthday of Prophet Muhammad (s), why should Muslims celebrate the birthday of Prophet Jesus (a).

Those Muslims and Jews who do celebrate Christmas, deny that they believe Jesus was the Son of God. They just desire to join in the merry mood of Christmas together with their Christian neighbors and friends, most of whom are not church going Christians anyway.

But, like Jews who also do the same thing, Muslims are usually ambivalent and defensive about what they are doing.

Jews who celebrate Christmas often show their ambivalence by calling their own Christmas tree; a Hanukah bush. Most Jews, who resist the normal desire of both children and adults to fit in and conform to the majority, claim that a Hanukah bush in a Jewish home, is the direct opposite of the Jewish holiday of Hanukah, (22 December at sunset to 30 December  in 2019) which celebrates the values of religious freedom and religious diversity.

Hanukah, the Hebrew word for Dedication refers to two things: The rededication of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem after it was profaned in 168 BCE by an idol installed in it by the Syrian Greek king Antiochus IV; and the dedication and valor of the Maccabees, and all those who joined them in their resistance to the attempt by the ruling powers to force the Jews to abandon their God given religion, and conform to Greek forms of worship and culture. Abandoning circumcision is one example.

Those Jews who militantly resisted the pressure to conform to the majority culture were Muslims (Arabic for faithful followers of God’s will) and their dedication eventually led to religious freedom and national independence for the oppressed Jews living in the Land of Israel.

The oppression of Judaism by Antiochus IV, the Syrian Greek king, was the first known historical attempt at suppressing a minority religion, but unfortunately not the last. Other well known attempts were the three century long Roman persecution of Christianity, and the decade plus persecution of Prophet Muhammad (s) and his followers by the majority of pagan Arabs in Makkah.

All three religions emerged from their varying periods of persecution stronger than ever, and this is the ongoing spiritual lesson of the Hanukah lamp which once lit by faithful believers, filled with hope and trust in God; lasts longer than anyone else thinks possible.

Today, Jewish families use the annual proximity of Hanukah to Christmas (this year the eight day long holiday starts on the evening of 22 December, but usually it starts before mid December) to teach their children the Hanukah values of religious pluralism, religious non-conformity and religious hope, faith and trust in God.

These values are the same as the Muslim values expressed in the Qur’an: “And We have revealed to you, [O Muhammad], the Book in truth, confirming that which preceded it of the Scripture and as a criterion over it. So judge between them by what Allah has revealed, and do not follow their inclinations away from what has come to you of the truth.”

“To each of you We prescribed a law and a method. Had Allah willed, He would have made you one nation [united in religion], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so race to [do all that is] good. To Allah is your return all together, and He will [then] inform you concerning that over which you used to differ.” (Qur’an 5:48)

Thus, our respect for those who differ from us, and our pursuit of righteousness, are the best way to be honorable in the sight of God. As both the Qur’an and the Hebrew Bible state: “Mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (and not despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things).” (Qur’an 49:13)

And “Mankind, God has told you what is good and what it is the LORD requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)