Congratulating non-Muslims on Their Religious Feasts
Muslim scholars have 2 opposite views on congratulating and joining non-Muslims on their religious feasts. The first view considers it forbidden. The other sees it permissible if they are at peace with Muslims
Congratulating non-Muslims on Their Religious Feasts
- Joining non-Muslims on their religious feasts.
What is the ruling concerning Muslims living as a minority if they congratulate non-Muslims on their religious occasions, such as Christmas? This is often necessary when there are cultural ties requiring this, such as with neighbours, classmates, colleagues at work, etc.
Scholars have expressed two divergent views on this question. The first view considers it forbidden to congratulate unbelievers on their religious occasions. If they congratulate us on our religious feasts, we do not reciprocate. It is forbidden for a Muslim to accept their invitations on such occasions, to show pleasure or to give presents. Ibn al-Qayyim mentions that scholars are in agreement on this. He says: ‘To offer congratulations on occasions of rituals that are peculiar to unbelief is generally agreed to be forbidden. This refers to offering congratulations to unbelievers on their feasts or fasting, saying: “May this occasion be blessed for you”, or “Enjoy this occasion”, etc. Even if the person offering this is spared landing in disbelief, he has committed what is forbidden. It is like congratulating them on prostrating themselves over a crucifix. It is indeed more sinful and abominable than offering congratulations for committing grave offences such as drinking wine, manslaughter or adultery. Many who do not have due respect for religion often commit such an offence without realizing the gravity of this error. Whoever congratulates someone on committing a sin, a deviation or an act of unbelief incurs God’s displeasure.’
Shaikh Muhammad ibn Uthaimeen also gave the same fatwa, and it is also referred to in Decision 3-6 of the Islamic Fiqh Council of the Muslim World League.
Congratulating unbelievers on their religious occasions implies endorsing their rituals of unbelief and accepting it for them. Although the Muslim who offers such congratulations does not accept it for himself, it is forbidden for him to accept such rituals of unbelief or congratulate others on them, because God does not accept them. He says:
‘If you disbelieve, God has no need of you; nor is He pleased with disbelief by His servants. If you give thanks, He is pleased with you. No soul will bear the burden of another. In time, to your Lord you all must return, and then He will tell you the truth of all you did. He has full knowledge of what is in people’s hearts.’
‘This day I have perfected your religion for you and have bestowed on you the full measure of My blessings and have chosen Islam as a religion for you.’
It is a duty of every Muslim to be proud of his faith, and to limit himself to what God and His messenger have legislated in this true religion that God wants His creatures to believe in. He must neither add to it nor leave anything out of it. Courtesy or friendliness in such matters is a type of appeasement at the expense of faith, it strengthens unbelievers and makes them proud of their faith. Ibn Taymiyyah said: ‘Participating with them in some of their festivals will please them with their falsehood [...] . It may tempt them to make use of any opportunity to humiliate those who are weak.’
If on their own religious occasions unbelievers congratulate Muslims, Muslims should not respond because these are not occasions for Muslims. They are occasions that God is not pleased with because they were either invented and not originally part of their faith, or they were part of it but they were subsequently abrogated as Islam abrogated earlier religions.
‘He who seeks a religion other than self-surrender to God it will not be accepted from him, and in the life to come he will be among the lost.’
The second view distinguishes between unbelievers who are at peace with Muslims and those who are at war with them. It is not permissible to congratulate the latter on their feasts, but is so for the ones at peace. There is no harm for a Muslim or an Islamic centre to congratulate non-Muslims who are at peace with us on their festive occasions, either verbally or by sending cards that do not carry religious symbols or wording which are contrary to Islam, such as the crucifix. The usual words of congratulations on such occasions do not normally include what may be interpreted as endorsement or acceptance of what they believe in. They are merely courteous words that people have come to accept. There is nothing to prevent accepting their gifts or reciprocating them either, particularly by one who has relatives among them, or a neighbour or a colleague, etc. The case is even stronger if we wish to introduce Islam to them and bring them nearer to it, or to win their sympathy towards Muslims. Nothing of this can come about if we stick to an attitude of estrangement. This is the view endorsed by the European Council for Fatwa and Research in its Decision 3-6.
The Qur’an distinguishes between unbelievers on the basis of their attitudes towards Muslims. Those who are at peace with Muslims are treated differently from those who are at war.
‘God does not forbid you to deal kindly and with full equity with those who do not fight you on account of your faith, nor drive you out of your homes. God loves those who behave equitably. God only forbids you to turn in friendship towards those who fight against you because of your faith, and drive you from your homes, and help others to drive you out. Those of you who turn towards them in friendship are indeed wrongdoers.’
The first verse speaks about those who are at peace with Muslims, and these should be treated with equity and kindness since dealing kindly with people is more than treating them with equity. The ones which the second verse forbids friendship with are those who are hostile to Muslims and fight them, driving them from their countries for no reason other than their belief in God. This was how the idolaters of the Quraysh treated the Prophet and his companions. The Qur’an uses the word birr in describing the treatment Muslims should extend to unbelievers who are at peace with them. It is also the word the Qur’an uses in reference to the most important duty of man after his duty towards God, namely dutifulness to parents.
Both al-Bukhari and Muslim relate a hadith reported by Asma’ bint Abu Bakr who said that she went to see the Prophet and said to him: ‘Messenger of God, my mother has come to me and she is still an idolater, but she is after some gift. Should I give her [something]?’
The Prophet said to her:
‘Give [a gift] to your mother.’
The Prophet said this concerning an idolater woman and it is well known that Islam adopts a milder attitude towards the people of divine religions than it takes towards idolaters. It even permits eating their meat and marrying their women. Needless to say, such a marriage will mean kindly treatment and mutual love between the spouses and close ties between their families. It will also lead to children who will be dutiful towards their mothers. It is certainly not being dutiful for a Muslim child to not congratulate his mother, who is a follower of a divine religion, on her feasts and similar occasions. The same applies to the child’s maternal relatives.
Every Muslim is required to maintain good and well mannered behaviour with all people,
as the Prophet advised Abu Dharr, saying:
‘Fear God wherever you are, and follow up a bad deed with a good one to wipe it out, and behave well towards people.’
(Related by al-Tirmidhi)
Needless to say, the word ‘people’ mentioned in the hadith applies to all people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
This is further confirmed if the non-Muslims take the initiative and congratulate Muslims on their Islamic festivals. We are commanded to repay one good deed with another and to reply to a greeting with a better one, or at least a similar one.
‘When a greeting is offered you, answer it with an even better greeting, or [at least] with its like. God keeps count of all things.’
It is not right for a Muslim to be less well behaved than someone else.
The Prophet says:
‘The believers who are most perfect in faith are those who have the best manners.’
(Related by Ahmad, Abu Dawud, hadith No. 4,682, and al-Tirmidhi, hadith No. 1,162)
Scholars of the first view respond to the arguments of the second view as follows:
This view is contrary to the generally agreed view of scholars, as related by Ibn al-Qayyim. Offering congratulations is not an aspect of kindly treatment and equity towards unbelievers who are at peace with us. It is not reported that the Prophet congratulated the Jews when they were living in Madinah for some time, although such occasions arose, yet he had the most splendid character. To draw analogy between offering congratulations and replying to greetings, visits and accepting invitations does not apply, because such actions do not relate to a religious ritual of theirs while feasts and offering congratulations on such occasions are religious marks.
The Prophet says:
‘Every community has its own feast and this is ours.’
(Related by al-Bukhari,hadith No. 952)
If a Muslim finds himself in an embarrassing situation at work or at university because he remains silent when unbelievers offer him congratulations on their own feasts he may answer them in general terms, without mentioning the feast or the congratulations.
- Ibn al-Qayyim, Ahkam Ahl al-Dhimmah.
- Ibn Taymiyyah, Iqtida’ al-Sirat al-Mustaqim.
- Decisions of the European Council for Fatwa and Research.
- Decisions of the Islamic Fiqh Council of the Muslim World League.
- Fatawa al-Aqaliyyat al-Muslimah, by a group of scholars.
- Abdullah Bin Bayyah, Sina[at al-Fatwa wa Fiqh al-Aqaliyyat.
- Khalid Abd al-Qadir, Fiqh al-Aqaliyyat al-Muslimah.
- Fahd Bahmmam, Dalil al-Mubta'ath al-Fiqhi.
- Ibn al-Qayyim, Ahkam Ahl al-Dhimmah, vol. 1, p. 206.
- Fatawa al-Aqaliyyat al-Muslimah, pp. 33, 35 and 40–41.
- Ibn Taymiyyah, Iqtida’ al-Sirat al-Mustaqim, vol. 1, p. 546