A professor of Comparative Fiqh at Al-Azhar University, Saad al-Helaly, encouraged the universal celebration of Christmas, saying Muslims can celebrate the festivity without following its religious elements, encouraging a sense of solidarity between Muslims and Christians.
Helaly explained that Muslims celebrating Christmas is like celebrating any other special festivity without adding religious justification or value.
“In your life, if you celebrate things like anniversary of marriage, anniversary of getting a new job, a patriotic Eid or a scientific Eid. Then you have created a happy Eid and created joy within your family or your people. You have made the people experience a beautiful day.”
He explained that a feast does not discriminate between different religions, “It is a feast – not a religious feast like Salafis claim. We won’t follow the religious aspects but feel the spirit of Christmas. There is a difference between the spirit of Christmas and a religious feast.”
“Religious feasts have ‘takbeer’ and specific rituals and a prayer,” he said, “but the spirit of Christmas is to spread joy to humankind, and make your society and people happy even one day per year. Then have you done well to mankind or no?”
Christmas, he says, is “an idea that came out and created an international market. Children wait for it: Muslims, Christians and Jews. It created an economical boost and a true feeling of the New Year; that there is a new thing, that there is a day where families come together and rejoice.”
He concluded that religion will not stand in the face of universal happiness, “Go ahead and show me all ‘fatwas’ [ruling on Islamic law recognized by an authority]! Say it is ‘haram’ [forbidden in Islam]. Has the word ‘haram’ stopped the joy from spreading?”
“The people win,” he said defiantly, emphasizing the importance of the sense of society and community, and encouraging Muslims to celebrate Christmas in solidarity with Christians,
The speech comes at a time both some Muslims and non-Muslims alike could be reminded of the tolerance of Islam. Due to the rise of the Islamic State group, Muslims have often become perceived as synonymous with violent terrorists.
In Egypt, after the Muslim Brotherhood came to power from 2012-2013, Islam has been painted in a negative light. Moreover, many terrorism attacks have been blamed on extremist Islamists, including the horrific Palm Sunday church bombings which took place in April, and the Botroseya Church Bombings which occurred on 11 December 2016.
Moreover, there has been a long-going debate in Egypt on whether Muslims should partake or even congratulate Christians in their holy occasions. While both Dar-Al-Ifta and Al-Azhar said it was permissible, even preferable to congratulate Christians on their feasts, according the official Dar-Al-Ifta Website, hardline ‘imams’ [Islamic worship leaders] have disputed this.