Habib Ali al-Jifri offers some clarity on the question of whether wishing our fellow Christian friends and neighbours “Merry Christmas” is permissible or not.
I remind my brothers from among the students of sacred knowledge that the scholars who forbid congratulating non-Muslims on their religious celebrations tied their judgement to the assumption that congratulating affirms certain tenets of belief (held by non-Muslims) that are diametrically opposed to Islam. They anchored their judgement on a widespread understanding and custom particular to their time that congratulating others on their religious occasions is considered an affirmation of their beliefs, hence their edicts made mention of proofs regarding the impermissibility of affirming and esteeming false tenets of belief and not clear and unambiguous proofs that forbid congratulating in and of itself.
Today we can not imagine that congratulating others on their religious occasions affirms their tenets of belief. Islam is well established and knowledge of its core aspects of belief are known as well as the points of divergence with other religions. Human beings in general have also matured enough to accommodate co-existence that respects the boundaries of each others’ faiths. A Muslim who congratulates Christians on Christmas does not come close to thinking that this affirms the divinity of Christ or that he is the son of God. Likewise, a Christian who receives the season’s greetings from a Muslim will not be mislead to think that this Muslim has affirmed Christian theology. Similarly, a Christian who congratulates a Muslim neighbour on Eid, or Ramadan or the birth of the Prophet Muhammad knows well that this does not mean he is affirming Islamic belief, nor does a Muslim think that about a Christian who congratulates him/her.
Contemporary custom surrounding the Christmas season no longer links congratulating one (by saying ‘merry Christmas’ for example) with an affirmation of the belief that Jesus is the son of God. Rather, it is considered a general custom that indicates good inter-human dealing.
A legal principle (qa’ida fiqhiyya) states: “A judgement depends on its cause” (al-hukmu yaduru ma’a ‘ilatihi wujudan wa ‘adaman). The cause which led to some scholars forbidding congratulating (the cause was affirmation of the others’ religious beliefs) no longer remains and thus the impermissibility of congratulating also no longer remains.
It is important to note here too that Ibn al-Qayyim’s position that the scholars were in agreement over the impermissibility of congratulating others on their religious occasions is not accurate. Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah has mentioned that Imam Ahmad had three opinions on this issue: impermissible, disliked, and permissible. Ibn Taymiyyah adopted its permissibility as was related by Ibn al-Mardawi in ‘Al-Insaf.’ (1)
It is the right of one who does not wish to congratulate others on their religious occasions to not do it, but wrong for them to impose their view upon others as though it is obligatory. To condemn those who do it and doubt their belief (iman) is to reduce the sharia’s greatness and play frivolously with the religion! I urge you: please stop your misuse of this great religion!
(1) For the full Arabic text of Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayyah’s fatwa please refer to his website