The movement defending Christmas as a Christian holiday has attracted some unlikely allies: religiously observant Jews and Muslims.
Their support bucks the assumption that religious minorities prefer a neutral approach to the season, desiring “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” at retail checkout lines or “Frosty the Snowman” over “O Holy Night” at public school concerts. Motivations differ, with Jewish leaders calling retailers’ omission of “Christmas” an ominous sign for a country that used to consider itself “Judeo-Christian.” Muslim leaders offer a more strategic reason: establishing firm ground on which to make their own holiday demands.
Scholars say the ballooning controversy and the unusual alliances taking shape illustrate the challenge an increasingly multicultural society faces trying to accommodate many religious expressions.
Islamic support for Christmas stems in part from religious doctrine. While observant Muslims can follow the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad in respecting Jewish and Christian holidays, they say they have little motivation to value Santa-based winter holiday celebrations.
When it comes to Christmas, “the more religious it is, the more acceptable it is to Muslims,” said Ahmed Bedier, director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Central Florida office.
But there is also the issue of Islamic self-interest.
Bedier’s organization recently requested that a school board near Tampa, Fla., include a one-day Muslim holiday alongside Christian and Jewish holidays. When the school board voted instead to scrap all religious holidays, Muslim groups — along with their Christian counterparts — protested. The holidays, at least the Christian and Jewish ones, were reinstated.
“We would like to see one standard applied in terms of recognizing religious holidays,” said Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Muslims, he said, would welcome religious Christmas displays — for example at a public library — as long as Eid al-Adha, the upcoming Muslim holiday marking the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca, was recognized in the same space.