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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Ask Ali: Why Muslims don’t celebrate Christmas

Also: How Arabs choose names for their horses, and what new companies must look out for in their advertising and marketing literature.

Dear Ali: Perhaps this is a sensitive subject, but can you explain why my Muslims friends don’t celebrate Christmas and don’t feel comfortable in wishing me or any Christian a merry Christmas? I’m a bit confused as I see a lot of Christmas trees in the UAE? SA, Abu Dhabi

Dear SA: It’s a question that is often asked at this time of the year by many non-Muslims and Muslims as well. First we should understand what Christmas is all about and how it’s viewed by Muslims. Unlike Islamic feasts, Christmas is celebrated on a fixed date surrounded by media hype and with many shops starting to display their Christmas range as early as October. Of course, after three months of Jingle Bells, many shoppers would have had enough. I’m also referring to the pressure that parents are under to buy gifts and toys for their children and grandchildren, not to mention that many people borrow money to cope with the financial burden that Christmas brings. Many of my practising Christian friends find the amount spent on everything that comes with Christmas such as food, drinks and decorations to be scandalous.

So the question is: what is Christmas all about? If we go back, we discover that in ancient times the feast of the pagan sun god took place on December 25. It was celebrated in Europe to give people hope that the difficult days of cold weather would soon be over. The churches took over this date, although there is not one document that proves exactly when Jesus (peace be upon him) was born. It’s believed by our Christian friends that God sent his son into this world to redeem it from the original sin of Adam and Eve and hence Christmas is the time when Jesus was born. I wanted to share this because I’m wondering if my Christian friends know these facts about this festival.

Today Christmas is celebrated differently from the way it was in the Middle Ages, when almost everyone went to church. For some, it has become a time to celebrate the love of family and friends and to reflect on the happy moments that have been shared. Others who celebrate Christmas are devoted Christian believers, and see it as a religious feast at the heart of their faith. To them the religious service is more important than the big piece of turkey they will get to eat. Many of them feel that the point behind Christmas has been altered by the media, and this is a feeling shared by many Muslims, who also feel the same thing is happening to their two major Eid celebrations.

Since Muslims don’t believe that Jesus was God’s son, there is nothing for them to celebrate and the festival plays no part in the Muslim calendar. It also means that in Muslim countries there is no official holiday. It’s why Muslims don’t decorate their homes, schools or offices with Christmas trees and fairy lights. And this is also why they don’t send Christmas cards.

Taking the UAE as an example, Christmas fans may enjoy the feast as it is celebrated in their homes, and in malls and hotels. I’m sure you wouldn’t find such openness and acceptance in any other Muslim country. In fact, you would not find any non-Muslim country celebrating Islamic feasts the way we celebrate Christmas, but maybe this is because it has become more of a social celebration, while Islamic festivals are still seen as religious celebrations.

And so, if we had to send a card, I would suggest that it not be religious or with Christian symbols on it. One could simply write: “May God bless you”, “Compliments of the season”, or, my favourite, “Happy holidays”.

Dear Ali: I work as a manager and trainer at a local stable with Arabian horses. Sometimes, I have to assign names to the colts. Can you tell me how Arabs choose names for their horses? As I understand it, I should not be giving them human names. DC, Al Ain

Dear DC: You are right; we do not call animals by human names, even though there are some exceptions to names that carry a descriptive meaning to a certain value in Arabic. For example “Shaj’aan”, which means “brave”, but there could be a man with that name as well. We do have plenty of options to choose from for names that we give to animals and we definitely have some beautiful replacements, especially for such a beloved and praised animal as the horse.

You know how it is important to maintain the purity of the horse breed? Preserving the distinct Arabian Desert names is no less important to horse owners. The Arabic language is rich with descriptive words that we can use for a horse’s name.

The word can describe some key quality of the horse: colour, strength, character, markings, temperament, courage and so on. For example, Sheikh Zayed’s first horse was called Rabdan, which is the baby horse of the famous Kuhailan, the mother of the best breed of horses in the Arab world. Another horse that he owned was called Al Anoud, which means brave and ­stubborn.

Finally, I would advise you to to seek help from your Emirati and Arab friends. But make sure they have knowledge of your own language so they can understand the meaning of what you are trying to say when naming newborn colts.

Dear Ali: Ours is an international company that opened a branch in Dubai recently. We discovered that the UAE differs from other countries that we are working with. What should we pay attention to when marketing our products on flyers? OY, Dubai

Dear OY: I would like to congratulate you for the growth of your business and for opening a branch here in the UAE.

Regarding your question, I could give you some important tips based on the mistakes that some new locally opened international companies are committing.

If you are asking about the language you should speak, then I would recommend that you use the language of the audience that you are targeting. Also, there should always be employees who can speak Arabic and English fluently.

Regarding the brochures or other promotional literature, these should be of good quality with a classy design. Creativity is always welcomed here.

I am sure you have noted that the majority of Emiratis speak English fluently, though most of us still prefer to read texts in Arabic. So it would be very good to have the text printed in both languages. The same goes for business cards and even websites.

When using images of people, I would avoid using a western- looking man dressed in our national attire in order to attract local people to a product or service. We can easily understand when a person is not from the UAE or even the GCC, and this may provoke a negative attitude towards the brand.

And finally, as Muslims, we do not accept any provocative image or anything that is offensive to our religion or culture.

Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow @AskAli on Twitter, and visit www.ask-ali.com to ask him a question and to find his guidebooks to the UAE, for Dh50.