x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Christmas cheer is good for all of us

Why Christmas is a time to celebrate for everyone

Festive cheer is spreading in the UAE. You can already see the big Christmas trees with their colourful ornaments everywhere in the hotels and malls. You can also hear the Christmas carols in many public places. Shopping for gifts and Christmas sweets at various hotels is the major trend during this time of year.

Whenever you see Emiratis decorating their houses with lights, this is actually an imitation of westerners and their activities during this season. However, we do not celebrate it the way they do, for example, by visiting Christmas markets or going to church services, having Christmas family dinners served with alcohol or putting up decorated trees with presents underneath.

Here in the UAE, children get to see Santa Claus in the malls; Christmas trees and decorations are everywhere, with choirs singing carols, accompanied by European or North American orchestras.

Now, I don't celebrate Christmas myself but am proud of my country for providing an atmosphere of religious tolerance and co-existence by making Christmas a holiday for everyone who enjoys celebrating it. However, some Muslims might not like it, since Christmas is known as a Christian holiday with a pagan tradition.

But even though celebrating Christmas is not a part of our Islamic religion, accepting Jesus as a prophet from God does indeed play a major role in our belief; for us, letting people celebrate it is a sign of religious freedom and harmony within the UAE.

This UAE character trait of religious harmony has been confirmed by many church leaders in our country and is what makes both our religion and country so unique. But not only that, our beloved father Sheikh Zayed was a role model who taught us to appreciate and embrace such cultural differences with tolerance and an open mindset.

There are several advantages of tolerating Christmas celebrations. First of all, Christmas has become an "international day" and is referred to today as a "holiday" and hence people greet each other by saying "Happy Holidays" instead of Merry Christmas, regardless of their religious denomination. Secondly, the freedom of religion for Christians living in the UAE is peacefully maintained; they can still feel welcome in our country without feeling discriminated due to the fact that it is easy for Christians and non-Muslims to celebrate their special holiday. And the third aspect is that, as Muslims we get to see a peaceful and lovely family-orientated side of other religious events. We can use this occasion as an opportunity for a unique cultural exchange based on a respectful interfaith dialogue by being open to discuss and discover the similarities and differences between the two faiths: Islam and Christianity.

So, let's take this special occasion to show how tolerant we are as Emiratis and promote an interfaith dialogue with our co-workers, neighbours, friends and family members who are not Muslims. That way we can all learn from each other, spread the message to treat each other with respect, love and gratitude and at the same time maintain a peaceful and tolerant "community spirit" that enjoys coming together as a huge family.