Is it permitted for Muslims to say Merry Christmas or something similar to it, according to the Hanafi Madhab?



Islamic Text

Since Christmas is a Christian religious holiday, it is not permitted for Muslims to engage in it, therefore saying Merry Christmas is not permitted. When national holidays or events have nothing to do with religion or the religious beliefs of non-Muslims then it may be permitted for Muslims to engage. However, when there is a religious connection then it is not permitted.

ثُمَّ جَعَلْنَاكَ عَلَى شَرِيعَةٍ مِنَ الْأَمْرِ فَاتَّبِعْهَا وَلَا تَتَّبِعْ أَهْوَاءَ الَّذِينَ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ

Then We put you upon a Sharia concerning the matter (of religion). So follow it and do not follow the desires of those who do not know. (Surah al-Jaathiyah, Ayah 16).

The Ayah above commands us not to follow the desires of the Ahl-Kitaab (people of the book). The context found in the verses before and after is one of the Ahl-Kitab being astray and for us not to seek to please them. Rather we have our Sharia, and as a general rule must remain distinct from other religious communities when it comes to matters of Deen.

Although Christmas has been heavily commercialised and is not celebrated by Christians alone, it has maintained its Christian connections in the public consciousness. When asked about the reason Christians celebrate Christmas, many people in our community will respond saying, they believe it to be the birth of Christ (peace be upon him). Others may not know the specific reason they celebrate Christmas, but will know it is a Christian holiday.  You may well find some people who are unaware of the link between Christians and Christmas, but that is not sufficient to claim that Christmas is now completely free of its Christian routes and therefore it is permitted for Muslims to engage with it. Such a claim is demonstrably false. Consequently, any Fatwa permitting Muslims to say Merry Christmas based on that assertion will not be accurate or applicable to our community.

There are so many verses of the Holy Quran and narrations in the blessed Sunnah that require Muslims to refrain from engaging in the religious activities of other communities. This is so clear in Quran and Hadith that Hanafi scholars made very strong statements regarding the mere act of giving gifts at the time of religious holidays of non-Muslims.

(وَالْإِعْطَاءُ بِاسْمِ النَّيْرُوزِ وَالْمِهْرَجَانِ لَا يَجُوزُ) أَيْ الْهَدَايَا بِاسْمِ هَذَيْنِ الْيَوْمَيْنِ حَرَامٌ بَلْ كُفْرٌ، وَقَالَ أَبُو حَفْصٍ الْكَبِيرُ – رَحِمَهُ اللَّهُ – لَوْ أَنَّ رَجُلًا عَبَدَ اللَّهَ خَمْسِينَ سَنَةً ثُمَّ جَاءَ يَوْمُ النَّيْرُوزِ، وَأَهْدَى لِبَعْضِ الْمُشْرِكِينَ بَيْضَةً يُرِيدُ بِهِ تَعْظِيمَ ذَلِكَ الْيَوْمِ فَقَدْ كَفَرَ، وَحَبِطَ عَمَلُهُ. (تبيين الحقائق شرح كنز الدقائق)

Gifting in the name of al-Nayrooz and al-Mihrajaan (two religious holidays for the Magians) is not permitted. Meaning, giving gifts in the name of these two days is Haram, rather it is Kufr. Abu Hafs al-Kabeer – May Allah Most High have mercy upon him – said, if a person worshipped Allah (Most High) for fifty years and then gifted an idolater (as little as) an egg on the day of al-Nayrooz, intending thereby to venerate the day, indeed he has disbelieved (committed Kufr), and all his good deeds have been nullified. (Imam al-Zaylai, Tabyeen al-Haqaaiq).

Such strong statements (regarding Kufr) have been qualified in the Hanafi books as applying to venerating the religious holidays of Kufaar. However, the scholars clarified that even when such veneration is not intended, it is still not permitted.

وَالْإِعْطَاءُ بِاسْمِ النَّيْرُوزِ وَالْمِهْرَجَانِ لَا يَجُوزُ، وَقَالَ صَاحِبُ الْجَامِعِ الْأَصْغَرِ: إذَا أَهْدَى يَوْمَ النَّيْرُوزِ إلَى مُسْلِمٍ آخَرَ وَلَمْ يُرِدْ بِهِ تَعْظِيمَ ذَلِكَ الْيَوْمِ وَلَكِنْ جَرَى عَلَى مَا اعْتَادَهُ بَعْضُ النَّاسِ لَا يَكْفُرُ وَلَكِنْ يَنْبَغِي لَهُ أَنْ لَا يَفْعَلَ ذَلِكَ الْيَوْمَ خَاصَّةً وَيَفْعَلَهُ قَبْلَهُ أَوْ بَعْدَهُ كَيْ لَا يَكُونَ تَشَبُّهًا بِأُولَئِكَ الْقَوْمِ. (الفتاوى الهندية)

Gifting in the name of al-Nayrooz and al-Mihrajaan (two religious holidays for the Magians) is not permitted. The author of al-Jami al-Asghar said, if a person gives a gift to another Muslim on the day of al-Nayrooz and did not intend veneration of that day, rather he done it because some people gift on that day, then it is not Kufr but it is not appropriate for him to do it in that day specifically. Rather he should do it before or after, so it does not fall into imitation of those people (the Magians).  (al-Fatawaa al-Hindiyah).

In the Nass above it stated, ‘it is not appropriate for him to do it’ (وَلَكِنْ يَنْبَغِي لَهُ أَنْ لَا يَفْعَلَ). Such a statement could be understood differently with regards to how serious the dislike or prohibition is. Despite that ambiguity, it does confirm that giving gifts on such occasions is a concern. Majma al-Anhur is clearer on the ruling of giving gifts without intending veneration:

(وَلَا) يَجُوزُ (الْإِعْطَاءُ بِاسْمِ النَّيْرُوزِ وَالْمِهْرَجَانِ) أَيْ الْهَدَايَا بِاسْمِ هَذَيْنِ الْيَوْمَيْنِ حَرَامٌ بَلْ كُفْرٌ إنْ قَصَدَ تَعْظِيمَ الْمَذْكُورِ مِنْ النَّيْرُوزِ وَالْمِهْرَجَانِ كَمَا بَيَّنَّاهُ فِي مَوْضِعِهِ. (مجمع الأنهر في شرح ملتقى الأبحر)

And it is not permitted to give gifts in the name of al-Nayrooz and al-Mihrajaan. Meaning it is Haram to give gifts in the name of these two days. Rather it is Kufr if one intends to venerate the mentioned days of al-Nayrooz and al-Mihrajaan, as we have explained in its place. (Majma al-Anhur).

We see in the Nusoos above that it is always wrong to give gifts during the religious holidays of non-Muslims. However, the strictest prohibitions and rulings apply when one intends veneration. In the Nass below Imam Ibn Abideen gives more detail with regards to the two days of al-Nayrooz and al-Mihrajaan. He also clarifies that simply having the intention without verbally saying the gift is for these days is still a concern. For the same reason saying Merry Christmas is a concern and must be avoided.

(قَوْلُهُ وَالْإِعْطَاءُ بِاسْمِ النَّيْرُوزِ وَالْمِهْرَجَانِ) بِأَنْ يُقَالَ هَدِيَّةُ هَذَا الْيَوْمِ وَمِثْلُ الْقَوْلِ النِّيَّةُ فِيمَا يَظْهَرُ ط وَالنَّيْرُوزُ أَوَّلُ الرَّبِيعِ وَالْمِهْرَجَانُ أَوَّلُ الْخَرِيفِ وَهُمَا يَوْمَانِ يُعَظِّمُهُمَا بَعْضُ الْكَفَرَةِ وَيَتَهَادَوْنَ فِيهِمَا. (رد المحتار على الدر المختار)

His saying: And giving a gift in the name of al-Nayrooz or al-Mihrajaan. Meaning, saying a gift for this day. And intention is the same as speech according to that which is apparent (Tahtawi). And al-Nayrooz is the beginning of spring. And al-Mihrajaan is the beginning of autumn. They are both days that are venerated by some disbelievers and they give gifts on those days. (Imam Ibn Abideen, Radd al-Muhtaar).

Giving gifts is normally not only permitted but encouraged in the Sharia (Sacred Law). However, if it coincides with the religious holidays of other communities then it must be avoided. This ruling demonstrates the importance given to remaining distinct from other communities when it comes to religious affairs, and it represents the emphasis the holy Prophet (peace be upon him) placed on this Ummah remaining distinct from others regarding religious issues. Therefore, saying Merry Christmas or something similar must be avoided by Muslims, just like giving gifts must be avoided.

Another example of the emphasis upon remaining distinct from people of other religions is found in the rulings that relate to fasting. Although it is generally encouraged to fast, it becomes a concern if it coincides with a religious holiday or the practice of other religions.

عَبْدَ اللهِ بْنَ عَبَّاسٍ رَضِيَ اللهُ عَنْهُمَا، يَقُولُ: حِينَ صَامَ رَسُولُ اللهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَوْمَ عَاشُورَاءَ وَأَمَرَ بِصِيَامِهِ قَالُوا: يَا رَسُولَ اللهِ إِنَّهُ يَوْمٌ تُعَظِّمُهُ الْيَهُودُ وَالنَّصَارَى فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: فَإِذَا كَانَ الْعَامُ الْمُقْبِلُ إِنْ شَاءَ اللهُ صُمْنَا الْيَوْمَ التَّاسِعَ

(Sayidina) Abdullah bin Abbas (May Allah Most High be pleased with them both) said, when the Messenger of Allah ﷺ fasted on the day of ‘Ashura and commanded others to fast it, they (his Companions) said to him ﷺ, ‘ O Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), it is a day which the Jews and Christians venerate. Thereupon the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, ‘When the next year comes, In sha Allah, we will fast on the ninth (too).’ (Sahih Muslim, 1134 – 133).

وَيُكْرَهُ صَوْمُ يَوْمِ النَّيْرُوزِ وَالْمِهْرَجَانِ لِأَنَّ فِيهِ تَعْظِيمَ أَيَّامٍ نُهِينَا عَنْ تَعْظِيمِهَا، فَإِنْ وَافَقَ يَوْمًا كَانَ يَصُومُهُ فَلَا بَأْسَ بِهِ (فتح القدير)

And it is disliked to fast on the days of al-Nayrooz or al-Mihrajaan because it leads to veneration of the days. But we have been prohibited from venerating them. However, if it coincides with a day he normally fasts (e.g. Mondays) then it is permitted. (Imam Ibn Humaam, Fath al-Qadeer).

As we see above, even if one does not intend to venerate these days it is still a concern. Unless the fast is in line with a previously established habit.

So, if actions that are encouraged in Sharia (fasting and giving gifts) become a concern if they incidentally coincide with a religious holiday of another community, then it certainly will not be permitted to directly offer greetings regarding such religious holidays. Therefore, saying Merry Christmas cannot be permitted for Muslims.

It must be noted that this discussion and ruling is relevant to holidays and events linked to the religion of other communities. If celebrations, holidays or events have nothing to do with the religion of others then the ruling may well be different.

And Allah Most High Knows Best.

– Answered by Shaykh Noorud-deen Rashid (13.12.2021)

– Approved by Shaykh Abd al-Salam al-Shanar (16.12.2021)

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