“I am Muslim; I don’t celebrate Christmas”, “There’s no Christmas in my religion”, and “I have my religion and you have yours” are hash-tags set up by Egyptian Salafis calling upon Muslims to boycott Christmas season festivities and to refrain from wishing Christians a ‘Merry Christmas’. Many other hash-tags too were set up for that purpose, replete with images and slogans to drive the message home.
Given that Egyptians are famous for being a tolerant fun-loving people eager to be part of all jolly festive events, the Salafi call for shirking off Christmas activities goes against the grain. The majority of Muslim Egyptians embrace Christmas trees and Santa Claus, and celebrate New Year with gusto. Cairo streets are chockfull of Santa hats and Christmas decoration sold to passers-by who eagerly pick them. And the majority of Egypt’s Copts rush to buy the traditional candy made in honour of al-Mawlid al-Nabawi, the feast of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, and actively join in the festivities associated with the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. “Kul sanna wenta tayyib”, literally may you be fine [on this occasion] every year, is the most common exchange among Egyptians on all such occasions, regardless of religious belonging.
Extremist thought in a nutshell
Yet the Salafi call to boycott Christmas to the point of not wishing a Christian well is nothing new. Egyptians have seen this call unashamedly propagated by extremists every year since Islamist thought began gaining a foothold in Egypt in the 1970s. The only difference this year is that the Salafis have extensively used the social media to broadcast their message. Their explicit fatwas (Islamic legal opinion) against Christmas greetings for Christians and against the celebration of the Nativity of Christ are all over Facebook and Twitter. Surprisingly, though, the Qur’an itself cites the virgin birth of Jesus Christ in its Surat Mariam.
This year, the prohibition call was launched by Nasser Radwan, a member of the Salafi Call who branded the Feast of the Nativity as “the feast of cursing the Almighty”. “I may congratulate a Copt I know for his child’s success or marriage, or even console him in case of the death of a loved one. But it is impossible to share with him his joy on religious feasts,” Radwan wrote.
Other fatwas to the same effect were propagated by the Salafi al-Nour Party and Salafi sheikhs including Sheikh Ibn-Baz, and Sheikh Abdel-Muniem al-Shahat, spokesman for the Salafi call.
Images posted on the Salafi hash-tags carried slogans like: “How can a Muslim have in his home a Christmas tree that celebrates the birth of the Son of God?”, “Christmas is a Christian celebration of the birth of God; are you going to participate in extolling such a belief?”, and “I am Muslim, I don’t mark Christmas”. One post claimed that the various Christian sects do not wish one another well for Christmas, so why should Muslims do so? This was especially laughable since it is a gross falsity, both on the official and public levels.
The online media, however, was full of comments that went against the Salafi prohibition. On www.youm7.com, the widest-visited news site in Egypt, 90 per cent of the reader comments rejected the Salafi demand, and branded it as extremist and fanatic.
“You may speak for yourself,” one blogger wrote, “not in the name of other Muslims. We have not assigned you to make any fatwas. Our prophet Muhammad advised us to be good to our neighbours; he didn’t specify their religion.”
Another Muslim who signed as Semsem wrote: “I am Egyptian; I share my neighbour’s happy and sad days, just as he shares mine. This does not mean I have become Christian or that he has become Muslim. We spontaneously exercise sharing with love and mercy.”
Yet another Egyptian wrote: “We don’t know where you come from, or why are you attempting to divide us? Wake up, don’t you yet understand the nature of Egyptians?”
A visitor who signed as the ‘Fighter against corruption’ wrote, “To take no action against those sedition workers is an endorsement of anarchy. How can anyone issue such a seditious fatwa and run free? Then I too may issue a fatwa to consider these trouble makers khawarij (a group of dissident Muslims in the 7th century; they were considered deserters and infidels, and were fought and vanquished by the Caliphs) and kill them.”
But perhaps the most common comment was a simple, defiant: “My Coptic neighbours: Have a happy Christmas.”
30 December 2015