What is so great about saying “Merry Christmas”?

December 27, 2008

Qusthan Abqary

It is interesting enough to read one article whose title is “Can Muslims say “Merry Christmas”?” written by Mahmudi Asyari and Muizzudin in The Jakarta Post, December 24th, 2008.

They wrote: “Since every December Indonesian Muslims face this issue, it is better that all religious leaders have a mutual understanding and an open dialog and so contribute to a conducive atmosphere for harmony and tolerance among the followers of different religions. In the matter of wishing “Merry Christmas”, Muslims should take all aspects comprehensively. Muslims can wish Christians “Merry Christmas” as if they were celebrating the birthday of another Prophet and Messenger whom Islam acknowledges.”

I note three points about their article which are (1) mutual understanding, (2) open dialog, and (3) Muslims allow saying “Merry Christmas” as long as they celebrate it only as the birthday of another Prophet and Messenger whom also ackowledges in Islam. All those three points refer to the sake of harmony and tolerance.

Some questions arise here. First, did not the existence of harmony among religious people in Indonesia never need that kind of saying since long time ago even before the declaration of independence? Did Pela Gandong in Sulawesi, for instance, give special order to all religious people in their common community to say “Merry Christmas” or other kinds of saying or wishing in regard to the existence of harmony? Does not harmony among religious people base on their own degree of religiousness to consider the others as human and need to be respected?

I am wondering why the campaign for saying “Merry Christmas” never be seen before but there are still so many harmonious and tolerant communities scattered on all over pre-Indonesia area.

Second, what is so great about tolerance? Y. B. Mangunwijaya (RIP), was reported, had ever asked to all monks in one banquet when they talked about the issue of tolerance. He arguably asked about the position of Mohammad, Jahwe, Moses, Buddha, and others God and Messenger in many religions in regard to their own Catholic’s safety road-map if they accept the issues of tolerance and pluralism.

I do agree if Muslims can wish “Merry Christmas” as if they were celebrating it just as one cultural event of other religious community as what happens in the West and were not celebrating the birthday of another Prophet and Messenger whom Islam acknowledges. What is so important to celebrating another Prophet’s and Messenger’s birthday?

Just let some different interpretations among Muslims as it is. There is no guarantee that present day interpretation of Islam will always be the trans-historical Truth (with capital T) just as Mahmudi Asyari and Muizzudin oppose Ibn Katsir’s interpretation.

Mahmudi Asyari and Muizzudin ought to realize that Islam and also Muslims all over the world do not have any single and authoritative organization which can make mutual understanding among ulema themselves though open dialog still can be does.

Open dialog has to always done though there are so many Islamic communities with their own kind of interpretations and school of thought. But it assumes not only the same degree of intelligence but also the similar standing points of all different religious communities. It is impossible to reach the same standing points among different religious communities because all religions base their own faith on different Gods and holy books.

Here comes the important of tolerance. Third, is tolerance just about the willing to wish “Merry Christmas” to the Christians? If it so, tolerance has been understood narrow-mindedly by some ridiculous people who claim that they are really religious. I think that the tolerance not just about wishing “Merry Christmas”, but progressively means, how to help the others to fulfil their basic needs without concerning their religions. On the other hand, the tolerance, passively means, how to be patience when facing other kind of differences as long as not harmful to ourselves and our faith.

In this case, Mahmudi Asyari and Muizzudin will be much better if they just let the different act among Muslims than campaign for their utopian dream of making mutual understanding among ulema all over the world and celebrating the birthday of another Prophet and Messenger.

I think that there is nothing so great about saying “Merry Christmas” because pre-Indonesia’s history shows that that kind of saying or wishing never exist before to guarantee the existence of the previous tolerant and harmonious communities. Even so I still say “Merry Christmas” to the others base on my own perception that Christmas can be positioned as one cultural event and I can enjoy it on that way. Do not religions also about culture?

Tentang Penulis

Qusthan Abqary - I am a lecturer and teach some subjects such as Ethics and Social Awareness, Corporate Governance and Ethics, Business Ethics, Critical and Creative Thinking and others. My research interests are political philosophy, ethics, peace, and war.

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