By Imam Daayiee Abdulla
Once again this year, the religious right has taken offense at the so-called “war on Christmas.” The American Family Association and other radical religious groups have called for a boycott of Target because of the corporation”s policy of saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Fox commentator John Gibson has written a book on the subject titled “The War on Christmas,” which outlines the supposed excesses of public school districts observing “holiday parties” and “winter breaks.” In a recent New York Times article, Nicholas Kristoff writes that Fox News has featured the so-called Christmas controversy more than 50 times over the last month. In the case of public recognition of Christmas, as with the campaign to “protect marriage” from the horror of same-sex unions, the uncontested cultural majority seems to find itself oppressed by the prospect of tolerance and respect of minorities in our pluralistic society.
Each year, I happily use the phrase “Happy Holidays” as I express my sincere wishes to my co-religionists of the monotheistic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. As various religious and non-religious holidays occur during the same period, I find it heartening to see humankind greeting each other with holiday cheer, and no one left out of the celebration. As a black American with an eclectic array of friends and associates, I am able to celebrate Ramadan as a Muslim, wish my Jewish and Christian friends a joyful Hanukkah and Christmas, respectively, and honor those who celebrate Kwanzaa and the Winter Solstice. Additionally, shortly after New Year’s I celebrate my birthday. Why wouldn’t I want to have and wish everyone a happy holiday season?
The religious and political elites of the right have a mistaken belief that anyone who does not support their beliefs is a secularist. In efforts to whip up their supporters through fear, they portray these “secularists” as having an agenda of cultural genocide — their evil goal being to eradicate Christianity from the public discourse. Why do they not fear the elimination of Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, and other faith systems that Americans believe in and follow? Such interfaith concern would be far from the narrowly proscribed truth they wish to push down the throats of anyone who lives in America, regardless of faith.
Of course, conservative Christians have the right to sanction economically businesses that are in opposition to their beliefs. Under the American legal system, they also have the right to counter what they believe to be illegally discriminatory behavior. But in exercising these these legal rights, the regligious right ignores the responsibility we have as Americans to interact in public in ways that do not impinge on the religious freedoms of our fellow American citizens. When trying to best serve the general public and not insult those of any faith, stores, schools and government entities should follow clear guidelines that promote a neutral position because it avoids the appearance, if not the intent, of imposing one’s beliefs on another. The religious right seems to have fallen for the Grinch character’s belief that taking down the ubiquitous trappings of Christmas will destroy the joy in the hearts of believers. The religious right would do well to learn, as the Grinch did, that the true meaning of Christmas is not found in commercial expressions of “Merry Christmas,” nor in “my faith is better than yours,” thinking; if the spirit of Christmas is to exist at all, it must be kept alive in the hearts of believers.
The majority conservative Christian culture is not being attacked by a pluralist society. Rather, its desire to impose a narrowly conservative Christian faith on all Americans is being tempered so that it does not offend the sensibilities of most Americans who are perfectly fine with saying “Happy Holidays.” Perhaps if the leaders of the religious right had the true Christmas spirit in their hearts, they would avoid insulting friends and fellow citizens with their insistence on public dogmatism, and spread some peace on earth and good will to all people.
Daayiee Abdullah is a member of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force National Religious Leadership Roundtable. He is the only openly gay imam in the United States and is the moderator of an Internet discussion group for Muslim gay men: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MuslimGayMen.