There’s an entire chapter in the Quran called ‘Mary,’ and the story of Jesus’ birth is recounted. … We make sure the holiday is focused through and through on Jesus — peace and blessing be upon him — as opposed to feeding into the commercialization of this holiday.
— Hisham Mahmoud, Harvard lecturer
For many American Jews, Christmas Day means Chinese food and movies. But how do American Muslims spend their time on Christmas?
Jesus is also revered as a prophet in Islam. “Muslims and Christians believe that Jesus is the only messiah,” explains Hisham Mahmoud, an Arabic teacher at Harvard University. He points out that Jesus’ mother, Mary, is considered by Muslims to be a saint. “In fact, there’s an entire chapter in the Quran called ‘Mary,’ and the story of Jesus’ birth is recounted in that chapter,” he says.
On Christmas Day, Mahmoud and his devout Muslim family fast.
“We also relate the story of Jesus and Mary,” he says. “We read those passages in the Quran and we make sure the holiday is focused through and through on Jesus — peace and blessing be upon him — as opposed to feeding into the commercialization of this holiday.”
That’s not to say that some American Muslims never participate in the more commercial side of Christmas: “All the Persians in my community went full-blown Christmas the first year,” says comedian Zahra Noorbakhsh. “I mean, my cousins even had a guy come over dressed as Santa.”
Then there’s the not-much-going-on approach; no one did anything in the home of comedian Fawzia Mirza, whose parents came from Pakistan. She says she remembers feeling like: “OK, here we are. Ours is the dark house on the block. Everywhere else was lit up, and then there was us.”