For a lot of people, Christmas this year was the first one post Covid restrictions. As people everywhere passed along Christmas wishes to others, large sections of Pakistanis moved in a different direction: Christmas is haram. Wishing it is haram. Celebrating it is haram. Doing so is Shirk for it means that Jesus is the son of God etc.
This isn’t the first time I’ve come across this argument. It’s been fairly common over the last few years from what I can recall. Not only do many people on social media adhere to this school of thought, but I’ve also seen my own personal acquaintances do the same.
Things weren’t always this way, and over here I’m strictly talking about my memory of growing up in Pakistan during the 1990s. I had friends in school who followed the Christian faith, and I do not recall anyone having an issue with wishing them Merry Christmas. There was no effort to go out of the way and tell people how they were engaging in Shirk by passing along a simple greeting. Obviously, this does not mean that Pakistan was a haven of secular thought and religious tolerance at the time, but simply that the poisoned pangs of bigotry had not sunk as deep in our veins back then.
It isn’t liked something snapped in Pakistan following the 1990s. The seeds had been sowed much earlier, and they simply started bearing fruit later. Simple Dupattas on the head turned into Hijabs and Burkas. Mehndi functions started being equated with immodesty and vulgarity. The ‘dars’ culture became a whole new way of life. Music went from an everyday artistic expression to being outright haram. This and so much more. Movies weren’t spared either. Neither were religious preachers who may have offered a less fundamentalist outlook.
While there is nothing wrong with turning towards a more religious way of life on a personal level, the issue becomes when this turn moves goes from being an entirely personal exercise to an effort to implement the same on others around you.
The way more and more Pakistanis belonging to the Muslim faith approach Christmas is a subset of this whole problem. Truth be told, they haven’t even spared their own fellow Muslims from this approach either. Sunnis will go out of their way to accuse Shias of being heretics and Ahmadis are treated in a manner that would put most people of sound mind to shame.
It is interesting to note however, that despite this modern-day attitude towards Christmas, most of these people are perfectly fine being at the receiving end of Eid Wishes etc. Watching international public figures belonging to other faiths wishing them on Muslim festivals is always welcomed. Furthermore, they have no qualms (and perhaps even expect) Christians in the community to greet them with the traditional ‘Salam’ as is common in all walks of life in Pakistan since they associate the Salam with the Muslim faith. Interestingly though, the Salam is actually an Arab greeting that pre-dates Islam and is also common among non-Muslim Arab speaking populations.
To top it all off, the derogatory attitude and slurs the Christian community in Pakistan is subjected to are never ending. These words and stereotypes are still common in our everyday vernacular, considered by most to be harmless fun, however it is difficult to see the same people taking any stereotyping of their Muslim faith as harmless fun.
Halloween is at the receiving end of criticism every year too, and so is Valentine’s day. This despite the fact that neither has an actual theological link to the Christian faith, and are merely days that celebrate an event and provide an opportunity to have fun. The whole concept of engaging in light hearted events and celebrations, however, is a concept that is becoming alien to more and more Pakistanis. There is always someone willing to sprinkle an element of ‘anti-Islamic and anti-cultural’ spice to these things, leading one to wonder how suffocating the discourse in Pakistan has become. Avenues of recreation are declining. Art is taking a beating. Music is unacceptable. Movies, celebrated across the world, are banned in Pakistan.
And the biggest holiday in the world, celebrated by billions, somehow infringes upon the fragile religious values of Pakistanis due to a simple greeting.
This is not the Pakistan I grew up in.
Sadly, this is a Pakistan a lot of our kids will grow up in.
This post appeared on the Express Tribune Blogs, on December 27, 2022.