There is confusion among Muslims living in The West regarding limits of how we should engage the broader society during their religious holidays such as Christmas where there are parties and gift giving. Indeed, this issue can be even more problematic for those Muslims, who have Christian family members. Let me elaborate on why I don’t give my Christian family members gifts during the Christmas season.
Before going on further, there is no doubt that keeping close relations with family and neighbors, who are not Muslim is must, and giving gifts is praiseworthy in Islam.
Prophet Muhammad (Prayers & Peace be upon him & his family) said, “The best of you are you who are best to his family.”
Also, he (Prayers & Peace be upon him & his family) said, “He is not a Muslim who stays full while his neighbor is hungry.”
And he (Prayers & Peace be upon him & his family) said, “Give gifts, and you will love each other.”
Treating ones’ family and neighbors well and with the best of manners is an Islamic value irrespective of their religions. Accepting kindness shown by people outside of the Islamic faith is also an Islamic value. Indeed, Prophet Muhammad (Prayers & Peace be upon him and his family) accepted gifts from people, who were not Muslim. Similarly, Ali ibn Abi Talib (Blessings be upon him) even accepted a gift given to him on the Zoroastrian holiday of Nayrouz (Nowruz). Like everything within Islam, however, there are limits and wisdom behind staying within certain parameters.
There are no authentic narrations, which state the Prophet (Prayers & Peace be upon him & his family) and the righteous Muslims among the earliest generations ever gave gifts to people of other religious on their holy days. Among the varying schools of thought, scholars have ruled that accepting gifts of people who are not Muslims is acceptable including on their holidays, excluding eating from the meat of people who are not Jews or Christians. However, varying scholars of different schools have stated that giving gifts to people of other religions on their holidays is despicable (makruh) as noted in the Maliki book At-Taaj wal Ikleel or is forbidden (haraam) as noted in the Hanbali book Al-Iqnaa’.
The reason is based upon a narration attributed to Prophet Muhammad (Prayers & Peace be upon him and his family), which says “Whoever imitates a people is one of them.” Hence, scholars have stated that to be involved in the festivities of others’ holy days including gift giving is a type of affirmation that their celebrations are based in correctness of religious creed. Religious holy days such as Christmas, which have religious significance for people who are not Muslims should not be hindered nor insulted by Muslims; however, religious holidays should not be celebrated that are outside of the path (shari’ah) given to Prophet Muhammad (Prayers & Peace be upon him & his family.)
Even in the case of the Day of ‘Aashoora, in which the majority of Muslims take as a day of fasting in which it is believed that the Children of Israel were saved from Pharaoh, that day was reportedly legislated by the Prophet (Prayers & Peace be upon him & his family) as a holy day. He (Prayers & Peace be upon him) did not legislate December 25th, a day which Jesus (Peace be upon him) wasn’t born in and a day which has roots in pagan worship, as a special day despite the Islamic belief in the immaculate conceptions of Jesus (Peace be upon him.)
Prophet Muhammad (Prayers & peace be upon him & his family) clearly said, “Leave what makes you doubt for what does not make you doubt.” He (Prayers & Peace be upon him and his family) also said, ““He who innovates something in this matter of ours that is not of it will have it rejected.”
Thus, I accept gifts from my Christian family and friends based upon the Sunnah, but I give them gifts during other times of the year outside of Christmas, primarily during ‘Eid Al-Fitr and ‘Eid Al-Adha.
And Allah knows best.