For the fifth year running, I will be at work on Christmas Day. But while the thought of spending the most important day in the Christian calendar in the office will fill most people with horror, I am actually looking forward to it.
The reason? As the person tasked with feeding my colleagues who will also be working that day, it is my intention to see to it that a stupendous spread is laid on, and that the general atmosphere is as celebratory as possible. I've already opted for chicken instead of turkey, but am still deliberating whether to buy some smoked salmon or prawns, although in truth I'll probably go for both.
My enthusiasm is in no way hampered by the fact that I am Muslim, for I do not believe that by choosing to partake in a national festival, I am in any way compromising my personal beliefs.
And I am not alone in this opinion. All across the land, posters for halal turkeys in butchers' shops in Muslim-populated areas such as Southall, Leicester and Birmingham stand testament to the significance Muslims place on this day. In these parts, greengrocers will be placing extra orders for Brussels sprouts and parsnips, local shops will be stacking boxes of Christmas crackers up high and reams of sparkling tinsel will be on display in abundance.
Of course on the day itself, the turkey will be kept moist with ghee rather than bacon rashers, not a single chipolata sausage will grace the dining table and the brandy butter will probably be... well, just butter.
Still, Muslim mothers all over the country will wake up extra-early to fretfully hoist the bird into the oven in good time for when the hordes of relatives bundle through the front door.
When they do arrive - invariably late, as is the Muslim way - chances are they will be greeted by the unmistakable wafts of tumeric powder and garam masala which have been liberally smothered all over the turkey. These aromas will be mingled with the pungent fragrances of the mutton biryani, dhal and halwa that will accompany the roast potatoes, mince pies and cranberry sauce.
Because, despite what the Daily Mail will have its readers believe, Christmas is as special for many Muslims as it is for the mainstream population. It does not mean we have given up our core beliefs - it must be stressed here that we categorically do not celebrate the birth of Jesus - it is simply a pronouncement of our respect for the customs of the land and a celebration of multiculturalism. Oh, and an excuse to eat, because boy, do we Muslims love our food.
Even those who choose not to enjoy a celebratory meal around the table will in all likelihood end up marking the day, if only by default. I remember as a child, Christmas Day would often end up as a huge extended-family get-together at the house of someone or other, simply because no-one was working that day, there was no public transport and all the shops were closed. And of course, where there is a gathering of Muslims, there is an abundance of food, so really, without anyone actually saying it out loud, we were celebrating Christmas, albeit in our own unique way.
Naturally there will be plenty of Muslims who will choose not to acknowledge the day at all, instead treating it as any other day. They may take the opportunity to clear out that kitchen cupboard, tackle a stack of overdue ironing or study the Koran. If so, this is their right and no-one has the authority to object. This is what living in a free society means. What they won't be doing however, is protesting on the streets calling for Christmas to be banned or requesting the beheading of the infidel. They will simply go about their business in a quintessentially English manner - quietly and without fuss. Sorry to disappoint you, Daily Mail.
But to suggest that those who opt to mark Christmas day with a meal are transgressing the tenets of Islam is ludicrous, especially given that Christmas has in recent times lost much of its religious significance and has become more of a secular festival. Besides, there is even much dispute about whether Jesus was actually born on December 25th.
Indeed, it can even be argued that the true spirit of Christmas, with its emphasis family, community, remembering the needy and giving to charity, is completely in-keeping with the teachings of Islam.
The message sent out by those of us who choose to celebrate this national holiday is that despite the well-documented rise of anti-Muslim sentiment across Europe, despite the social and economic disadvantages many Muslims still face in Britain, and despite the injustice and oppression experienced by Muslims on a daily basis, we still acknowledge and appreciate all that this country has given us, we are still proud to be British and we are extending our hand in friendship to our fellow countrymen.
So I humbly suggest that, if only for one day, we put aside our individual and collective trials and tribulations, forget about all that divides us and focus instead on what brings us together.
Christmas is a time to celebrate life, to rejoice, to give thanks and to remember others less fortunate than ourselves. What religion could possibly object to that?
Now excuse me while I go and put the finishing touches to my Christmas cake...
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