Aisha Iqbal: All I want for Christmas is a halal turkey

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As I write this, I’m about to go and order my Christmas turkey from my local halal butcher.

I’ve got 20 people coming round for Christmas dinner and I’m stressing because I’m from an Asian Muslim background, and I’ve grown up with one rule around food - you ALWAYS cook extra.

A young Malaysian girl walks in front of a Christmas tree at a mall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The spirit of Christmas is felt very much in Muslim-dominated Malaysia, as shopping malls  decorate their premises with Christmas trees, lights, Santa Claus and carols as a chance to boost year-end sales. (AP Photo/Joshua Paul)

A young Malaysian girl walks in front of a Christmas tree at a mall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The spirit of Christmas is felt very much in Muslim-dominated Malaysia, as shopping malls decorate their premises with Christmas trees, lights, Santa Claus and carols as a chance to boost year-end sales. (AP Photo/Joshua Paul)

So my only real quandary isn’t whether I should be marking Christmas at all, but rather, do I buy one bird or two?

What I love about Christmas, as a non Christian, is that the religious part of it - in our wonderfully open and tolerant country - is not forced down anyone’s throat.

Many of the most well-known traditions associated with the festival - like Christmas trees and turkey dinners - have nothing at all to do with religious dogma or doctrine, of course. By the way, I say this as someone who rails against religious dogma of any kind.

That’s not to say I don’t have a deep appreciation and respect for the religious importance of this beautiful festival for millions of Christians around the world. I do.

But how you practice your particular brand of spirituality is between you and your God (or Gods).

I, for my part, have no cheater’s guilt from putting up a Christmas tree, or eating a turkey dinner with all the trimmings with my family and friends on the most important national holiday of the year.

However there’s an additional (delicious) irony to my halal Christmas this year.

It might well be taking place at my local church!

With relatives from both my and my husband’s side set to descend on our humble home, I’ve realised no amount of creative table setting is going to work.

So, I’ve taken the plunge and decided to hire a space.

And, here’s the even more hilarious bit.

When I checked with my usual local ‘hall for hire’ - which happens to be run by a Muslim-led charity - they were closed for Christmas Day.

But the hall at my local church was open and available.

There is, for me, something wonderful - and utterly Christmassy - about the fact that 20 Muslims might be celebrating Christmas at their local church hall after there was no room at their usual inn. Praise be!

I know dozens of Muslim families who will be sitting down to turkey and trimmings on December 25 and watching the Queen’s speech at 3pm.

I might, for some people, be stating the obvious.

But with the recent hooha about a Muslim family being featured in a supermarket Christmas advert, I wanted to state it anyway.

At this time of year, when it’s silly season for news, the ‘scrooge’ headlines tend to start appearing, and in recent years, they have started to take on sinister, xenophobic ‘them and us’ undertones.

But I can honestly say that NO-ONE apart from our common enemies - the extremist nutters of all kinds - wants to cancel Christmas.

I love Christmas carols and festive movies and giving and getting Christmas cards. I love silly festive jumpers and I adore the sounds of George Michael (R.I.P) singing forlornly for his lost festive love.

And don’t even get me started on the parental pride-fest that is the annual primary school nativity. That one, in my experience (as a non-parent but auntie of many eager participants) has never been hampered by the small matter of religious differences.

Across the world too, many Muslims, and people of other religions, will be marking Christmas in their own, unique, secularly celebratory way.

My late father in law, a deeply spiritual Muslim (living in Pakistan) who passed away last December, used to spend every December 25 with his very dear Christian friend, when they would exchange gifts and food.

You don’t have to be Christian to appreciate the true spirit of Christmas. It really is the most wonderful time of the year.

Happy Christmas everyone!

Erin Emilia Rain Tomkins.

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