I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very happy holiday season. To my Jewish friends, a belated Happy Hanukah. To my Christian friends, Merry Christmas! To my friends who celebrate Kwanza – Happy Kwanza.
The Afeef household doesn’t celebrate any of these holidays as part of our own religious tradition – we are Muslims. But that doesn’t stop us from feeling happy and festive as you all celebrate. We care deeply for our friends (near and far, old and new), our neighbors, our co-workers, our children’s teachers, coaches, friends and families – all the people whose lives touch ours for the better.
After our last youth wrestling practice before the holiday break earlier this week one of the other dad-coaches wished me a Merry Christmas and then he kind of checked himself and said “or Happy Holidays, you know what I mean… .” I looked at him, smiled and said “Merry Christmas.” I know he and his family celebrate it. There is absolutely no need for him to feel awkward for saying “Merry Christmas” to me. I know where his heart is, and I hope he knows a bit better now where mine is too.
One of my friends at the office asked me if I had finished my Christmas shopping. I said no, not yet. He responded by saying he was kidding and that he knows I don’t celebrate Christmas. But in our home we do give gifts to our neighbors, our kids’ teachers, their bus drivers, and their coaches. My wife got gifts for the folks who work with her. I explained this to him without a lot of preaching, but I will explain why here.
In our lives growing up as minorities in America we’ve experienced bigotry, but we’ve experienced a lot of love too. We want to teach our children to show love and gratitude to others, and we want to teach them that respecting others’ faith traditions takes nothing away from our own religious convictions.
Our neighbors, the women and men who teach and coach our kids, and the folks who take our kids to and from school safely every day mean a lot to us, and during this wonderful season where some of the best sentiments are expressed (joy to the world, peace on Earth, unity, and diversity to name a few), we want to contribute to their celebration of the joyous season.
We’ve been doing this for a long time now, and while we give expecting nothing in return, these simple acts of kindness have been returned manifold. Our friends and neighbors never forget to wish us well at the start and end of Ramadan for example. From time to time neighbors have gifted us baskets of goodies at the end of Ramadan too. I cannot begin to convey just how much that means to a Muslim family in America in these times.
My children and the children they are growing up with, I hope, will be better human beings because of these little things we do for one another today.
Let’s hope, pray, and work for a better and very happy new year! Adversity can make us stronger, so I’m guessing we’re all a lot stronger going into the new year! I hope 2018 brings more kindness, love, civility, compassion, and openness for everyone!