Laura El Alam

For many converts to Islam, the holiday season can be particularly challenging. With one foot in the culture of their upbringing and another foot firmly in their new Islamic lifestyle, converts often find it hard to know where to stand. Some new Muslims wonder if it’s permissible to celebrate events like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve with their loved ones. Others have become distanced from their family due to their change in faith and lifestyle. For them, the holidays can be particularly isolating and lonely.

How can converts navigate this tricky season? Is it possible to be part of the holiday fun while still true to one’s Islamic beliefs? On the other hand, if the months of November through January render some individuals alone and unmoored, what can they do? Here are some tips from someone who’s been there:

When possible, join in the fun (but keep it halal)

If you are a convert and the holidays are a special time for your family to gather and connect, it is permissible for you to join them.  Just make sure to keep the following points in mind:

  • Before you go, make your intention.  Join them for the sake of Allah and to fulfill the ties of kinship. Honoring your family is an Islamic duty. With pure intentions, you can visit them and earn Allah’s pleasure and blessings.
  • Be mindful of your actions. Exchanging gifts, bonding, sharing games and laughter, and eating a meal with your family are wonderful ways to connect with them, and these actions do not contradict our faith.  Attending Mass, singing religious songs, or praying to Jesus, however, would all be impermissible. Remember: first and foremost, Muslims are prohibited to worship anything but Allah.
  • Steer clear of haram. Consider taking some proactive measures like talking to your family ahead of time about any concerns you have. You can ask whether they could avoid serving alcohol and pork at the gathering, at least during the time you’re present. If they are planning an overtly religious ritual, perhaps they can plan it for the beginning or end of the day so that you can opt out. Many people will be happy to oblige your requests if it means they can enjoy your presence and ensure your comfort.
  • If your family is not willing to compromise on their food, drink, or rituals, make sure you participate only in the halal aspects, even if that means bringing your own food and walking away from some activities.  Try not to sit at the same table where alcohol is being consumed, even if that means sitting at the kids’ table (which might be a fun way to connect with the youngsters in your family, anyway).
  • Consider bringing a fun board game or activity that will appeal to all ages. That way, at least part of the day’s entertainment will be wholesome and all-inclusive.

What if you’ve lost connection with your family?

Sadly some converts’ families cut ties with them because of their change of religion and lifestyle. If that is the case, here are some suggestions:

  • Make one more effort. Even if you have tried unsuccessfully in the past to reconnect with your family, the holidays can be a good opportunity to test the waters again. Whether they admit it or not, your family members probably miss you a lot during their holiday gatherings. Nostalgia and emotions run deep at this time of year, so consider sending your estranged loved ones a card or calling them on the phone to show you still care.  Many times, people’s hearts do soften with time, but sometimes stubbornness or pride keep them from reaching out. So, if you feel comfortable, show the beauty of Islam by making another effort to repair your family ties.
  • If it’s not possible to reconnect with your family, or if you know the environment at a family gathering would be too toxic for your safety or comfort, then find an alternative activity for the holidays. You’ll find that many other Muslims can completely relate to the “what-should-I-do-on-the-holidays” conundrum and have developed their own traditions. Since they usually have a few days off work, Muslims often use the holidays to enjoy special time together. Some organize religious retreats, potlucks, lectures, or gatherings in their homes or the mosque. Ask some Muslim friends what they’re doing on Christmas Day. Maybe you can make plans together.
  • If no one invites you, you can organize your own event! Consider hosting some Muslims for a potluck in your own home, at a park, or at the masjid. There are definitely others who are in the same boat as you. Perhaps you can be the one to organize an uplifting activity for everyone.
  • If organizing or attending an event seems too stressful for you, make it a day of self-care and connection to your Creator. Since many venues will be closed, plan ahead. Prepare a special meal ahead of time and buy yourself a gift. Indulge in activities that refresh and relax you. Make dua throughout the day and know that Allah sees your sacrifice and sorrow. When we give up something for His sake, He always gives us something much better in return. This is a promise from Him, so you can count on it.
  • Do good deeds. One surefire way to avoid sadness and self-pity is to perform acts of kindness for others. Consider volunteering your time at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen on the holidays. Perhaps you can visit an elderly or sick person who is alone. Helping others gets our mind off our own problems and fosters gratitude, positivity, and a better mindset.