It seems to me that this fatwa forbidding Muslims from wishing Christians Merry Christmas is a topic that re-emerges every year. I have been told that the reason it is forbidden is because it is seen as condoning or endorsing a false religion. If this is the case, it seems to me that this represents a deeper underlying issue – that of supercessionism or exclusivism, that is claiming “my religion is rights; all other are wrong!”
I think in a multi-faith society, we have to move past supercessionist and exclusivist attitudes. Yes, I have convictions about the role and identity of Jesus Christ that others do not share. But that does not mean that I do not respect others and their religions. I have come to the conviction that if religions have survived for hundreds of years without having been superseded, then in God’s providence they must have a continuing and future role to play in God’s plan for the unfolding of human history.
As you know, interfaith activists tend not to use the word “tolerance”. It implies that one is merely putting up with something that is intrinsically “bad”, because the one doing the “putting up with” is inherently superior. I believe we have to move beyond this negative approach towards a much more positive appreciation. While we do not accept each other’s theological positions on key doctrinal matters, we can always respect the person from another religion who does not share them, who holds opposed positions.
Muslims already wrongly suffer a bad reputation in society due to the criminal behaviour of a tiny minority who act contrary to the Qur’an and tradition and commit terrorist violence. The proponents of the fatwa might engender good will towards the Muslim community if they refrained from forbidding the offering of greetings to their majority fellow citizens on the occasion of Christmas. To do so would not compromise their faith. It would simply show appreciation and respect to the majority community. I personally have received a number of such greetings from Muslims in recent days. I offer greetings to Muslims on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr. I do not see it as compromising my faith, I see it as a social and religious courtesy.
By Father Patrick McInery