Minnesota Muslims prepare for different activities at Christmas

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When already-busy office computers start buzzing with Christmas songs, clouds burst with snowflakes and some department stores spin Bobby Helms’ “Jingle Bell Rock,” then you know it’s the holiday season unfolding.

Millions of Minnesotans prepare for Christmas celebrations that will highlight caroling, feasting and gift-giving. Many will decorate their homes with adorned trees of colored lights and ornaments. The overflowing mailboxes of Christmas cards inked with messages of prayers and wishes punctuate many of the December traditions.

For many children, the waiting for Santa Claus, the talk of being able to sit on his lap, the dream of receiving a gift from him and the joy of his merry “Ho! Ho! Ho!” dominate their conversations.

This, however, is not the case for thousands of Muslim families in Minnesota. The usual holiday sights and sounds are not present in community social hubs, business centers or houses.

“Muslims see Christmas as a religious holiday for Christians,” said Abdisalam Adam of the Islamic League of Somali Scholars in America. So they tend to shy away from its practices.

Muslim children don’t wait for Santa

Abdihakim Diriye has two sons, seven and five years old. Like many Muslim parents, he said he educates his children about Christmas before the society defines it for them.

“I tell my kids about their religion and roots,” he said. “Christmas isn’t for us, and they know it.”

While Muslims are taught to love and respect Jesus as an important prophet of God, celebrating his birth isn’t encouraged, some scholars say. In fact, not even Prophet Mohamed’s birth is celebrated, even though some denominations do.

For Diriye, the holiday celebration is unthinkable to him and to his seven-year-old, Ilyas.

“They do not ask much about Christmas tree or Santa gifts,” Diriye said of his children. “I think the reason is that we live in a predominantly Muslim neighborhood. The Christmas spirit is not usually strong in our area.”

Minnesota Muslims consist of 100,000 to 150,000 of the state’s 5.2 million people, according to a 2006 report by the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

With no schools or work scheduled on Christmas, some local mosques prepare for a busy series of Islamic lectures in the Twin Cities and increased Quran-study hours for children and teenagers.

Mosques have announced special events featuring Somali Islamic scholars from Canada and Europe during the holiday season. Many Muslims say they look forward to Christmas, but in the sense of attending Islamic events, said Omar Mohamed, who plans to volunteer at the events.

“I just see Christmas as an opportunity of a free time,” Mohamed said. “We’re not going to have especial holiday celebrations as this isn’t our [Islamic] holiday.” Instead, Mohamed will use the leisure time to volunteer at the Islamic gatherings.

Busy days at Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center

One of the oldest and largest mosques in Minnesota, Abubakar As-Saddique in Minneapolis, calls the community to a six-day event program, which begins on Christmas day. The program will feature Islamic lectures, entertainment and free clinic services.

Lecturers include prominent Islamic figures such as Sheik Abdirisaq Hashi and Sheik Abdirahman Sheik Omar, of Minneapolis, and Ustad Ismail Adan Miad, of the United Kingdom. Other speakers, who will also share some of their knowledge and expertise with the crowd, include Dr. Mohamud Afqarshe of HealthPartners Center for International Health in St. Paul, and Crime Prevention Specialist Ahmed Hassan.

“Since most of our community’s colleagues, friends and schoolmates are out celebrating for Christmas,” said Assistant Program Coordinator Muqtar Abdirahman at Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center, “we thought we should organize these programs for them at the mosque.”

Assistant Program Coordinator Muqtar Abdirahman at Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center

Abdirahman said some of the programs include lectures on parenting and parent coaching, youth issues in high schools and colleges, youth poetry, and crimes and identity theft.

“It’s a priority for Abubakar [mosque] to satisfy the needs of the community during the holidays,” said Mohamud Guled, director of Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center. “We want the mosque to be the-place-to-go during this time of the year.” Thousands are expected to attend.