Question 206: What is the ruling on celebrating non-Muslim holidays like Christmas or any other Kuffar holidays? Just curious.
Answer 206: Such celebrating like birthdays is not a part of the Islamic traditions; the Islamic doctrines have not persuaded or recommended us to celebrate our birthdays. Allah, the Glorified, has not referred to any of the prophets’ births except in two cases. The first refers to divine grace in connection with Prophet Moses’ birth. God reminds us of His grace and favor to Moses for saving him from Pharaoh and letting him grow up in his house. The Quran says:
الْتَقَطَهُ آلُ فِرْعَوْنَ لِيَكُونَ لَهُمْ عَدُوًّا وَ حَزَناً
“Then the people of Pharaoh picked him up (from the river): (It was intended) that (Moses) should be to them an adversary and a cause of sorrow…”
The second case refers to the birth of Jesus’ as the expression of God’s power. God, the Almighty, does not make mention of Prophet Ibrahim or other prophets’ birth because a man’s birth at an appointed time is of no value and significance for him. It is of no benefit for him either. That is why Islam has not recommended us to celebrate the birthdays of the Prophet (s) or any of the Imams or others. There is no doubt that Muslims have imitated other civilizations in this regard, those that commemorated the birthdays of their prophets and religious leaders. For instance, Christians annually celebrate the birthdays of their religious leaders, literary men and great artists. They have even chosen Jesus Christ’s birthday as the beginning of history and the Christian calendar whereas the Islamic calendar is reckoned from the time of migration (Hijra) of Prophet Mohammad (s) rather than his birthday.
In fact, we do not have a negative stance in this regard as we do not see any harm in imitating such traditions and in celebrating the birthdays of religious leaders because the birthday ceremonies, commemorations and celebrations held by people here and there acquaint them with the teachings, efforts, missions and conducts of the religious leaders creating a bond between people and them. These commemorations help acquaint people with the lives of the religious leaders. They help bring liveliness and joviality in Islamic society, and let people emulate the religious leaders throughout their lives. Unlike some non-Shia Muslims who consider such celebrations as a kind of bid’ah or innovation in religion, we believe that such practices are not bid’ah because bid’ah (innovation) does not include such matters about which there is no injunction in the Quran and traditions. Celebrating birthdays is a matter about which the Shari`ah is silent. Celebrating the birthdays of religious leaders is a tradition that has positive results because it helps create a bond between the Ummah and religious leaders and will eventually lead to people’s adherence to their way of life. However, as is the case of all kinds of celebrations and social gatherings, these gatherings should also not be pompous in nature and should also not entail any disregard to any other directive of the Shari`ah.
God, the Exalted, has not forbidden novelty and innovation in the celebrations, felicities and methods of living. In fact, in the same way that we use new gadgets and instruments in our day-to-day lives, there is no problem either in practicing such traditions. The practice of birthday celebrations is an affable state and an occasion in which a person remembers his coming to this world. We do not disapprove of this tradition nor do we accept blind import of others’ mores and traditions because we strongly believe that if any traditions are ever accepted, it should be with vigilance and consciousness of the Ummah (Muslims). In case, such traditions are imposed upon an Islamic society, Muslims can endeavor to develop and modify them in a way such that they fit the Islamic standards. Celebrating birthdays can be an occasion for expressing gratitude and glorification of God. Imam Sajjad (a.s) welcoming morning and night says:
«و هذا يوم حادث جديد و هو علينا شاهد عتيد، ان احسنّا ودّعنا بحمد، و ان اسأنا فارقنا بذم»
“Today is a new day which will testify as to the kind of conduct we have had on the Day of Resurrection. If we do good, it will leave us with admiration and if we do bad, it will separate from us with reproach and scorn.”
It is therefore possible that we can create changes in this tradition so that a person’s birthday may turn into an occasion for praise and glorification of God Who created him, granted him sustenance and kept him alive until that day. In fact, birthdays remind us that the gift of life is the most precious and important one. Hence, it should serve as an opportunity for him to ponder over this precious gift and the way he has spent it. He may be prompted to think deeper as to how he should conduct himself in future, what to do and to remember God and to ask him:
«اللّهم اجعل مستقبل امرى خيراً من ماضيه و خير اعمالى خواتيمها و خير ايامى يوم القاك فيه»
“O Allah, make my future better than it was in the past, make the best of my deeds the end of them and the best of my days the day of meeting you.”
Thus, if a person celebrates his birthday or the birthday of his children, there is no objection to the celebration insofar as it is not accompanied with dancing and forbidden music. There is no problem in it per se.
This event is a Western tradition, and although it may have some good sides too it, nonetheless the bad outweigh the good. In any event, since it has nothing to do with Islamic culture, and is somewhat a promotion of Western culture, it is clear that it isn’t approved of by Islam, because it entails no values that Islam acknowledges. Thus, it is befitting that Muslims do not engage in celebrating such an event.
We Muslims can endeavor to develop and modify them in a way such that they fit the Islamic standards. It is therefore possible that we can create changes in this tradition that turn into an occasion for praise and glorification of God Who created us, granted us sustenance and kept us alive until that day. Hence, it should serve as an opportunity for us to contemplate and ponder over this precious gift and the way we have spent it. We will thank God and pray to Him for a prosperous future and for success in remembering Him.
 – Al-Qasad, 8.
 – Vide: “Celebrating the birthdays of the Prophet (S) and Imams (a.s)” at Hawzah.net
 – Sahifa Sajjadiyah, translation, Ayati, Abdul Muhammad, Tehran, Soroush, pg. 6, 1375.
 – Extracted from Sayyid Fadhlullah Website with some modification.