Don't Secularize Christmas, Says Christian-Muslim Dialogue Group

By Kevin McCandless | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

London ( - As religious groups here decry what they see as the increasing secularization of Britain, prominent Muslims and Christians are collaborating in a campaign to retain the holiday's religious association.

Charging that only atheists benefit from keeping Christian references out of Christmas, the Christian Muslim Forum issued a statement condemning efforts to secularize the holiday.

Launched earlier this year by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams at a function addressed by Prime Minister Tony Blair, the forum is a non-profit group that says its aim is to foster dialogue between the two religions.

In its statement, the forum decried moves by town councils across the United Kingdom to rename Christmas as "Winterval."

Although the measure is designed to avoid offending adherents of other faiths, the forum said the councils doing so were providing racist groups with ammunition to attack British Muslims.

"Those who use the fact of religious pluralism as an excuse to de-Christianize British society unthinkingly become recruiting agents for the extreme right," it said. "They provoke antagonism towards Muslims and others by foisting on them an anti-Christian agenda which they do not hold."

Forum spokesman Julian Bond said that by sidelining Christmas, the government was also marginalizing the role that faith and religion played in society as a whole.

"It's about expressing wariness or reluctance to have faith in public life," he said.

Bond said devout Muslims and Christians shared many of the same values, including respect for the family, clean living and the need for education.

With Islam becoming the second-largest faith in Britain, many Muslim students were being educated in schools run by the Church of England, which gave them an intimate knowledge of Christian traditions, he said.

The forum, which is co-chaired by an Anglican bishop David Gillett and Islamic scholar Ataullah Siddiqui, is also welcoming the public recognition of Eid al Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the Islamic fast month of Ramadan.

Islam recognizes Jesus Christ as a historical figure and regards him as a prophet - one among many. It rejects the Christian belief that Jesus is God incarnate, who was crucified and rose from the dead.

Secularization trend

The annual controversy over Christmas and political correctness reared its head even earlier than usual this year.

This month, the Church of England attacked Britain's Post Office for not including any Christian imagery on its annual holiday stamps. The staff at Inland Revenue, the national tax agency, protested at not being allowed to hold Christmas parties.

Bill Purdue, co-author of "The Making of the Modern Christmas," told Cybercast News Service that although efforts to secularize the holiday began in the United States several years ago, they became more intense when they reached Britain, a country that is in general a lot less religious than America.

"It came across the Atlantic, and it became more extreme," the author said.

Nonetheless, wide-scale efforts to ban Christmas in England were made as long ago as the 17th century.

In 1647, during the latter days of the English Civil War, the Puritan-dominated government outlawed Christmas on the grounds there was no reference in the Bible to celebrating the day.

Purdue said the government had trouble keeping ordinary citizens from observing the holiday, however, both as a religious festival and as a time of feasting and dancing.

Christmas was officially restored in 1660, because Cromwell never quite succeeded in the bid to kill it off.

"They sent troops around London, making sure the shops were open, making sure that it was treated as a normal day, but they never suppressed the appetite for Christmas," Purdue said.

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