Alhamdulillah, praise and thanks to Allah for the countless blessings He has blessed us all with. Blessings and salutations to the Prophet Muhammad PBUH, his wives, his family, companions and all those that follow his teachings to the day of judgement.
These past few days, we have received many questions regarding the issue of wishing Merry Christmas to Christians. In fact, I have already responded to the issue in our in-depth discussion on 19th December 2016. This issue causes polemic and misunderstandings in Muslim communities and even for Muslims themselves. We receive these questions from individuals who have personal relationships with Christians, whether they are among their own family members, colleagues in their workplace or close neighbours together in a residential province. This is a major issue in our multi-racial and multi-religious country especially in Sabah, Sarawak and even in the Peninsular.
This issue keeps on recurring every year and we are compelled to readdress this issue and giving an explanation through our research from contemporary scholars, religious texts, public benefits (maslahah amah), the history of Muslims and the reality of Islamic Shari’a. Thus, in this series of Bayan Linnas we will discuss The Rulings of Muslims wishing “Merry Christmas” to Christians.
May this explanation give us understanding and able to finally resolve this issue by closing the doors of arguments, for truthfully, this is an ijtihad issue where there can never be an absolute prohibition or permissibility regarding it. It depends on the reality of the situation and time of someone.
Islam a Religion of Mercy
Indeed, the Prophet PBUH is sent as a mercy for all. Allah SWT states:
وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَاكَ إِلَّا رَحْمَةً لِلْعَالَمِينَ
“And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds.”
Surah al-Anbiya’ (107)
Dr ‘Aidh al-Qarni in his book Rahmatan li al-‘Alamin states several commentaries on the above verse:
- The Prophet PBUH is a Messenger of Allah SWT.
- He is sent to defend the people who are abused, weak, left behind (backward in thoughts and custom) and imprisoned by tyranny.
- He is sent to uphold the dignity of Muslims to be equal with everyone
- The Prophet PBUH built a new civilization among all the existing civilizations and it became the best civilization among them all.
- The Prophet PBUH lead the Muslims and spread Islam from the barren Arab Peninsula without rivers, gardens or plants to all parts of the world.
Islam is a religion of mercy, peace and goodness. Allah SWT command us to always do good among all humans, and there is no differing opinions or evidences regarding this matter:
وَقُولُوا لِلنَّاسِ حُسْنًا
“And speak to people good [words].”
Surah al-Baqarah (83)
Syeikh al-Maraghi said: “Thus, in fulfilling the rights of everyone or every human being, it is enough to speak politely with good words, advising to do good and preventing sins and evil and other beneficial things in this world and in the hereafter.” (Refer Tafsir al-Maraghi, 1/174)
Allah SWT states:
إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَأْمُرُ بِالْعَدْلِ وَالْإِحْسَانِ
“Indeed, Allah orders justice and good conduct,”
Surah al-Nahl (90)
In Fi Zilal al-Quran, Syed Qutub said: “Ihsan (proficiency/excellence) has a broad meaning. Every good deed is ihsan. The commandment of doing good deeds includes every action and muamalah (transaction/dealings). It includes all aspects of life that are related to the relationship of a servant with Allah SWT, relationship with family members, relationship in a society and relationship with all mankind.” (Refer Fi Zilal al-Qur’an, 10/102)
Definition of Merry Christmas
According to English Oxford Living Dictionaries, merry is defined as cheerful and lively. It originates from the classical English word – myrige, which means pleasing or delightful. 
Whereas for Christmas, it is the annual Christian festival celebrating Christ's birth, held on 25th December in the Western Church.  It comes from the classical English word of Crīstes, which refers to Jesus Christ,  and mæsse, a holy celebration (eucharist) for Christians, especially in the Roman Catholic churches.  Mass also refers to the Sunday weekly rituals of Catholic churches, as well as the ritual of the Holy Days of Obligation. It originates from the Latin language; missa. It is used at the end of liturgy when their priests say: Ite missa est or it is understood as “The Mass has ended. Go in peace.” 
Thus, Crīstesmæsse is understood as Christ’s Mass which means the celebration for the birth of Jesus Christ, although there are some differing opinions as to the exact date of the birth of Jesus Christ. The purpose of the celebration is to show appreciation and happiness for the birth of Christ replacing the Roman tradition of Saturnalia and other paganistic celebrations before it. The celebration started to change in England in the 19th century through the influence of German culture (where Christmas tree is introduced) by Prince Consort and the impact of the famous novel of Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol.  See also the in-depth explanation in Religious Celebration: An Encyclopaedia Of Holidays, Festivals, Solemn Observances, And Spiritual Commemorations, 1/211.
Christian Population in Malaysia
Based on the data released by the Department of Statistics Malaysia, the number of Christians in Malaysia is its third largest, which is 9.2% of all Malaysians.  It covers several Christian sects in either a large or small group of Roman Catholics, Protestants, Anglican, Baptists, and churches without a specific sect such as Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Brethren.  Reviewing this fact, their presence and right to live together as part of the citizen of Malaysia should be celebrated accordingly.
The Fiqh of al-Ta'ayush (Co-existence)
We will start with a statement of Allah SWT:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُمْ مِنْ ذَكَرٍ وَأُنْثَى وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another.”
Surah al-Hujurat (13)
Al-Zamakhsyari commented on the above verse stating that we are all created from Adam and Eve. We are created from one mother and one father without one having an advantage over the other. Thus, there is no excuse for us to be arrogant or prioritizing ourselves in terms of lineage. (Refer Al-Kasysyaf, 4/374)
We should realize that our relationship is built on the principle of humanity and not through creedal nation. It is in the nature of humans to desire peace, togetherness and justice and this is crucial in leading our way to appreciate the fiqh of togetherness in our multi-cultural and multi-religious society. It is a necessity for humans to realize that regardless of skin colour, race, politics and faith, we are all brothers.
There are numerous accounts in the Quran of how the prophets assigned to their people are designated as their brother, even when the people oppose their prophets:
وَإِلَى ثَمُودَ أَخَاهُمْ صَالِحًا
“And to the Thamud [We sent] their brother Salih.”
Surah al-A'raf (73)
قَالُوا أَرْجِهْ وَأَخَاهُ وَابْعَثْ فِي الْمَدَائِنِ حَاشِرِينَ
“They said, "Postpone [the matter of] him and his brother and send among the city gatherers.”
Surah al-Syu'ara (36)
وَإِلَى عَادٍ أَخَاهُمْ هُودًا
“And to 'Aad [We sent] their brother Hud.”
Surah Hud (50)
وَإِلَى مَدْيَنَ أَخَاهُمْ شُعَيْبًا
“And to Madyan [We sent] their brother Shu'ayb.”
Surah Hud (84)
In Islamic history, Ibn ‘Abbas was recorded saying:
لَوْ قَالَ لِي فِرْعَوْنُ: بَارَكَ اللَّهُ فِيكَ. قُلْتُ: وَفِيكَ
"If the Pharaoh had said to me, 'May Allah bless you,' I would have said, 'And you.' But Pharaoh is dead."
Sahih al-Bukhari (1113) in al-Adab al-Mufrad
It was narrated that a Zoroastrian (worshipper of fire / Majusi) greeted Ibn Abbas with: “Assalamualaikum.” Then Ibn Abbas answered him: “Wa’alaikumussalam warahmatullah.” His companion asked him: “Why did you answer warahmatullah?” Ibn Abbas replied: “Is it not for the blessing of Allah SWT that he is alive?”
Dr Yusuf al-Qaradhawi commented on the above stating: “It is clear that if we want to invite them to Islam, making them feel close towards us Muslims and close towards Islam, then we have to be kind towards them, and this will never happen if we increase the gap of us and them.” (See Fatawa Mu’asirah, 3/672)
Hence, different ideologies or even faith does not prevent a Muslim from accepting non-Muslim as his brother, for everyone is related to each other through our father and mother; Adam and Eve.
The Ruling of Congratulating Christians on Christmas
Scholars have differing opinions in congratulating non-Muslims for their religious celebration, or in the context of our discussion is Christmas celebration. The reason is, some scholars prohibit the congratulating for it leads to the connotation of acknowledgement and spreading the eminence of other religions. Whereas the scholars that ruled it permissible, view it as a form of hope for safety and peace, or a symbol of social relationship with the non-Muslims for unity, without acknowledging any truth in other religions. Here, we include both opinions of scholars regarding this issue.
First: It Is Prohibited to Congratulate Non-Muslim for Their Religious Celebrations
Generally, majority of scholars (jumhur) from the four madhhabs prohibit congratulating non-Muslims for their religious celebrations.
Madhhab Syafie: According to Imam al-Damiri when he comments on the words of Imam al-Nawawi in al-Minhaj, the punishment of ta’zir is sentenced to whoever participates in the celebration of disbelievers, by touching a snake, entering fire, or calling ‘O Hajj’ to zimmi disbelievers, congratulate disbeliever for their celebration and whoever that call ‘Hajj’ to someone who visits the graves of pious people (for shirk purposes). (See al-Najm al-Wahhaj, 9/244)
The same argument is presented by Imam al-Ramli in Hasyiah al-Ramli ‘ala Asna al-Matalib, al-Khatib al-Syarbini in Mughni al-Muhtaj, 4/255 and al-Iqna’ fi Halli Alfazh Abi Syuja’, 2/526. The term muwafaqah with the disbelievers means “doing anything that they do on their day of celebration and it is prohibited.” (See al-Bujairimi ‘ala al-Khatib, 5/21). This statement is agreed and supported by Ibn Hajar al-Haitami in Tuhfah al-Muhtaj,9/181; Syeikh Zakaria al-Ansari (Asna al-Mathalib, 4/162), Ibn Hajar al-Haitami (Tuhfah al-Muhtaj, 9/181) and Hasyiah Qalyubi wa ‘Umairah, 4/206.
Madhhab Hanafi: Abu Hafs al-Kabir from madhhab Hanafi said: If a man has been worshipping Allah SWT for fifty years, then came the day of Nairuz and he sent eggs to the idolaters as a gift with the purpose of glorifying the day, then he is considered as a man who has renounced Islam and all his worships are abrogated. (See Al-Bahr al-Ra’iq Syarh Kanz al-Daqa’iq, 8/555)
Madhhab Maliki: Ibn al-Haj al-Maliki prohibits Muslims from participating or doing the things that the non-Muslims did during their celebrations. (See al-Madkhal, 2/46-48)
Madhhab Hanbali: Imam al-Buhuti explains that it is prohibited to congratulate the non-Muslims during their celebration, for it is a form of acknowledgement towards their religion. (See Kasyf al-Qina’, 3/131)
Ibn Taimiyyah asserted that it is impermissible for Muslims to resemble them (non-Muslims) in anything that are closely related to their religion. Not resembling them in terms of clothing, food, bathing, lighting a fire, or anything that is their custom in their daily lives or worship and others. Moreover, it is also prohibited to perform the marriage ritual, giving presents and selling things that are used for their rituals. The same applies to letting children playing games that are played during their celebration.
All in all, it is impermissible for Muslims to celebrate the religious celebration of non-Muslims for it is an act of glorifying the eminence of their religion. In fact, for Muslims, their day of celebration holds no significance for it is just like any other normal days.
However, if there is a necessity for Muslims to celebrate it, then some scholars ruled it as makruh (undesirable). Some scholars stated that the act of celebrating it or honouring the day without any necessity or reason could lead to disbelief, for it is a form of glorifying the eminence of the disbelievers. They said: “Whoever slaughter nathihah (slaughter animal) on the day of their celebration, it is as though he slaughtered swine.”
Abdullah bin ‘Amru bin al-’Ash said: “Whoever follows ‘ajam countries and celebrates Nairuz and mahrajan and resembles their actions and he died in that state, then he will be raised along with them on the Day of Judgement.”
Amirul Mu’minin Umar bin al-Khattab, the companions and all leaders of Islam set a condition that they are not to glorify and celebrate their religions in Muslim countries. The Merek (non-Muslims) celebrates their religious celebrations in their own houses.
Allah SWT states:
وَالَّذِينَ لَا يَشْهَدُونَ الزُّورَ
“And [they are] those who do not testify to falsehood,”
Surah al-Furqan (72)
The scholars commented on the above verse stating: “(Those who do not testify to falsehood) of the disbelievers celebrations. If just our acknowledgement or testification without any act is prohibited, then what if we resemble them in their specific greetings?”
The same is stated in a hadith of the Prophet PBUH in al-Musnad and al-Sunan, where the Prophet PBUH said:
مَنْ تَشَبَّهَ بِقَوْمٍ فَهُوَ مِنْهُمْ
“He who imitates any people (in their actions) is considered to be one of them.”
Sunan Abu Daud (1471)
In another hadith, the Prophet PBUH said:
لَيْسَ مِنَّا مَنْ تَشَبَّهَ بِغَيْرِنَا
“He is not one of us who resembles other than us,”
Sunan al-Tirmidzi (2695)
According to the above hadiths, someone would no longer be considered as a Muslim if he resembles the actions of non-Muslims, even if it is just their custom, then what if someone resembles them in something more than that? (In this case, congratulating them in their religious celebrations)
Majority of the scholars (jumhur) decided on the makruh (undesirable) ruling – whether it is makruh tahrimi or makruh tanzihi – if someone eats the slaughter of non-Muslims for their celebrations. It is considered as the slaughter for other than Allah SWT.
They (the scholars) also prohibit helping (the non-Muslims) in their celebrations such as giving them gifts or buying or selling anything that they need for their celebrations. It is prohibited to sell meat, blood, clothes and it is prohibited to lend them animals for transport or helping in anything for their celebration. The reason is, it is prohibited to help them in glorifying their polytheism belief and their acts of disbelief towards Allah SWT.
The government is responsible in prohibiting Muslims from the actions mentioned above. Allah SWT states:
وَتَعَاوَنُوا عَلَى الْبِرِّ وَالتَّقْوَىٰ ۖ وَلَا تَعَاوَنُوا عَلَى الْإِثْمِ وَالْعُدْوَانِ
“And cooperate in righteousness and piety, but do not cooperate in sin and aggression.”
Surah al-Maidah (5)
It is impermissible for Muslims to help them in regards with the production of alcoholic beverages or others like it. Then, what about acts of glorifying the eminence of disbelief? If just helping them is impermissible, then what if he himself is committing the act? (See Majmu’ al-Fatawa, 2/487-489)
The scholars have agreed on its prohibition, as stated by Ibn al-Qayyim: “…as for specifically congratulating the eminences of religion other than Islam, then it is prohibited, and this is agreed by scholars. For example, congratulating them for their celebrations by saying ‘Eid Mubarak’ (Happy celebration)’ or ‘Congratulations for this celebration’ or others that convey the same meaning is prohibited. The reason is, it is as if someone is congratulating the disbeliever because the disbeliever prostrates himself in front of the cross and the sin is greater than congratulating a drunk, a murderer, a fornicator and others.” (See Ahkam Ahl al-Zimmah, 1/441)
- Syeikh Abdul Aziz Bin Abdullah bin Baz
- Syeikh Muhammad Soleh al-Uthaimin
- Syeikh Soleh al-Munajjid
- Syeikh Muhammad al-Hasan al-Dedew
Evidence of Prohibition
The evidences that the scholars refer to when ruling the prohibition are:
- Allah SWT’s statement:
وَالَّذِينَ لَا يَشْهَدُونَ الزُّورَ وَإِذَا مَرُّوا بِاللَّغْوِ مَرُّوا كِرَامًا
“And [they are] those who do not testify to falsehood, and when they pass near ill speech, they pass by with dignity.”
Surah al-Furqan (72)
Abu al-‘Aliyah, Tawus, Ibn Sirin, al-Dahak, al-Rabi’ bin Anas and others said: “the meaning of al-Zur is ‘the celebrations of the idolaters’ (Musyrikin)” Other scholars stated that any event where there is singing and music. (Refer Tafsir Ibn Kathir,3/309)
- The Prophet PBUH said:
مَنْ تَشَبَّهَ بِقَوْمٍ فَهُوَ مِنْهُمْ
“He who copies any people is one of them.”
Sunan Abu Daud (4031) and al-Tabarani (8327)
Syeikh Nasiruddin said: “Islam has set a clear rule for Muslim man and woman, to not copy or resemble the non-Muslims in terms of worship, celebration and adornment that is specific for them.”
In another hadith the Prophet PBUH said:
لَيْسَ مِنَّا مَنْ تَشَبَّهَ بِغَيْرِنَا، لاَ تَشَبَّهُوا بِاليَهُودِ وَلاَ بِالنَّصَارَى، فَإِنَّ تَسْلِيمَ اليَهُودِ الإِشَارَةُ بِالأَصَابِعِ، وَتَسْلِيمَ النَّصَارَى الإِشَارَةُ بِالأَكُفِّ
“He is not one of us who resembles other than us, not who resembles the Jews nor the Christians. For indeed greeting of the Jews is pointing the finger, and the greeting of the Christians is waving with the hand.”
Sunan al-Tirmizi (2695)
- The scholars prohibit congratulating non-Muslims for their celebrations because it contradicts Allah SWT’s statement:
إِنَّ الدِّينَ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ الْإِسْلام
“Indeed, the religion in the sight of Allah is Islam.”
Surah Ali-‘Imran (19)
Abu Hayyan said: “The meaning of religion is guidance and rulings and the only accepted religion by Allah SWT is Islam because it is a religion that is fair and just and the religion of tauhid.” (See al-Bahr al-Muhit, 3/171)
Second: It is Permissible to Congratulate Non-Muslim for Their Religious Celebrations
Among the scholars that ruled it permissible are:
- Syeikh Muhammad Ahmad ‘Ulaisy al-Maliki was asked: “If a Muslim visits a zimmi (non-Muslim) on their celebration day and say, ‘May Allah protect you all year,’. Is he considered as if he has renounced Islam?” He answered: “No, for his words of ‘May Allah protect you all year,’ is not meant as him glorifying or acknowledging the disbelief.” (Refer Fath al-‘Ali al-Malik fi al-Fatwa ‘ala Madhhab al-Imam Malik, 2/350)
- Narrated by al-Hattab al-Rauyani, Sultan al-Ulama’ al-‘Izz Abd al-Salam al-Syafie was asked regarding the ruling of wishing, “May this celebration is blessed for you,” to a zimmi (non-Muslim). He answered: “If the Muslim wishing the zimmi with the intention of glorifying their religion and their celebration, thus, he is considered as if he has renounced Islam. However, if he does not have such intentions, and it was just words, then he is not considered as if he has renounced Islam, for he said it unintentionally.” (Refer Mawahib al-Jalil fi Syarh Mukhtasar al-Khalil, 6/289)
- According to Imam al-Mardawi, a qaul from madhhab Ahmad ruled it permissible to congratulate non-Muslim for their celebrations if there is a great benefit, such as in the hopes that they receive guidance to Islam. While Imam Abu Daud ruled it permissible if we are inviting them to Islam. (Refer Al-Insaf fi Ma’rifati al-Rajih min al-Khilaf,4/234-235)
- Imam al-Bulqini said, if someone congratulates non-Muslims with the intention of glorifying their religion, then he is considered as a disbeliever. However, if it was just words without such intentions, then he is not considered as a disbeliever. (Refer Fatawa al-Bulqini, pg. 986)
- Syeikh Muhammad Rashid Redha
- Syeikh Dr. Ahmad al-Syarbasi
- Syeikh Dr. Mustafa al-Zarqa
- Syeikh Dr.. Ahmad al-Thayyib
- Syeikh Muhammad Sa’id Ramadhan al-Buthi
- Syeikh Abdullah bin Bayyah
- Syeikh Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradhawi
- Syeikh Syauqi Ibrahim Abdul Karim 'Allam
- Syeikh Dr. Muhammad Sayyid Dasuqi
- Syeikh Dr. Ali Jum’ah
- Syeikh Prof Dr Muhammad bin Ibrahim al-Hifnawi
- Syeikh Dr. Syarif Hatim ‘Arif al-‘Auni
- Syeikh Abdul Sattar Fathullah Said
- Syeikh Dr. Musthafa Abu Sulaiman al-Nadwi
- Syeikh Ikrima Sabri
- Syeikh Hamza Yusuf
- Dr Mohamed Fatris Bakaram
The most important thing that need to be understood is that there is no consensus of scholars that prohibits it. Syeikh al-Syarif Hatim al-Awni said, the basis of the permissibility is due to the following:
- There are no specific Quranic or prophetic evidences regarding the prohibition or permissibility of congratulating them.
- There are no specific narrations or texts from salafussoleh from the companions of the Prophet PBUH, tabi’in and tabi’al-tabi’in and the imams of the four madhhab (Imam Abu Hanifah, Imam Malik, Imam al-Syafie and Imam Ahmad) regarding the ruling of congratulating non-Muslims for their celebrations.
- When there are no clear evidences from the Quran, al-Sunnah and salafussoleh, then the accuracy of the prohibition of congratulating non-Muslims according to the agreed opinion by scholars is still debatable.
Syeikh Muhammad Rasyid Redha wrote that the maslahah (public interest) of a society in a country depends on the relationship of its citizen. If bad conduct and character is linked with Islam as a religion, then it is the greatest fitnah and insult towards Islam. Thus, Muslims should visit Christians and get along with them during their celebrations. (Refer Majallah al-Manar, 7/24). From this fatwa, if visiting them for their celebration is permissible, then it is also permissible to just congratulate them.
Syeikh Musthafa Zarqa’ ruled it permissible under the principle of mujamalah (being courteous) and getting along well among humans and Islam does not prohibit this. (Refer Fatawa Musthafa al-Zarqa’, pg. 357)
Whereas, Syeikh Yusuf al-Qaradhawi ruled it permissible to congratulate non-Muslims if they are not at war or is an enemy of Muslims. He said, the Prophet PBUH himself always do good and act kindly towards the non-Muslims, for it is a commandment of Allah SWT as stated in the Quran:
أَنْ تَبَرُّوهُمْ وَتُقْسِطُوا إِلَيْهِم
“…being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them.”
Surah al-Mumtahanah (8)
In his commentaries on the fatwa issued by ibn Taimiyyah and Ibnul Qayyim, he agreed that Muslims are prohibited from celebrating or participating in the celebration of non-Muslims, but just congratulating them for their happy moments is different. Ibn Taimiyyah issued his fatwa in the context of his time and situation. If he is still alive today and sees for himself how close we are now, surely, he would be a bit more lenient and lighten his fatwa in this issue. Even the Christmas celebration could change and become just a custom. However, the permissibility is on the condition that there are no elements of glorifying the eminence of other religion, such as the cross or acknowledging their religion. It is just words of us being courteous towards them. (See Fiqh Mu’asirah, 1/669-673)
According to Syeikh Muhammad Sa’id Ramadhan al-Buthi, it is permissible to congratulate the people of the book (Christians and Jews) for their happiness and offering condolences for their sadness, it is even a sunnah according to scholars. And it is permissible to enter their house of worship for certain purposes on the condition of not participating in their religious activities.
Syeikh Ali Jumu’ah ruled it permissible under the principle of doing good towards one’s neighbours and this is in line with the Prophet PBUH’s words:
مَا زَالَ جِبْرِيلُ يُوصِينِي بِالْجَارِ حَتَّى ظَنَنْتُ أَنَّهُ سَيُوَرِّثُهُ
“Gabriel impressed upon me (the kind treatment) towards the neighbour (so much) that I thought as if he would soon confer upon him the (right) of inheritance.”
Sahih al-Bukhari (6015) and Sahih Muslim (2625)
He added, the congratulatory should include the acknowledgement of Jesus AS as a prophet, and it should be explained that in our belief, he is an honourable prophet but not considered as Son God as Christians believed him to be. 
According to Syeikh Abdullah bin Bayyah, it is permissible for us to congratulate the non-Muslims for their celebrations through words or writing, as long as it does not contain the eminence of their religion that contradicts Islam, such as a cross.
Congratulating them for their celebration is not a form of acknowledgement of their religion, but just as a form of mujamalah (courteous words) among humans. This is important if we have family members, friends or neighbours who are Christians and we are living in a society of multi-religious country. However, celebrating or participating in their celebration is prohibited. (Refer Sina’ah al-Fatwa wa Fiqh al-Aqalliyyat, pg. 430-435)
Dr Syarif Hatim ‘Arif al-‘Auni said that the claim of the prohibition of congratulating non-Muslims is an agreed consensus of scholars is an odd claim, for there are no specific evidences from the Quran or al-Sunnah that state its prohibition. He further explained that the intention of congratulating them is not for their belief or religious rituals but for their happiness during their celebration. 
Scholars that ruled it permissible presented the following evidences supporting their opinion:
- Allah SWT states:
لَا يَنْهَاكُمُ اللَّهُ عَنِ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يُقَاتِلُوكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ وَلَمْ يُخْرِجُوكُمْ مِنْ دِيَارِكُمْ أَنْ تَبَرُّوهُمْ وَتُقْسِطُوا إِلَيْهِمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُقْسِطِينَ
“Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes - from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly.”
Surah al-Mumtahanah (8)
Al-Maraghi said: “Allah SWT does not forbid you from doing good to non-Muslims who does not fight you on religious principle, does not expel you from your homes or help others to expel you.” (Refer Tafsir al-Maraghi, 14/6969)
Al-Qurthubi said, the above verse is the evidence of the permissibility of giving salam (greeting) to non-Muslims, for it is included as being righteous and this is the opinion of Imam al-Nawawi. (See Tafsir al-Qurthubi, 11/103 and Syarh Sahih Muslim, 14/145)
- Allah SWT states:
وَإِذَا حُيِّيْتُم بِتَحِيَّةٍ فَحَيُّواْ بِأَحْسَنَ مِنْهَا أَوْ رُدُّوهَا
“And when you are greeted with a greeting, greet [in return] with one better than it or [at least] return it [in a like manner]. Indeed, Allah is ever, over all things, an Accountant.”
Surah al-Nisa’ (86)
Imam al-Fakhr al-Razi said: “The word tahiyyah (تَحِيَّةٍ) figuratively means honouring of something. Hence, all types of actions that honour something falls under it.” (See Mafatih al-Ghaib, 5/221)
When our non-Muslim friends wished us Eid Mubarak or Happy Eid, we return their congratulatory wishes with the same intention; which is honouring him as our friend, responding to his congratulations without acknowledging or glorifying his religion. Whilst, glorifying another religion is not included in this discussion.
From Asma’ binti Abu Bakar R.Anhuma, she said:
قَدِمَتْ عَلَيَّ أُمِّي فِي مُدَّةِ قُرَيْشٍ مُشْرِكَةً، وَهِيَ رَاغِبَةٌ - يَعْنِي مُحْتَاجَةٌ -، فَسَأَلْتُ رَسُولَ اللهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فَقُلْتُ: يَا رَسُولَ اللهِ، إِنَّ أُمِّي قَدِمَتْ عَلَيَّ وَهِيَ مُشْرِكَةٌ رَاغِبَةٌ أَفَأَصِلُهَا؟ قَالَ: صِلِي أُمَّكِ .
“My mother who was a polytheist came to me when he (the Holy Prophet) entered into treaty with, the Quraish (of Mecca). I said to Allah's Apostle (seeking his verdict), "My mother has come to me and she desires to receive a reward from me, shall I keep good relations with her?" The Prophet (ﷺ) said, "Yes, keep good relations with her.”
Sahih al-Bukhari (2620) and Sahih Muslim (1003)
- From Anas bin Malik RA, he said:
كَانَ غُلَامٌ يَهُودِيٌّ يَخْدُمُ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ، فَمَرِضَ، فَأَتَاهُ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ يَعُودُهُ، فَقَعَدَ عِنْدَ رَأْسِهِ، فَقَالَ لَهُ: أَسْلِمْ". فَنَظَرَ إِلَى أَبِيهِ وَهُوَ عِنْدَهُ فَقَالَ لَهُ: أَطِعْ أَبَا الْقَاسِمِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ، فَأَسْلَمَ، فَخَرَجَ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ وَهُوَ يَقُولُ: الْحَمْدُ لِلهِ الَّذِي أَنْقَذَهُ مِنَ النَّارِ
“A young Jewish boy used to serve the Prophet (ﷺ) and he became sick. So, the Prophet (ﷺ) went to visit him. He sat near his head and asked him to embrace Islam. The boy looked at his father, who was sitting there; the latter told him to obey Abul-Qasim and the boy embraced Islam. The Prophet (ﷺ) came out saying: "Praises be to Allah Who saved the boy from the Hell-fire."
Sahih al-Bukhari (1356)
Abu Dzar narrated that the Prophet PBUH said to him:
اتَّقِ اللَّهَ حَيْثُمَا كُنْتَ وَأَتْبِعِ السَّيِّئَةَ الْحَسَنَةَ تَمْحُهَا وَخَالِقِ النَّاسَ بِخُلُقٍ حَسَنٍ
“Fear Allah wherever you are, do good deeds after doing bad ones, the former will wipe out the latter, and behave decently towards people.”
Sunan al-Tirmizi (1987)
According to Syeikh Yusuf al-Qaradhawi, the Prophet PBUH did not say “behave decently towards Muslims” but towards people. However, he sets a condition when congratulating non-Muslims, the speech or wish must not include acknowledgement of their faith or disbelief, and it does not contradict the principles of Islam. (Refer Fiqh Mu’asirah, 3/668)
After reviewing both opinions and the current situation in Malaysia, in our opinion, wishing Merry Christmas to Christians and others is permissible following specific guidelines and conditions.
Does the speech considered as tasyabbuh (resembling) the non-Muslims’ greeting among them? We say not, for greetings and congratulations are not an exclusive right of anyone, but a form of custom in every society. For example, greeting Good Morning or Happy Birthday is just a custom in our society. If a non-Muslim wishes us Happy Maulidurrasul, does it mean he acknowledges all aspects of Muslims’ belief? Of course not.
Syeikh Abdullah bin Mahfudh Ibn Bayyah states there is a difference between resembling (tasyabbuh) and similarities (musyabahah). According to him, not everything that we do that are also done by non-Muslims are prohibited. It is prohibited only if there is an intention of resembling or wanting to be the same (tashabbuh) with them and not solely on the similarities of the actions (musyabahah). 
This is explained in Ibn ‘Abidin’s commentaries of Durr al-Mukhtar, regarding the issue of reciting the mushaf in prayer, for it is claimed to resemble the actions of the people of the book. He said:
قَالَ هِشَامٌ: رَأَيْت عَلَى أَبِي يُوسُفَ نَعْلَيْنِ مَخْصُوفِينَ بِمَسَامِيرَ، فَقُلْت: أَتَرَى بِهَذَا الْحَدِيدِ بَأْسًا؟ قَالَ لَا قُلْت: سُفْيَانُ وَثَوْرُ بْنُ يَزِيدَ كَرِهَا ذَلِكَ لِأَنَّ فِيهِ تَشَبُّهًا بِالرُّهْبَانِ؛ فَقَالَ «كَانَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ - صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ - يَلْبَسُ النِّعَالَ الَّتِي لَهَا شَعْرٌ» وَإِنَّهَا مِنْ لِبَاسِ الرُّهْبَانِ. فَقَدْ أَشَارَ إلَى أَنَّ صُورَةَ الْمُشَابَهَةِ فِيمَا تَعَلَّقَ بِهِ صَلَاحُ الْعِبَادِ لَا يَضُرُّ... وَفِيهِ إشَارَةٌ أَيْضًا إلَى أَنَّ الْمُرَادَ بِالتَّشَبُّهِ أَصْلُ الْفِعْلِ: أَيْ صُورَةُ الْمُشَابَهَةِ بِلَا قَصْدٍ.
“Hisham said: I saw Abu Yusuf with (wearing) sandals sewn together with nails and said: ‘Is it uncomfortable to wear this?’ He answered: ‘No,’. I said, ‘Sufyan and Thaur bin Yazid dislike sandals for it resembles monks.’ He said: ‘The Prophet PBUH wear sandals with fur on it.’ (Ibn ‘Abidin said) Indeed it (sandals) is part of monk’s clothing. Thus, this shows that similarities for the benefit in certain aspects of life is not an issue…if the original act of resembling is not intentional.” (Refer Radd al-Muhtar 'ala al-Durr al-Mukhtar, 1/622)
Hence, resembling sometimes is prohibited and sometimes is makruh (undesirable). Imam Ibn Salah said: “Indeed, whoever resembles a certain group of people, then he is among them. Resembling the disbelievers sometimes are makruh (undesirable), and sometimes are prohibited. It depends on the degree of resemblance, whether there is some resemblance or a great resemblance. Wallahua’lam.”
If there is just some resemblance, or the resemblance is just from a small aspect, then it is makruh (undesirable). For example:
- Qaza’ (cutting or shaving some parts of hair and leaving other parts). Refer al-Minhaj Syarh Muslim (10/101).
- Smearing aqiqah blood on the head of a baby after shaving the baby’s head, following the Jahiliyyah custom. Refer al-Majmu` Syarh al-Muhazzab(8/427).
- Fast only on Fridays for the Christians and Jews specified their worship on Thursdays and Fridays. Refer al-Iqna`(1/245).
There is an exception in this issue, for a prohibition may change to permissible when the clothing no longer symbolizes non-Muslims’ religion or disbelief. Consequently, it has become the custom in a society or country. Imam al-Bujairimi (w.1221H) Rahimahullah stated in his book Tuhfah al-Habib (4/366), discussing the payment of kaffarah by giving tailasan/tiyalisah cloth: “And due to the fact that wearing tiyalisah is no longer a form of eminence for them (Christians and Jews), and now is considered as our custom, thus it is permissible. Ibn Abd Salam included it as one of the permissible bid’ah. Ibn Hajar said: Furthermore, it has become a symbol for the people (pious men and scholars), hence leaving it would degrade them.”
Through history, we learn that tiyalisah or cloth covering the head was originally worn by the Christians and Jews as a symbol of their religion’s eminence. Thus, its original ruling is makruh (undesirable), as stated by Syeikh al-Samhudi al-Syafie. However, most of them later abandon their religious symbol, and with time it changed into a general clothing and finally became synonymous with Islamic scholars. This type of clothing is permissible and is not considered as prohibited for resembling non-Muslims in syarak. The example to this situation today is wearing suits and tie, it is not considered as resembling the non-Muslims in their religion or disbelief. Thus, it is permissible.
We think that the rulings in fiqh and fatwa should be understood, for fiqhi rulings can be either thabit or not. Which is different with fatwa, because fatwa may change according to time and situation of the issue. Therefore, Syeikh Dr Yusuf al-Qaradhawi said: “This is the reason why I hold a contradicting opinion from the opinion of Syeikh al-Islam Ibn Taimiyyah regarding the prohibition of congratulating the non-Muslims.”
Furthermore, the content of the speech and the intention of congratulating them is a sign of tolerance and Muhibbah, not just the literal meaning of the congratulations. This is in accordance with an Islamic legal maxim of (العبرة بالمسميات لا بالاسماء)
In our opinion, the differing opinions of scholars is a result of their understanding of the definition of the word ‘congratulations’ and ‘felicitations’. To explain this matter, we should review the real meaning of congratulations linguistically. Congratulation is defined as words expressing one's praise and happiness for an achievement or others; good wishes on a special occasion.  Thus, congratulating someone does not necessarily means an acknowledgement or recognition and glorification of something.
Moreover, on 22nd December 2017, 138 scholars have signed an open letter in conjunction with Christmas celebration addressing world church leaders, including Pope Benedict XVI. Among the messages of the letter is wishing Merry Christmas to all Christians who celebrate it and acknowledging the positive response from the Christian leaders in the effort of open dialogues between religions that was proposed by Muslims. Among the scholars that signed the open letter was Syeikh ‘Ali Jum’ah, Syeikh Hamza Yusuf and Syeikh Ikrima Sabri (Mufti of al-Quds). 
Fatwa Institutions’ Decision
Here, we include the fatwa issued in supporting the permissibility of wishing Merry Christmas to Christians:
- Dar al-Ifta’ al-Misriyyah: It is permissible to congratulate non-Muslims for their celebration with words that do not contradict aqidah Islamiyyah and is considered as an act of ihsan.
Dar al-Ifta’ explains that wishing Merry Christmas is not considered as resembling the non-Muslims (which is prohibited) because the resemblance that is prohibited includes the actions and belief that contradicts thawabit matters (qath’ie principles) in Islam. 
- European Fatwa Council: They ruled it permissible in accordance with Fiqh al-Aqaliyat and a Muslim individual or organization is permissible to congratulate the non-Muslims with the purpose of maintaining the minority Muslims themselves (minority Muslims in a non-Muslim country). 
The following are the general guidelines regarding this issue:
- It is permissible to wish Merry Christmas when there is a necessity to wish it to non-Muslims in maintaining the relationship or mending the social tension in our society. It is important especially in the context of a leader in a multi-religious country, a family of non-Muslims and Muslims and in our neighbourhood and work environment. If it is not a necessity, then we are inclined towards the makruh ruling of congratulating the non-Muslims for it can lead to fitnah and division among Muslims.
- It is only permissible for Muslims to attend a Christmas event, such as a gathering or photography session according to the necessity of the situation. However, wearing clothing that are synonymous with Christmas is prohibited for in our opinion, it is not a necessity.
- Wishing them happiness and congratulating them for their celebration must be for the purpose of maintaining our relationship with non-Muslims, not a form of coercion in religion nor a sign of acknowledgement or honouring other religions.
- It is permissible to exchange gifts with them, for our beloved Prophet PBUH sent a present to al-Muqawdis, a non-Muslim king. Saidina Umar gave his clothes to a non-Muslim. These are narrated in a long hadith of al-Bukhari and Muslim. Imam al-Nawawi commented on the hadith: “It is permissible for a Muslim to give his clothes or others to a non-Muslim.” See Syarh al-Nawawi ‘ala Muslim (14/38). It is prohibited to give alcoholic beverages or anything that is prohibited by syarak. We have discussed the ruling of giving alcoholic beverages to non-Muslims and you can access the article through the following link: http://muftiwp.gov.my/en/artikel/al-kafi-li-al-fatawi/2653-al-kafi-838-hukum-menghadiahkan-arak-kepada-non-muslim. However, it is prohibited if the intention of giving the gift is for their celebration because it is prohibited. It is permissible if the intention is for the general act of giving presents, for an action is in accordance with the intention.
- It is permissible to attend events or celebrations held by non-Muslims, if it is held outside of their house of worship, such as in public halls, field, office or house, for purposes related to customs in a society, such as banquets serving halal (permissible) food. If the event is held in their house of worship on the day of the celebration, then it is ruled as makruh (undesirable) for Muslims to attend such events. It is narrated that Umar RA said:
لا تدخلوا على المشركين في كنائسهم يوم عيدهم فإن السخطة تنزل عليهم
“Do not meet with the disbelievers in churches (their house of worship) on their celebration day, for Allah SWT’s wrath in on them.”
Sunan al-Baihaqi (9/234) and in al-Musannaf Abd al-Razzaq (1609)
According to Ibn Muflih, the restriction in the above athar is makruh (undesirable) and not a prohibition. (Refer al-Adab al-Syar’iyyah, 3/432)
Statement of Mufti of Federal Territories
After reviewing and analysing this issue, discussing with scholars and referring back to renown books and references above, in our opinion, the ruling of wishing Merry Christmas, and other wishes and congratulatory sayings, is permissible following the guidelines we have stated. This is also in line with the decision of the 78th Malaysian Islamic Religious Affairs Council Fatwa Committee on June 12, 2007: “Wishes and congratulations or greetings sent via a card or other telecommunications equipment such as email or short system messages (SMS) and so on to non-Muslims in conjunction with their religious festivities are permissible, on the condition that they do not acknowledge, praise or glorify non-Muslim religions and do not use any of their religious symbols in the posting.”
We reaffirm our opinion through the statement of Sheikh Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradhawi in his book al-Halal wa al-Haram fil Islam, among others, saying: "If we are to conclude the teachings of Islam in action against those who transgresses of what is permissible and prohibited, let us hold on to two verses from al-Quran al-Karim which can be regarded as a comprehensive principle, in accordance with the word of Allah SWT:
لَا يَنْهَاكُمُ اللَّهُ عَنِ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يُقَاتِلُوكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ وَلَمْ يُخْرِجُوكُمْ مِنْ دِيَارِكُمْ أَنْ تَبَرُّوهُمْ وَتُقْسِطُوا إِلَيْهِمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُقْسِطِينَ. إِنَّمَا يَنْهَاكُمُ اللَّهُ عَنِ الَّذِينَ قَاتَلُوكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ وَأَخْرَجُوكُمْ مِنْ دِيَارِكُمْ وَظَاهَرُوا عَلَى إِخْرَاجِكُمْ أَنْ تَوَلَّوْهُمْ وَمَنْ يَتَوَلَّهُمْ فَأُولَئِكَ هُمُ الظَّالِمُونَ
“Allah does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes - from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly. Allah only forbids you from those who fight you because of religion and expel you from your homes and aid in your expulsion - [forbids] that you make allies of them. And whoever makes allies of them, then it is those who are the wrongdoers.”
Surah al-Mumtahanah (8-9)
The first verse encourages Muslims to be righteous and act justly towards non-Muslims who are not against Muslims, who does not have hatred or enmity towards Islam and who views Islam positively. The above verse also encourages Muslims to act kindly towards them. The word “al-birr” or righteous includes being respectful, polite and just, for it is a word that exceeds the meaning of the word just or fair. The word “al-birr” was used for the obligation of maintaining the rights of Muslims among themselves, and another example is its usage in doing good towards our parents (birr al-walidain).
And the verse continues with - Indeed, Allah loves those who act justly. A Muslim should try his best trying to realize everything that Allah SWT loves without denying or rejecting the encouragement that are in the verse, through the phrase “Allah does not forbid you from…”. The reason is, some Muslims still reject any act of kindness towards non-Muslims, which should not happen if one truly believes and practise what have been stated in the Quran.
Whoever hates and are against Islam do not deserve to receive kindness, justice and good deeds. Hence, Allah SWT do not prohibit Muslims from withholding their kindness or even fight against such disbelievers.
It is time for scholars to interpret what has been written in previous scholars’ classical texts, considering the situation and challenges of our time without transgressing the rules set by syarak. Just citing the words of previous scholars from previous references (fiqh al-awraq) are not enough, but scholars need to connect and associate with people of today’s society to understand al-waqi’ (‘read’ the current reality). The ability to interact with these classical texts will bring Muslims into a broader paradigm and are not left behind. Hence, Islam will truly be a religion of rahmatan li al-'alamin (a blessing for the whole world).
Hopefully, with this enlightenment we will always be on the right track according to the syariah balance sheet.
 Reverend John Trigilio Jr. & Reverend Kenneth Brighenti. The Catholicism Answer Book: The 300 Most Frequently Asked Questions , pg.146.
 The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (ed. E.A. Livingstone). m. 335-336.
 Refer the website of Nasim al-Syam, fatwa 2280, 22 April 2010. https://www.naseemalsham.com/ar/Pages.php?page=readFatwa&pg_id=2280
 Refer to his explanation in the video through the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=3TTwX9kcaCU