Justin Trudeau celebrating Ramazan in Canada is praiseworthy, but PIA celebrating Christmas in Pakistan is appalling?

Published: December 29, 2017
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They even had one of their employees dress up as Santa Claus to further spread merriment. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/ PAKISTAN INTERNATIONAL AIRLINES

Everyone is aware of the fact that Christmas is a festival celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. It is not only a day of celebration for Christians around the world but over time, it’s celebration has become a global festival, being regarded as a symbol of joy and togetherness, not just religion. It is a day where families and friends get together and give each other gifts, quite similar to Eid, where Muslims get together and give each other Eidis and celebrate over food.

However, celebrating Christmas in Pakistan has become a debate over the past decade. Many Pakistanis take offence when a Muslim wishes someone “Merry Christmas”, as they believe it to be against their religion. Every year, as the day of Christmas approaches, we are bombarded with Whatsapp messages that forbid us from wishing or celebrating this festive occasion, some even going to the extent of deeming the act as haram.

As I received my primary education from a religious school, I was always told that celebrating any non-Muslim cultural event or festival wasn’t right, and that I should shy away from it. However, as an individual I always wondered, what was so wrong about celebrating with others?

Even though I have never been interested in celebrating events like Halloween, Black Friday or Christmas, I also don’t see any harm in it for those who do want to celebrate them. If I ever did want to celebrate, I would do so without hesitation, because I believe that any kind of celebration that brings you and the people around you happiness, cannot be wrong. Moreover, if someone else celebrating does not harm you personally, then it should not affect you to begin with.

Like every year, this year too, Christmas preparations were happening all around the world to mark the occasion. Vividly decorated sparkling Christmas trees, the iconic Santa Claus costumes, lights, balls and garlands were seen in several shops and malls across our very own city as well.

A day before Christmas Eve, the staff of our national carrier, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), surprised their passengers by celebrating Christmas on board. They not only sang Christmas carols and wore Santa hats, but also gave away gifts and chocolates to the children onboard. They even had one of their employees dress up as Santa Claus to further spread the merriment. It was undoubtedly a great gesture to spread happiness and create togetherness amongst passengers, irrespective of their faiths.

Unsurprisingly however, people created an issue over this too. I don’t understand why Pakistanis always have to spread negativity, especially about things that don’t affect us in any way, but are only spreading joy amongst others. Whenever festivals celebrated by our minorities are around the corner, we start debates on the acceptability of celebrating these festivals, and whether or not Muslims can participate. Even those who aren’t religious start preaching about how it is forbidden to celebrate such festivals. While the rest of the world was appreciative of PIA’s efforts, it was sad to read some horrendous comments and accusations against PIA by its very own people.

The hypocrisy of this society becomes evident when, in the aftermath of attacks on minorities, they immediately chant slogans of unity and “we are all in this together”, much like after the church attack that happened recently in Quetta. While in those moments we are quick to “overlook” any differences between us, when it comes down to moments of happiness and celebration, this togetherness always seems to fall short. Then it is no longer ‘us’; it is ‘us versus them’. The only thing this achieves is developing feelings of hostility, both in us and our minorities.

On the other hand, whenever we see a non-Muslim celebrating a Muslim festival, we are quick to appreciate it and thank them for doing so. We love it when anyone acknowledges our religion and its importance, such as when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau celebrated Ramazan and Eid in Canada, and Muslims in Pakistan rejoiced. They were happy to see the message of freedom and togetherness that Canada was spreading, especially in light of growing Islamophobia across the world. However, when we try to do the same for our minorities, who are already under attack on our soil, our ‘religiosity’ is immediately under scrutiny for doing so.

How do we expect our minorities to have a sense of belongingness to their country when its people are so quick to alienate them? Wishing them on their festivals will only bring them closer to us and this country; it will not drive us away from our beliefs.

PIA has always been an easy target for everyone when it comes to their services and customer support. Even when the airline was going down the drain, I had always hoped for progress, and now when we do see a minimal change, it calls for appreciation. PIA deserves applause for staying strong and stepping up in a country where people jump at a chance to prove their ‘holier than thou’ attitude. Pakistan is already going through a difficult time, where we have only a few things left to cherish. Rather than being negative, it would be great to spread some positivity for a change and appreciate the minutest efforts made by anyone to promote the message of peace and unity.

This small step taken by PIA made my day. Knowing that almost 2.6 million Pakistanis are Christians, the smallest effort to be inclusive counts, and it was refreshing to see at least one state organisation stepping up to celebrate Christmas in its true spirit. There were a few on the flight who were seen not enjoying the display, but there were many who applauded and enjoyed it. I can only wish I was there to spread some joy as well.

Hats off to the crew members of PIA for doing something out of the ordinary to spread Christmas cheers, not only amongst Christians but amongst everyone. One can only hope that more people of the country learn a thing or two from their spirit.

Syeda Fizza Hasan Rizvi

Syeda Fizza Hasan Rizvi

The author is a graduate from the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture. She is working as a designer at Khaadi. Writing has always been her passion.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Human

    Dear Fizza ,
    well said & written . This is the reason why Pakistan is backward in every way . The Mentality of afew .
    Bitter truthRecommend

  • Mehdi

    I appreciate the efforts of PIA. These guys with their fatwas are only creating negativity and nothing else.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Nicely said ….. double standards go hand in hand with hypocrisy and results in a state of denial,….a sickness that is self perpetuating and all consuming.Recommend

  • Mina

    When i was living in Pakistan i thought that as a nation we truly had backward racist thinking.
    I only learned the reality of the situation when i moved abroad.
    Best of luck to you if you are a brown muslim person in a christian country, because you are going to be at the receiving end of some serious abuse.
    My point is this kind of thinking doesn’t only exist in Pakistan. It is rampant throughout the world. As a society we just are not accepting of anyone who thinks differently than us.
    Not in your wildest dreams could you expect any non muslim airline to do something like this for muslims celebrating Eid.
    So yes, kudos to PIA.Recommend

  • Shabbir Tahir

    I think you are absolutely right. Celebrating Xmas is not that muslims have started believing the concept of Christians. I think it just the remembrance of one of our Nabi, whether he was born on this day, does not matter also. If santaclaus and Xmas trees makes people happy; so I think its nothing wrong in it. But, it should be realised that it is not a part of our religion and our religious events such as Eid, should be celebrated in best possible way.Recommend

  • Muhammad Saim Raffat

    I dont know which country u live in but in canada its not the case. Many times it has happened in winters (when time between prayers is small) that I have prayed in trains buses and trams and no one said a word. My religious sentiments were always respected be it at my office or anywhere. PM here has always wished us on Eid and even my colleagues have done the same. I agree that bigotry is everywhere but unfortunately its much more in pakistan. I never though myself as a minority here but cant say the same about our non muslim breathen in pakistan where hindu minor girls are regularly abducted and converted for marriage with muslims, where Christians are still considered “jamadars” , where hinduism is considered akin to india. We may have issues in the west but u are still million times better then non muslims in pakistan otherwise ppl would have started to flee the west and no one would think of immigrating to west for better life.Recommend

  • rao amjad ali

    Not only do we insist on remaining ignorant about Christianity but sadly about Islam as well.Recommend

  • Lalit

    Are you trying to convince yourself or others ? Why celebrate something with so much of guilt ?Recommend

  • Patwari

    Excellent article! Kudos to you! Please keep up the good work.
    You are an asset. And would be a valuable contributor to any
    country, society, culture.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Agree with you on most of your comment. Exception being Canada.
    Very obviously you are an exception to the general rule. Or you live
    in a village or small town/settlement in the Canadian vastness.
    There have been many many incidents of Islamophobia in Canada.
    All recent and ongoing. In immigrant neighborhoods of Toronto and
    Montreal things are not that pristine. A well known fact. There is a
    Muslim backlash.
    Quebec being the worse place for an immigrant. Muslim or otherwise.
    Apparently you prayed in your seat, while you were on trains, trams and
    buses? A gymnastic feat in itself.Recommend

  • C Gupta

    Agree with you. And it has become more and more pronounced
    and stark in the last decade. Religious extremism is just about
    everywhere, in every country. And with leaders like Trump and
    Modi, who are bigots and racists things are getting worse.Recommend

  • AARNI1000

    nice say bro….I am indian in Canada…agree with you.Recommend

  • Shabbir Tahir

    You are right, I understand. But, what if some one celebrates it believing some thing else, making an event a good cause, this will just engender love and peace.Recommend

  • Memona

    Agreed completelyRecommend

  • PatelPara

    COAS, PM, President and lots of politicians, tv anchors, journalists etc congratulated the Christian community in Pakistan.

    but Pakistani media ignores all that and gives an image to the outside world as if we are not tolerant.

    Recommend

  • Dan Shanks

    This shows the difference of Tolerance between East and West. In the East, no matter what religion, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims of Indian subcontinent are very Intolerant of each other. Again, its not lack of education, but even if educated, no value of tolerance is taught in South Asia. Hindus Hate Muslims, Muslims of South Asia due to past mistreatment specially during what happened in 1947, do not like Hindus and Hindus and Sikhs continue to subjugate whatever is left of Muslim population in India. So, this sort of Intolerance will remain in place, even among educated lot, who are the Most intolerant, even more intolerant than illiterate villagers.Recommend

  • WorldCitizen17

    Under Islamic Sharia Law, you are ORDERED to give non-muslims FULL RIGHTS. The White Color on Pakistan’s Flag represents minorities. You don’t believe in Christmas, no problems BUT keep it to yourself because hurting someone emotionally & physically is forbidden. Hospitality is also part of Islam, for Pashtuns, it is the #1 rule of “Pashtunwali” Parsis, Christians, Hindus, & Sikhs of Pakistan still call themselves (or at least want to) Pakistanis. The thinking & attitude of ignorant. uneducated, & egotistic people is appalling……”The Ummah” refers to “Humanity” . Havent u learned anything from Abdul Sattar Edhi???!!! PIA is the national carrier, and this is a great way to start rebranding. By the way, giving gifts is also a part of Deen.Recommend

  • fze

    Well done PIA. That’s the spirit. Keep it up.Recommend