Sun Day: How Christianity hijacked a pagan holiday

Christ’s birth or pagan holiday?

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons.), MCollT

In discussing the “sources” of Islam, uncouth Christian apologists attack the faith by accusing it of having pagan roots. For example, they argue that the many rituals of Islam in Hajj (the pilgrimage) are built on older pagan rituals that the early Muslims adopted and modified to their own liking. If Islam did indeed have its absolute beginnings in the person of Muhammad s.a.w., then those apologists would have a point. However, in the Islamic worldview, Islam did not actually begin with Prophet Muhammad’s ministry. It is the longstanding contention of Islam that prior to the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w., Islam was already afoot and numerous messengers came before him bringing essentially the same fundamental doctrines of faith (i.e., monotheism) but with some variations in matters of jurisprudence. The Prophet Muhammad’s s.a.w. preaching was regarded by his followers, from the very beginning, as the culmination of that long succession of prophetic office.

Though the Arabs– the children of Ishma’el — prior to Prophet Muhammad’s monotheistic revolution were idolaters and did practise some of the rituals that we may today see in Islam in their idolatrous fashion, they were not, in fact, the promulgators of those rituals and nor was idolatry their forefathers’ original tradition. The Arabs are typically regarded as the descendants of Ishma’el and this has been commonly held as a fact by both Muslim and non-Muslim historians. Emeritus Professor for the History of the Near and Middle East at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Dr. G. R. Hawting writes:

“The designation of the Arabs as Ishmaelites or Hagarenes (after Ishmael’s mother, Hagar) is relatively common in pre-Islamic and later Christian and Jewish texts, and the descent of the Arabs from Abraham through Ishmael and his mother is frequently asserted in Islamic literature (the earliest extant texts of which are not earlier than the late 8th century). The idea that the Arabs are the physical descendants of Abraham through Ishmael is indeed taken by many, non-Muslims as well as Muslims, as a genealogical and historical fact.” [1]

If we take the idea that Arabs are the descendants of Ishma’el as true, which according to Hawting is what many commentators typically hold, be they Muslim or not, then one must logically conclude that the original Arabs, who were children of Ishma’el were monotheists because Ishma’el was the son of Abraham and Abraham is regarded by all three Abrahamic faiths as the patriach of monotheism. There is no indication anywhere that Ishma’el or his immediate children departed from the monotheistic belief of Abraham and the Bible testifies to the fact that his firstborn Ishma’el was entered into the covenant that God made with Abraham through circumcision. The fact that the Ishma’elites or Arabs were idolaters when Muhammad s.a.w. came to the scene means that somewhere along the genealogy, the Ishma’elites lost their way, went astray and adopted paganism as their cultural and religious heritage. The culmination of the prophetic office in the person of Muhammad s.a.w. was to cleanse what had been tainted. Islam did not come to adopt pagan rituals and give them a new monotheistic varnish. It came to restore that which had been corrupted and reclaim the original monotheistic heritage of the descendants of Abraham’s firstborn, Ishma’el.

It is interesting that those who accuse Islam of plagiarising paganistic rituals often forget their own history. One can point to many instances where Christianity adopted the rituals of the pagans of old and turned them into Christian rituals. One of the most celebrated Christian holidays is Christmas and the vast majority of Christians throughout the world mark the 25th of December as the date of the nativity, but the average Christian is usually unaware of the fact that their own scholars have long disclaimed that date as the date of their Lord’s birth. The 25th of December was originally a pagan feast marking the birth of the Sun god Mithra, hence the day’s name Sun-day. When Christianity gained the upper hand in the ancient world, the leaders of this new powerful faith decided to take the 25th of December as their own and replaced Mithra’s birth celebration with the celebration of their own Lord’s birth. This historical fact is noted by the Catholic theologian Father Oscar Lukefahr:

“We celebrate Christ’s birthday on December 25. This date was chosen in the fourth century so that the celebration of Christ’s nativity might replace a pagan feast observed on that day. But the gospels do not give the exact day or month of Jesus’ birth.” [2]

It did not matter that their Lord’s birth did not actually coincide with the pagan God Mithra’s. What mattered was that the pagan feast was ingrained in society and its popularity was such that simply adopting the same date to gain mileage for their faith was a good enough reason to mark Jesus’ birth on that date and celebrate it as a religious feast in substitution of Mithra’s feast.

With such evident traces of paganistic rituals in the Christian apologists’ own religious heritage, they should think twice before attacking Islam for supposedly having stolen paganistic practices and imported them into the faith. That accusation can be easily made against them as their forefathers were the ones that were incorporating paganistic ideas and rituals into their belief system left, right and centre hundreds of years before the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. was even born.

Notes:

[1] Hawting, G. R. (2010). The Religion of Abraham and Islam. In Martin Goodman, Geurt Hendrik van Kooten & Jacques T.A.G.M. van Ruiten (eds), Abraham, the Nations, and the Hagarites: Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Perspectives on Kinship with Abraham. Leiden, the Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV. p. 477

[2] Lukefahr, O. (1992). A Catholic Guide to the Bible: Revised and Referenced to the Catechism. Montana: Liguori Publications. p. 122

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3 Responses to “Sun Day: How Christianity hijacked a pagan holiday”

  1. Zaini Abdullah says:

    Jazakumullah khayr bro, may ALLAH SWT reward you for all your effort to make us Muslims to hold tightly to the rope of AlLAH SWT !

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