Leave Christmas alone, say Muslims
Muslim leaders joined their Christian counterparts yesterday to launch a powerful attack on politicians and town halls that play down Christmas. They warned that attempts to remove religion from the festival were fuelling Right-wing extremism.
A Christmas tree outside 10 Downing street A number of town halls have tried to excise references to Christianity from Christmas, in one case by renaming their municipal celebrations "Winterval".
They have often justified their actions by saying Britain is now a multi-faith society and they are anxious to avoid offending minority groups.
But the Muslim leaders said they honoured Christmas and that local authorities were playing into the hands of extremists who were able to blame Muslim communities for undermining Britain's Christian culture.
The unprecedented broadside was delivered by the Christian Muslim Forum, which was launched this year by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, with the support of Tony Blair. advertisementThe forum's reaction reflects growing anger among Christians and other faiths about the efforts of secularists to push religion to the margins of public life.
In 1998 Birmingham renamed its celebrations "Winterval", and in 2001 Luton described its Christmas lights as "luminos", taken from Harry Potter. Last week, the Church of England criticised Royal Mail for issuing Christmas stamps with no Christian theme.
The forum, which draws half its membership from senior members of the Muslim community, said in a statement that "as Muslims and Christians together" it was "wholeheartedly committed" to the religious recognition of Christian festivals.
"Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus and we wish this significant part of the Christian heritage of this country to remain an acknowledged part of national life.
"The desire to secularise religious festivals is offensive to both of our communities." The statement, signed by the forum's chairman, the Bishop of Bolton, the Rt Rev David Gillett, and its vice-chairman, Dr Ataullah Siddiqui, urged society to promote religious freedom.
"Those who use the fact of religious pluralism as an excuse to de-Christianise British society unthinkingly become recruiting agents for the extreme Right. They provoke antagonism towards Muslims and others by foisting on them an anti-Christian agenda they do not hold."
Bishop Gillett said in a separate article that it was strange that so many public bodies were nervous or dismissive about Christmas when 72 per cent of Britons described themselves as Christian in the 2001 Census. Any repetition by councils to rename Christmas so as not to offend other faith communities will "backfire badly" on the Muslim community, he said.
"Sadly it is they who get the blame — and for something they are not saying."