Saturday, December 22, 2007

A Proud Islamist Christmas

Of course, such a thing would be a peculiar celebration. Christmas, as celebrated today, has relatively little to do with the teachings of Jesus (peace be upon him), and more to do with the innovations of the Church, or, if you're a more secular type, an orgy of consumerism. Of course, you can use your holiday to do a lot of good things, but that's like any day off.

That said, I don't mind Christmas - in fact I prefer for those people who celebrate it to call it what it is, and not just some random "Winter Holiday." I don't want my Christian or Jewish colleagues to feel uncomfortable if I practice my religion around them, and so I don't feel offended or upset if they practice theirs around me. Merry Christmas.

And now for a little Islamist Grinchitude.

This year, I have been approached on behalf of three separate groups to donate toys to poor children as gifts. Two of them were organizations that I have actively supported. The first two times, I thought a little bit about it, and then hesitantly declined. The third time occurred at a Friday prayer, when an announcement was made asking for donations of toys for Eid-ul-Adha, which happened to fall in late December this year. This time I had no hesitation in rejecting the plea.

I believe that Muslim kids have a right to play just as much as any other kids, but the context put the question into focus.

The problem is that if you know anything about kids, you know that they don't actually need toys to play - they are endlessly imaginative and creative creatures, whose ability to pretend is so much more potent than those of adults. It's not true that children can't grasp abstractions as well as adults can; really they just don't conceive of them as parts of a formal system. Do children today enjoy their play any more than children 50 years ago, or children in poverty-stricken circumstances? Probably no more than adults enjoy themselves more today than in past decades; we have so many more ways to entertain ourselves, but human beings aren't wired to be permanently happy.

Visiting a cemetery in Pakistan (or, as it is poetically known in Urdu, "khabrstan," the "land of the grave") one thing striking contrast with the same in North America is the number of children. I don't mean the unsettling number of 1m x 0.3m graves that one sees crammed into the available spaces, but the number of living children who inhabit the place.

Growing up in a cemetery. What could be more bleak?

But there is very little about these children that could inform the passing observer that they are preoccupied with that aspect of their situation. They beg, sell garlands and flowers, and offer, in exchange for money, to water or plant whatever green piece of life the relatives have brought for the sake of their dead. I can't say I did a detailed study, but these children don't seem depressed. They play, they push, they bully, they steal, they laugh, they cry, and they run about. In short, they do all the things that kids do. The fact that they are urchins might expose them to all kinds of harm and suffering, but their circumstances alone do not destroy their spirit.

Would toys make them happy? Yes, maybe for a little while, but I think you'd be hard pressed to argue that they would make any sort of lasting impression. And if it did, what would the impression be? That one needs material goods to celebrate, to be happy?

So, the Grinch (Al-Gerinich?) has a point, doesn't he? While poverty is a question of equality, and not just material possessions, no underprivileged child in North America is going to benefit from a toy any more than the graveyard gang in Pakistan would. And both have much more pressing concerns.

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1 comment:

Padraic said...

I agree totally - toys are not high on my charity priority list. Also, I hate Christmas.