Toleration of other beliefs and faiths

Toleration of other beliefs and faiths Share

There’s been quite a lot of media coverage recently about leading by example and showing toleration and understanding towards those from different religions or cultures. Indeed, this topic covers the fourth in our series of studies into British Values.  And with a big traditionally Christian festival that engulfs the nation just around the corner, differences between different faiths can often be highlighted at this time. So how can we learn more from our friends from different cultural backgrounds and be tolerant of their beliefs at this time of year?

Festive spirit

Unfortunately, in recent years a lot of misinformation has been circulated in relation to how a multicultural society has had a negative effect on some traditional Christmas activities – people report that traditional nativities are banned, Christmas carols are not allowed in schools, while the word Christmas gets replaced by “holiday” – all allegedly because Muslims get offended by them. Yet such rumours are unfounded, and despite Muslims and Muslim groups repeatedly stating that far from being offended, Christmas is an enjoyable time for them, it does nothing to build tolerance and understanding between faiths.

But what is it that Muslims do at Christmas, if they have no religious link? In general – the same as everyone else who is not a practising Christian at Christmas. They spend time with loved ones, eat together, and enjoy the holiday period as a family. There is no requirement that one be a Christian to do any of that after all.

If anything, it can be argued that Muslims and migrants embody the true spirit of Christmas in the best possible way: devoid of enormous demands and expectations, perhaps they are the ones that truly exemplify the spirit of togetherness, sharing food and company. One where there is no pressure to cook a turkey and all the trimmings, or worry about how your presents will stand up to comparison to others.

Similarly, Christmas is not regarded by the Jewish community as a holiday. A 2013 Pew survey found that less than a third of Jews have a Christmas tree, and most of those that do are intermarried, far less than the 90% of Americans who celebrate Christmas.

Many Jews (even highly assimilated Jews) can get uncomfortable about Christmas, but it is tolerated. As one respected Jewish blogger wrote: “We aren’t offended at a good-natured “Merry Christmas!” (although it may not give us the same warm-fuzzy feeling that you get). We don’t mind the festive lights (although please, turn them off before midnight, I’m trying to sleep…). We don’t object to the Christmas music playing 24/7 in every public place and many radio stations (although I find other things to listen to). And we’re more than happy to share your cookies and candy (as long as it’s kosher). Enjoy the holiday to your heart’s content; just allow us to refrain if we choose to.”

Jews that don’t celebrate Christmas, still celebrate in their own way. The period often overlaps with the festival of Hannukah (as it does this year), in which case many can be found in the synagogue for large parts of the holiday season, or spending time with their families and communities. When it comes to eating, many Jews go out for Chinese food on Christmas. Traditionally the Chinese do not celebrate Christmas (with Buddhist and Taoist beliefs being popular in Chinese culture, more so than Christianity) any more than Jews, so most Chinese restaurants are open on Christmas.

This group again will have their own adopted traditions for how to spend this westernised holiday period, so we encourage you to go and find out what people of different cultural backgrounds from you might be doing this festive season, and see what you can learn from them. You might want to adopt some of their traditions into your own!