Oddly Enough

Hands off Christmas, say religious leaders

LONDON (Reuters) - Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims joined Britain’s equality watchdog Monday in urging Britons to enjoy Christmas without worrying about offending non-Christians.

Two spectators stand on a statue to view the annual lighting of the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square in central London, December 6, 2007. Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims joined Britain's equality watchdog Monday in urging Britons to enjoy Christmas without worrying about offending non-Christians. REUTERS/Toby Melville

“It’s time to stop being daft about Christmas. It’s fine to celebrate and it’s fine for Christ to be star of the show,” said Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

“Let’s stop being silly about a Christian Christmas,” he said, referring to a tendency to play down the traditional celebrations of the birth of Christ for fear of offending minorities in multicultural Britain.

Suicide bombings by British Islamists in July 2005 which killed 52 people in London have prompted much soul-searching about religion and integration in Britain, a debate that has been echoed across Europe.

The threat of radical Islam, highlighted by the London attacks, prompted reflection about Britain’s attitude to ethnic minorities and debate about whether closer integration was more important than promoting multiculturalism.

Phillips, reflecting on media reports of schools scrapping nativity plays and local councils celebrating “Winterval” instead of Christmas, feared there might an underlying agenda -- using “this great holiday to fuel community tension.”

So he joined forces with leaders of minority faiths to put out a blunt message to the politically correct -- Leave Christmas alone.

“Hindus celebrate Christmas too. It’s a great holiday for everyone living in Britain,” said Anil Bhanot, general secretary of the UK Hindu Council.

Sikh spokesman Indarjit Singh said: “Every year I am asked ‘Do I object to the celebration of Christmas?’ It’s an absurd question. As ever, my family and I will send out our Christmas cards to our Christian friends and others.”

Their sentiments were echoed by British Muslim leaders, who were also forthright last week in condemning Sudan for jailing a British teacher for letting her pupils name a teddy bear Mohammad.

Muslim Council of Britain spokesman Shayk Ibrahim Mogra said “To suggest celebrating Christmas and having decorations offends Muslims is absurd. Why can’t we have more nativity scenes in Britain?”

More than 70 percent of Britons -- some 41 million -- said they were Christians, according to figures from the 2001 census.

Muslims were the largest religious group after Christians -- at the time there were 1.6 million Muslims in Britain, while there were over half a million Hindus and Sikhs numbered just over a third of a million.

Editing by Keith Weir