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  • IBé

What is Christmas to a Muslim?

I married a Christian. This was unheard of in Guinea, where I was born. Unlike Guinea, Sierra Leone, where I spent my early growing years, the two religions numbered about the same and, therefore, one can expect a bit more mixing. But even there, in the small town where I grew up, I don’t remember seeing an interreligious household.

But then America happened. Or rather I met her. With little regard for our religious differences, on a sunny September afternoon at the Rock Garden in Minneapolis, in front of a small group of our friends and family, we pledged our love for each other.

Then the kids came, one after the other. Without discussion, she took them to church. (She takes them to church.) I took them to mosque. (I take them to mosque.) I went to church—on more than one occasion. (I love the sermons!) She tried to fast with me, but hardly made it past noon. Still, I thanked her. We are making it work, with no deliberate design. Her family waits for her to convert me, and mine waits for me to convert her. We laugh behind their backs.

But I have always stopped at Christmas. Between Jesus’s birthday and Santa’s beard . . . I have always regarded Christmas as the line I would not cross. She ignores me. Instead, she takes our money, buys gifts, and writes Santa’s name on it. On Christmas, she hands me my package from under the tree, and invites my family over for a meal fit for a king. She doesn’t have much family in Minnesota (or in the country for that matter), so “she cooks Christmas meals for the Muslims,” I like to say.

Well, here we go again, another Christmas! On Black Friday she

was one of the midnight shoppers. She bought books for the children,

along with roller skates, iPhones, play phones, and a PlayStation

4! Then on one of the coldest days of the year, she sent me to get a tree. I should have had my gloves on. But then again, I kept telling myself, being Muslim and all, I have no business being out in the cold tying a Christmas tree to the top of my truck.

At first I tried to shove the tree into my trunk. By the time that proved futile, my fingers were nearly frozen solid. I’m exaggerating, of course, but I was born near the equator—my tolerance is a bit compromised. I took a break and ran back into the car to warm up. When I came back out and finally realized putting the tree on top of the truck was the only way to go, I had to run back inside to thaw my hands once again. How I have survived this weather for twenty years is beyond me, I said to myself. In and out I went, until I managed to get one string over and around the tree from one side of the

truck to the other. God, I hope that is enough to take me across the highway, I prayed. I wonder who answered, “Allah” or “God”? Maybe both did, because I made it down the highway, to Target and home with no issues.

By the time I returned from the garage with the box of ornaments,

the house already smelled of fresh pine trees, and Bing Crosby was singing a Christmas song on Pandora. I love it—the smell of pine trees and Christmas songs! But I don’t tell her—I’m still cold and still in one of my million crabby moods, as she calls them. Instead I sat at the table, quietly sipping the tea she made me and watching the children play around the tree, trading hopes of

presents they wanted Santa to bring.

Then the weekend before Christmas, she said she had a surprise

for us. We got in the car and ended up at the International Brotherhood

of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Holiday Lights show on Lake Phalen. We paid our ten-dollar entrance fee and followed other cars down the mile-long drive around the lake, featuring nothing short of Noah’s Ark of animals in dancing blue, green, yellow, and red Christmas lights. Palm trees went up like fireworks, trains slid quietly through the snow, a spider web caught a fly, and a dinosaur

waved good-bye to us. That’s when it hit me—between those illuminated flying sleds and dancing dolphins, the light snow falling on our windshield, my wife by my side, and our three children in the back with the three-year-old squealing, “Lion!”: Christmas is a wonderful season of bringing smiles to loved ones’ faces! No one religion should have a monopoly on that.

IBé writes poems, essays, and other things. They are always stories— about Guinea, Sierra Leone and America. They are all his home! He has been honored with a few awards for his writing, but he doesn’t feel like showing off to you right this minute. You may find out more about him on his website at if you're at all interested.



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