I was asked concerning the rule of exchanging gifts during Christmas or participating in related activities. Below follows a detailed discussion I translated by the erudite Mālikī scholar Ibn Al-Hājj Al-Fāsi [737 A.H] who addressed this matter centuries before us in Cairo, Egypt, where there was a presence of some Jewish and Christian communities. It shows that this matter was an issue of concern long before modern times. Ibn Al-Hājj makes the matter clear first by explaining what the people were doing during his time, then addressing the rule by stating the position of the early Imams and foremost the book of Allāh and the sunnah.
Ibn Al-Hājj Al-Fāsi mentioned the following in his book Al-Madkhal under the chapter heading “Concerning Some Holidays/Festivals of The Jews and Christians”:
فهذا بعض الكلام على المواسم التي ينسبونها إلى الشرع وليست منه , وبقي الكلام على المواسم التي اعتادها أكثرهم وهم يعلمون أنها مواسم مختصة بأهل الكتاب , فتشبه بعض أهل الوقت بهم فيها وشاركوهم في تعظيمها , يا ليت ذلك لو كان في العامة خصوصا , ولكنك ترى بعض من ينتسب إلى العلم يفعل ذلك في بيته ويعينهم عليه ويعجبه منهم ويدخل السرور على من عنده في البيت من كبير وصغير بتوسعة النفقة والكسوة على زعمه , بل زاد بعضهم أنهم يهادون بعض أهل الكتاب في مواسمهم ويرسلون إليهم ما يحتاجونه لمواسمهم فيستعينون بذلك على زيادة كفرهم , ويرسل بعضهم الخرفان ويعضهم البطيخ الأخضر وبعضهم البلح وغير ذلك مما يكون في وقتهم وقد يجمع ذلك أكثرهم وهذا كله مخالف للشرع الشريف.
What [was mentioned previously] was regarding the festivals/holidays [al-mawāsim] that are [falsely] attributed to the sharī’ah but are actually not.
Now what remains for us to discuss are those festivals that people [meaning Muslims] have become accustom to practicing in spite of knowing that they are solely festivals of the Jews and Christians. For verily some of the people of these times [from amongst the Muslims] imitate them and participate with them in honoring these holidays. Oh, if it had only been that the common people were the only ones doing it! but in fact many of those who are assumed to be people of knowledge also engage in such actions in their homes, assisting his household in celebrating it. Furthermore, he brings happiness to his household, both the elder and the young, by spending generously on them according to his assumption [that such act is worthy simply because it brings happiness]. In fact, some of them even exchange gifts with the Jews and Christians on their festivals/holidays and send for them what they need to conduct their festivals/holiday, and thus what those Muslims are actually doing is assisting the Jews and Christians in increasing their unbelief. Some of them send lamb, and others green melon, and others dates and other fruits that are in season although most of them send all of these things. This, all of what was mentioned, contradicts the noble shari’ah.
ومن العتبية قال أشهب : قيل لمالك : أترى بأسا أن يهدي الرجل لجاره النصراني مكافأة له على هدية أهداها إليه؟ قال : ما يعجبني ذلك قال الله عز وجل : ( يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لا تَتَّخِذُوا عَدُوِّي وَعَدُوَّكُمْ أَوْلِيَاءَ تُلْقُونَ إِلَيْهِمْ بِالْمَوَدَّةِ الآية) [الممتحنة:1]. قال ابن رشد رحمه الله تعالى : قوله مكافأة له على هدية أهداها إليه إذ لا ينبغي له أن يقبل منه هدية , لأن المقصود من الهدايا التودد لقول النبي ” تهادوا تحابوا وتذهب الشحناء” , فإن أخطأ وقبل منه هديته وفاتت عنده , فالأحسن أن يكافئه عليها حتى لا يكون له عليه فضل في معروف صنعه معه .
[The author] of Al-U’tbīyah reported that Ashhab [Ibn Abd Al-‘Azīz Al-Qaisī 203 A.H / Cairo] , a senior companion of Imām Mālik said:
Somebody said to Mālik: “Do you see anything wrong with a man giving his Christian neighbor a gift in repayment for a gift the neighbor had given to him?”. He replied “I do not agree with that. Allāh [exalted is He] says “O you who believe, do not take My enemy and your enemy as friends/helpers/protectors by giving them your love when they have disbelieved in what has come to you of the truth . . . [Al-Mumtahinah 58:1]”.
Ibn Rushd [520 A.H/ Cordoba] (May Allāh show him mercy) said:
His [meaning the person who questioned Mālik] statement “in repayment for a gift the neighbor had given to him” note that one is not supposed to accept a gift from a Christian [in the first place] because the purpose of giving a gift is to show one’s love and affection, for the Prophet ﷺ said: “Give gifts to one another, and you will love one another and any grudge [you bear for one another] will go away.” However, if one made the mistake of accepting a gift from a Christian and it was too late to do anything about it, then the best thing to do is to repay him for it so that the Christian should not have anything over him on account of a favor he extended to him.
وسئل مالك رحمه الله عن مؤاكلة النصراني في إناء واحد, قال : تركه أحب إليّ ولا يصادق نصرانيا . قال ابن رشد رحمه الله : الوجه في كراهة مصادقة النصراني بيّن لأن الله عز وجل يقول : لا تَجِدُ قَوْماً يُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ يُوَادُّونَ مَنْ حَادَّ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَلَوْ كَانُوا آبَاءَهُمْ أَوْ أَبْنَاءَهُمْ أَوْ إِخْوَانَهُمْ أَوْ عَشِيرَتَهُمْ الآية) [المجادلة:22], فوجب على كل مسلم أن يبغض في الله من يكفر به ويجعل معه إلها غيره ويكذب رسوله , ومؤاكلته في إناء واحد تقتضي الألفة بينهما والمودة فهي تكره من هذا الوجه وإن علمت طهارة يده .
Malik (May Allāh have mercy on him) was asked about eating together with a Christian from the same plate. He replied “I prefer that he refrain from that. He should not befriend a Christian.” Ibn Rushd explained that the reason for his dislike of taking a Christian as a friend is obvious since Allāh says “You will not find a people who believe in Allāh and the Last Day loving those who oppose Allāh and His messenger ﷺ even though they were their fathers or sons or brothers or close kin . . .” [Al-Mujādalah 58:22].” Thus, a Muslim is obligated to hate for Allāh those who disbelieve in Him and who take others as gods along with Him and who deny His messenger ﷺ. Eating with a Christian from one plate brings about love and affection between them and for from that perspective it is objectionable, even if one knows that the Christian’s hand is clean.
ومن مختصر الواضحة سئل ابن القاسم عن الركوب في السفن فيها النصارى لأعيادهم , فكره ذلك مخافة نزول السخط عليهم لكفرهم الذي اجتمعوا له . قال : وكره ابن القاسم للمسلم أن يهدي إلى النصراني في عيدهم مكافأة له , ورآه من تعظيم عيده وعونا له على مصلحة كفره . ألا ترى أنه لا يحل للمسلمين أن يبيعوا للنصراني شيئا من مصلحة عيدهم لا لحما ولا إداما ولا ثوبا ولا يعارون دابة و لا يعانون على شيء من دينهم لأن ذلك من التعظيم لشركهم وعونهم على كفرهم . وينبغي للسلاطين أن ينهوا المسلمين عن ذلك , وهو قول مالك وغيره لم أعلم أحدا اختلف في ذلك اهـ
Furthermore in Mukhtasar Al-Wādihah [ by Fadl ibn Salamah – 319 A.H ] reported that Ibn al-Qāsim [191 AH, the foremost student of Imām Mālik] was asked about going out with the Christians on the boats they ride during their holidays and he objected to that fearing that the wrath [of Allah] should afflict them on account of their unbelief which brought them together. He [Fadl ibn Salamah] said:
Ibn al-Qāsim objected to a Muslim giving a Christian a gift on his holiday in repayment for a gift the Christian had given him [on the occasion of the Christian holiday]. He [Ibn al-Qāsim] considered that honoring their holiday and supporting him in rectifying his unbelief. Do you not see that it is not lawful for a Muslim to sell the Christians anything that helps facilitate their holiday, whether it be meats, condiments, clothing, or lending them a means of transportation, or assisting them in any way in their religion, because that involves giving honor to their shirk [associating others with Allāh] and assisting them in their unbelief. In fact, the rulers must prohibit the Muslims from doing that, and that is the opinion of Mālik and others; indeed, I do not know of any scholars who are in disagreement concerning that.
[ Al-Madkhal, pg. 46 vol.2, Maktabah Al-Turāth]