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I'll start with an example. Suppose a person:

  1. is obviously a Muslim, in their dress, behavior, etc., and no Christian would ever think "they must be a Christian", and
  2. participates in a Christian celebration (such as Christmas).

IslamWeb write: No doubt celebrating such feasts is actually imitating disbelievers. In one way, this individual is considered to be imitating disbelievers, while in other ways, they're behaving as a Muslim. This leads me to my question:

Question: Is "imitating disbelievers" interpreted holistically?

In other words, which of these is correct:

  1. We single out this one act (celebrating Christmas), and this is sufficient to "imitate disbelievers", regardless of the other overt displays of being Muslim.

  2. The behavior of this individual is considered holistically, and their Islamic behavior outweighs their behavior which "imitates disbelievers".

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You should also take into account the idea that this behavior might be seen as endorsing a Christian ritual or belief even though it might seem unlikely that this might be the impression caused by a Muslim of "overt displays".

But considering the maqasid (purposes) of Sharia, one can take the kind of impact left by such presence as a criterion for validity of the action. Is such a presence a net positive for the cause of Islam (like helps Christians appreciate the warm attitude of a practicing Muslim towards Jesus, Mary and spirituality in general, and therefore open up their view of Islam) or rather might seem as compromising the position of Islam by leaving the impression of a Muslim impressed by "the grandeur of our Christian faith". After all, a Muslim must reverberate the excellence of Islam over other religions, while endorsing their positive content. However considering that we're living in a world where we are embedded in all sorts of unIslamic systems, cultures and behaviours, then too much sensitivity on this may also sound too selective.

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Islamic texts say "be different"; not "be mostly different". They never gave it a 'holistic context'.

When the Prophet (ﷺ) spoke of imitation v. being different, he spoke on the individual action level.. i.e., do not imitate them in an individual action unique to them, period! He would say non-Muslims do A so ordered we do B; non-Muslims do C so Muslims do D instead. (Plenty of example, from shaving to dying hair, the list goes on).

So the expection is not to imitate them in these actions, even if you are 'overtly Islamic' in all other ways. Remember, the audience to whom he was speaking were the Sahabah who were righteous and overtly Islamic yet the Prophet ordered them with these commands and they abided by those commands; so too do we have to. This also shows that even the overtly Islamic cannot imitate any particular non-Muslim actions.

Beyond the texts not supporting a holistic approach, think about the fact that a holistic approach opens a can of worms regarding how much is "too much"? At what point does any imitation become too much imitation? Etc.. - Reality is, any imitation inevitably leads to greater levels of imitation, to the point that it becomes "span by span", as the Prophet put it.

The Prophet (ﷺ) said, "You will follow the ways of those nations who were before you, span by span and cubit by cubit (i.e., inch by inch) so much so that even if they entered a hole of a mastigure, you would follow them." We said, "O Allah's Messenger (ﷺ)! (Do you mean) the Jews and the Christians?" He said, "Whom else?" - Bukhari (7320).

Based on all of this and more, Islamic scholars will say you are "imitating disbelievers" based on a single action of theirs that you imitate (e.g., celebrating their festival). Rightfully so.

Hope this helps shed some light.

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