Christians, Muslims Urge City Officials to Stop Taking Christ out of Christmas

Christian and Muslims in Britain have told city officials to stop taking the Christianity out of Christmas, warning them that this is fuelling right-wing extremism.

Local authorities were criticised for using titles like "Winterval" for their Christmas celebrations and avoiding the use of Christian symbols in case they offended minority groups, especially Muslims and Hindus.

The Christian Muslim Forum, which was established by the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, complained that taking the Christian message out of Christmas played into the hands of right-wing extremists who then accused Muslims of undermining Britain's Christian culture.

"The desire to secularise religious festivals is in itself offensive to both our communities," said Dr Ataullah Siddiqui, vice chairman of the forum.

Anglican Bishop of Bolton David Gillett said that when local authorities rename Christmas so as not to offend other religions, their stance "will tend to backfire badly on the Muslim community in particular".

"We are concerned that those approaches which are based on anti-religious philosophies or a fear of religion are causing alienation in a wide variety of communities and fanning the growth of extremism," said Gillett, the forum chairman.

"Sadly it is they (Muslims) who get the blame for something they are not saying. And after all, the Koran speaks with honour about Jesus and tells of his birth to Mary, a virgin," he added.

The threat of radical Islam, including last year's London bombings, has led the government to rethink its traditionally tolerant attitude to ethnic minorities.

The government has launched a debate on whether the policy of not imposing a single British identity on immigrants, and instead promoting multiculturalism, has led to the segregation of minority communities.

The London bombings in July last year prompted much soul-
searching over what led four young Muslim Britons to become suicide bombers and kill 52 people.

Many experts fear the focus on Islam could backfire if Britain's 1.8 million Muslims feel they are under attack.

Religious controversies have often made frontpage news in papers this year, including Muslim protests over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, Pope Benedict's remarks about Islam and the debate over Muslim women wearing full veils.

Bishop Gillett said: "Following the many controversies through which my Muslim friends have gone this year ... I am particularly conscious of wanting to say to them in my Christmas cards and in person - May the peace and blessing of God be with you this Christmas."