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GREAT BRITAIN: Christians, Muslims unite to keep religion in Christmas

By Martin Revis
[Ecumenical News International]  Britain's Christian Muslim Forum has strongly criticized moves to take the religious message out of Christmas in the country on the grounds that offence might be caused to members of other faiths.

The forum, launched in January by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, to promote interfaith relations, draws half its membership from the Muslim community.

It warned that attempts to remove religion from the Christmas festival acted to encourage right-wing extremism. Some local governments have tried to excise references to Christianity from Christmas. One renamed their municipal celebrations "Winterval."

The statement was signed by forum leaders including Anglican Bishop David Gillett of Bolton and Ataullah Siddiqui, director of the Markfield Institute of Higher Education. It noted that some local authorities had decided that Christmas should be called by another non-religious name.

"As Muslims and Christians together we are wholeheartedly committed to the retention of specific religious recognition for Christian festivals," the statement said. "Christmas is a celebration of the birth of Jesus and we wish this significant part of the Christian heritage of the country to remain an acknowledged part of national life. The desire to secularize religious festivals is offensive to both communities."

"Those who use the fact of religious pluralism as an excuse to de-Christianize British society unthinkingly become recruiting agents for the extreme right. They provoke antagonism towards Muslims and others by foisting on them an anti-Christian agenda they do not hold."

Some Church of England leaders have criticized the British Post Office for issuing Christmas stamps with no Christian theme. In a November 10 speech, the Ugandan-born Archbishop of York, Dr. John Sentamu, considered as the second highest person in the Church of England hierarchy, attacked "illiberal atheists, who under the cloak of secularism, insist that religion must be a private matter."