The first Irish-born Muslim cleric has said schools who do not stage nativity plays or put up Christmas trees “are wrong”.
Ibrahim Michael Noonan from Co Waterford, who was born into a Catholic family, said while Muslims do not celebrate Christmas he “does not get offended by it”.
“We hear of schools not having nativity plays and putting up Christmas trees for fear of offending non-Christians and I think this is shocking personally,” he said on BBC Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence.
“I actually think the schools are wrong in doing this.”
He added: “Ireland, Northern Ireland, southern Ireland and the whole of the island of Ireland is predominantly Christian and they have their right to celebrate what they believe in.
“For example my own family, my parents, brothers and sisters, I will probably be visiting them over those few days and I am going to walk into a house full of decorations and I am not going to turn around and say I am offended. That is their faith and that is what they believe.”
The imam – now living in Omagh – added: “I do appreciate that schools are conscious of this (Muslim faith) but I do think it is wrong and if they want to put a Christmas tree up it is a Christian country.”
He added that any Muslim who would insist on a school not celebrating a Christian Christmas is “absolutely going against the teachings of Islam”.
He said that Muslims will probably “meditate and reflect” on Christmas Day as “their neighbours and friends are probably still Christian so they would be thinking about it but not in a celebration sense”.
“We don’t send Christmas cards but we do send out cards wishing people the best for the coming year, but you wouldn’t get on the card happy Christmas. If someone said happy Christmas I wouldn’t be offended but see it as a good intention from a Christian friend – but I know there has been certain mind sets of Muslims who would take offence at that.”
The imam spoke out after last week’s report which called for an end to daily acts of collective worship in Ulster schools.
The Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life said schools should hold instead “inclusive assemblies”. Its report said these should be “appropriate for pupils and staff of all religions and beliefs”.