MOORHEAD-Fowzia Adde traveled last week with her husband and their eight children to Bloomington, Minn., to spend the Christmas holiday with the family of her husband's sister.
While they are there, they will go shopping at the Mall of America. Her kids will go skating. They may even go to an indoor waterpark.
On Christmas Day, Adde will stay indoors, watching Christmas specials on TV, hoping it snows, helping her sister-in-law cook, and "being lazy." Her family will have a large and festive dinner with traditional foods.
In many ways, Adde sounds like any other American. But she is an immigrant from Somalia and a devout Muslim. She doesn't celebrate Christmas. Yet, she can appreciate the holiday.
"When everybody around you is celebrating, it's just human nature to be in that spirit," she said. "I get excited when everybody around me is excited. It makes me happy. We all relate to each other somehow."
Two of her daughters, twins, age 13, participated with their school in singing Christmas carols at the West Acres mall this year. She didn't object.
"I want them to learn about other cultures," said Adde, executive director of the Immigrant Development Center in Moorhead, who came to Fargo as a refugee in 1997. "They know they are a different religion. They pray. They read the Koran. At the same time, they are free to learn about other religions.
Adde's attitude toward Christmas as a Muslim is not unusual. Muslims don't celebrate Christmas as part of their religion, but they don't necessarily ignore it either.
Christians and Muslims have more in common than many realize. They pray to the same God. Like Christians, Muslims recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Muslims venerate Mary, the mother of Jesus. In fact, there is an entire chapter in the Koran about her.
'Part of this society'
How local Muslims respond to Christmas runs the gamut. Some pay no attention. Muslim-oriented stores such as the Fargo Halal Market and Balkan Foods, and restaurants such as Madina Cuisine, are open on Christmas Day. Other Muslims, off from work like most everyone else, will get together with family for a special meal.
A few Muslims have even embraced the celebration of Christmas, putting up Christmas trees in their homes, decorating their yards with holiday lights, and even taking their kids to visit Santa Claus. For them, like many Americans, Christmas is as much a cultural celebration as a religious holiday.
Celebrating Christmas is also part of becoming American for area Muslims, many of whom are immigrants or the children of migrants.
"It is part of the integration process," said Newzad Brifki, a Kurdish American from Iraq, who was raised Muslim and is director of the Moorhead-based Kurdish Community of America. His group, in fact, recently sponsored a holiday party that featured a Christmas tree. The invitation for the party featured a tree, wreaths and a fireplace hung with stockings.
"I know many Kurdish families that have Christmas trees and Christmas lights," Brifki said. "They haven't lost their roots and their culture, but they also realize that now they are part of this country and part of this society. You see neighbors with a Christmas tree and lights. You try to do that in your home with your kids. It's a beautiful time."
'We believe in Jesus Christ'
Fargo's only mosque, operated by the Islamic Society of Fargo-Moorhead, is open on Christmas Day for prayers, just like it is every other day. But there will be no events celebrating Christmas.
Mohammed Sanaullah, a member of the board of directors of the Islamic Society, said the group does not observe Christmas because it doesn't celebrate the birth of any of Islam's prophets. Most Muslims do not celebrate the birth of the prophet Mohammed either.
"We believe in Jesus Christ," he said. "We believe in his miracles. We celebrate his life and his teachings every day. We believe him to be a messenger of God, but we don't celebrate his birth. We don't celebrate our own prophet's birthday."
Muslims, like members of other religious groups, vary greatly in how strictly they adhere to religious principles. Some Muslims wear the hijab and reject the celebration of Christmas. Others are more moderate in their approach.
Sanaullah said the Islamic Society has about 700 members. About two-thirds are Somalis, many of whom strictly adhere to Islamic practices. But the mosque also draws many Kurdish and Bosnian Muslims, who tend to be more restrained in their practices.
Mukhtar Mohamed, a Somali American who came to Fargo in 2006 as a refugee, typifies those Muslims who do not celebrate Christmas.
"It's a normal day for me, like any other day," he said. "We are working that day. We will worship however God commands us to do. God didn't command us to celebrate Christmas."
Zarifa Musa and her family, who live in Moorhead, represent the opposite extreme. Raised Muslim, she came from Bosnia as a refugee in 1996. She has four kids, ranging in age from 2 to 10.
"I have a Christmas tree," she said. "I buy my kids presents. To me, it's a holiday like for everybody else."
Growing up in Bosnia, her family had a tree during the holidays, but it was considered a New Year's tree. New Year's is a major holiday for Bosnians and she said many Bosnians decorate an evergreen tree for New Year's, similar to Christmas traditions in Christian countries.
Not only does Musa have a Christmas tree in her home with Christmas gifts for her children underneath, but she has strung lights on trees in front of their house. There is a lighted angel and penguin in the yard. She even took her children to West Acres mall to get their photos taken with Santa.
Musa says she celebrates Christmas for her children.
"They're growing up here," she said. "I can't change their future. Their future is in the United States. My kids are my No. 1 priority. If they want a Christmas tree, I'll do it. I'm not going to tell them no. I want them to be happy. I don't want to say we can't do it because we're Muslims."