Charity launches festive TV ad to challenge view of British Muslims as anti-Christmas

The Penny Appeal commercial explains how the charity is helping poor and homeless across the UK for a few pence each day

The Penny Appeal Christmas TV advert

The first mainstream television advertisement by a Muslim charity will be aired over the festive period, a development many hope will help to challenge the misconception that Muslims are anti-Christmas.

The 59-second advert for the West Yorkshire charity Penny Appeal highlights the often ignored role of British Muslims in helping vulnerable people across the UK over Christmas.

The commercial, which will debut on Christmas Eve and will feature on ITV and Channel 5 over the festive period, underlines the fact that for many British Muslims the festive season is about helping others.

Recognition of the charitable contribution made by Britain’s Muslim community follows years of fake news stories claiming that Muslims are opposed to Christmas. The latest emerged on Thursday, albeit in Italy, and centred on claims – later found to be misreported – from rightwing media commentators that officials in the north of the country had ordered the removal of a Christmas tree to avoid offending Muslims.

A UK parliamentary report published the previous day promoted a more accurate and competing view, concluding that Muslims are not recognised for the charity work they undertake, particularly over Christmas. The report by the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on British Muslims said that charitable acts by the UK’s Muslim community were “wilfully” ignored by the UK media.

Former Tory cabinet minister Baroness Warsi, treasurer of the APPG, admitted that her own party, aided by sections of the media, had fostered negative and ill-founded allegations against Britain’s 3 million Muslims.

“The narrative at this time of year has been that Muslims don’t like Christmas, that they almost want to ban Christmas,” she said. “My own party has done that in the past. When we were in opposition we would try to find ‘Labour banning Christmas stories’ and invariably it would have an ethnic minority link.”

Despite the report trending on Twitter and receiving a positive reception, it also provoked a backlash from the far right. “The usual suspects who would normally say Muslims are trying to ban Christmas were furious that we were celebrating it,” added the former chair of the Conservative party.

Last month, there were some protests on social media over Tesco’s Christmas TV advert which featured a Muslim family celebrating. Tesco said it was “proud to celebrate the many ways our customers come together over the festive season”.

Bilal Hassam, creative director of British Muslim TV, said he hoped more people knew that Britain’s Muslims embodied the true spirit of Christmas, explaining that the faith encouraged the helping of others but not the promotion of such good deeds. “People don’t showcase their work. There’s nothing more Christ-like than giving, serving and helping your fellow man.”

Warsi added that Christmas in a Muslim household is the same as others throughout the UK. “There will be turkey, they’ll eat too much, they’ll watch the Queen, but then they’ll go out and help other people.”

Another element that Hassam said tended to be overlooked was that most of the charitable work by Muslims was for the benefit of non-Muslims, including around 70% of Penny Appeal’s UK efforts. The charity, set up eight years ago, now operates in 30 countries supporting the poor and homeless for a few pence each day.

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