WASHINGTON — In rural Waverly, Tennessee, population 6,000, locals shower the only Muslim family in town with Christmas gifts.

The same neighbors who voted for Donald Trump have been Dr. Maysoon Shocair Ali’s patients since 1976, their bond strong enough to withstand the ugliness of the election campaign.

As they do every year, two elderly patients dropped off coconut cake at the doctor’s office. Ali’s collection of Christmas decorations includes Santa figurines another longtime patient left her in a will. Ali and her best friend of three decades, a retired Baptist teacher who supports Trump, already have exchanged their gifts.

There’s no single Muslim approach to Christmas – some celebrate as part of American culture, others don’t observe at all – but Ali is a believer in the holiday’s ability to spread joy across even the deepest divisions. And this year, she said, there are many wounds that could use the balm.

“In my profession, I’m supposed to be a healer and this is a time for healing,” Ali, 69, said one recent morning, sporting tiny bells as earrings and a wreath-shaped brooch pinned to her sparkly red sweater. “The spirit that comes with it is what we celebrate. It’s not about Muslims, Christians, Jews – it’s about the meaning, the connection with people, the human interaction.”

Every year, American Muslims debate whether it’s OK to celebrate Christmas as a cultural, if not religious, occasion. After all, Jesus is a beloved prophet in Islam, though Muslims don’t believe he’s the son of God. The Quran shares the story of Jesus’ birth and his ability to perform miracles. There’s a whole chapter devoted to his mother, Mary, the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran.

Even so, conservative Muslim scholars largely reject celebrations of Christmas, with varying explanations: Its pagan roots don’t have anything to do with reverence for Jesus, Muslims aren’t supposed to emulate the faiths of others, the holiday is more about consumerism than about Jesus’ teachings, and so on.

The clergy’s stance, however, hasn’t stopped Muslims across the country from joining the throngs of Americans shopping, decorating and cooking this season.

Thousands of Muslims will mark Christmas in their own ways, through cobbled-together traditions that typically focus on the secular aspects of the holiday, such as big family meals and Santa Claus.

Under #MuslimChristmas on Instagram, one woman incorporated her hijab into an elf costume, with a caption proclaiming herself “Santa’s first Muslim helper.”

Two generations of another Muslim family, the Murads, are pictured striking poses in front of their tree, clad in matching Christmas pajamas.

In another, a man poked fun at Muslims feeling left out at Christmas with a photo of himself looking wistfully out the window, waiting in vain for Santa to arrive.

Given the widespread vilification of Islam, Muslims say, other Americans probably have no idea how many Muslims either celebrate Christmas or attend events in solidarity with Christian friends.

Irfana Anwer, 40, of Virginia, said she turned awkward Christmas-related moments into a chance for dialogue. Case in point: when co-workers wish everyone in the office a merry Christmas but aren’t quite sure what to say to her.

“There’s a pause when they see me and they say, ‘Happy holidays,'” Anwer said. “I say, ‘No, no, it’s OK to say merry Christmas,’ and we’ll have a conversation about it.”

She said Muslims should feel secure enough to guide those talks. Real interfaith work, she explained, “is where you can pick up the religion of another and engage with it as if it’s your own without feeling like you’re losing anything of your own.”

Some interfaith initiatives are spending the Christmas holiday organizing against Trump’s anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant policy ideas.

Politically charged Christmas memes are passed among activist circles: A popular one reads “Jesus was a Middle Eastern refugee.”

In Houston, this is the seventh year of Jewish/Muslim Christmas, a project led by two friends, Rabbi Steve Gross and Muslim activist Shariq Abdul Ghani. It’s typically private, with about 75 guests engaged in group discussions, followed by a shared meal from a Pakistani or Polish restaurant.

The night Trump won, the rabbi and the Muslim exchanged concerned text messages and decided immediately to turbocharge this year’s gathering, which takes place on Christmas Day. They picked the theme “Dealing with Fear,” opened up the event to the public, invited an extra synagogue and moved it to the site of a major Islamic conference. Speakers are to include survivors of the Holocaust and the Bosnian genocide.

“At first we were going to do something more social,” Ghani said. “But the night Trump was elected, we decided to take it up a notch.”

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