Every October 31st, Muslims must decide whether to trick-or-treat or pretend they aren’t at home. These two Halloween camps usually diametrically oppose one another. The haram (forbidden) camp has gone so far as to provide alternative Halloween activities, thus making Halloween à Halal-o-ween (that has absolutely no resemblance to jack-o-lanterns because I am certain that even that comparison would be considered offensive).
I’m not a haram-card-holding member. Halloween is a cultural tradition that should be as permissible and mainstream to American Muslims as sporting events or other cultural traditions here. Furthermore, I believe Halloween actually serves very positive benefits to the Muslim community.
So where does Halloween come from? The age-old premise to the Halloween-is-haram-argument has always been that it has Pagan origins (which is easily Google-able so I won’t dwell on it here.) However, I was surprised and fascinated to find sources indicating it was a Christian influenced holiday whose purpose was to pray for the saints in purgatory, so they could enter heaven the next day.
As Halloween evolved, so did Christian opinion of the celebration, just as I believe Muslim views should evolve on the cultural practice based on what it is now. (Where are the Ibn Abidins of our age?) Let’s be honest – the kids just want to dress up in fun costumes, get a break from dull routines, and, most importantly, get candy – end of story. Before our own opinions were thrown to the wayside in favor of the local/national/international -insert religious leader’s title here- opinion (i.e. when we were left to think for ourselves) most of our parents let us celebrate Halloween. Did any of your childhood Muslim friends end up apostatizing because they wore a Halloween costume and went trick or treating? Yeah, I can’t think of anyone either. Halloween’s origins aside, there are other cultural traditions we’ve adapted as American Muslims that have similar (or worse) origins.
Football is men dressed in really, really tight pants, tackling each other – for a ball. It looks pretty barbaric to me, yet I have never heard any Muslims criticize this national pastime (especially the ones in Michigan). I’m also not privy to the Hadith allowing boys/men to clobber each other for “fun.” Have I mentioned those pants? There is nothing modest about them. Yet, I’ve never heard anyone say, “Boys, you can only play football as long as those pants aren’t tight fitting.” Football, with all its trappings, is an acceptable cultural tradition. But, where is the humanity in allowing grown men to physically tackle each other for sport, while barring cute, innocent little kids from trick or treating? American Muslim athletes are revered and applauded for their commitment to faith and their physical prowess. However, try dressing your kid up for Halloween or decorating your house with a ghost in the window, and see how Islamic and American other Muslims think you are. (Be rest assured – no Muslims will be packing the theaters to watch Halal-o-ween, the movie, and TLC will probably not air the Halal-o-ween special either.)
Through sports, kids learn leadership, teamwork, and discipline. It’s a way to channel their energy to keep them out of mischief. However, what I don’t understand is why only sports are acceptable despite aspects of it like the physical contact that could seriously injure someone (or those pants!) I learned the same values through orchestra even though music is supposedly “haram.” What perturbs me is why only the positive aspects are acknowledged for one activity (thus rendering it halal) while the negatives aspects of other pastimes are highlighted (thus making it haram). While I played my violin as a kid, should I have poked someone in the eye with my bow? Would that have made it a more acceptable and Islamic pastime?
The Olympics is a global, cultural practice that Muslims participate in despite its origins. There is NO doubt whatsoever that it has entirely Pagan origins; however, I haven’t heard a whisper of the “H” word here. As it evolved, so did our opinions. So why hasn’t Muslim opinion changed to accept an innocuous custom like Halloween, too? Although the Olympics is a worldwide tradition, while Halloween is a local custom, the magnitude of the event shouldn’t dictate whether Muslims participate. Let’s be consistent and not participate in either. Seriously?
The Olympics is very similar to Halloween for children. School is their “world” apart from their family lives. Allah “created us from different nations and tribes so we may know one another” (49:13). Shouldn’t that apply to kids, too? Halloween is an opportunity for kids to interact beyond the playground. I like to think of each grade level as its own ‘tribe’ with very specific behaviors and a culture all to themselves. Halloween allows kids to participate in a larger community outside their homes and classrooms. Think about how Muslim kids appear/feel when they are barred from partaking in Halloween activities. How would Muslims appear to the world if we shunned the Olympics?
Other cultural practices lack an Islamic origin or a pure history, but have permeated into the fabric our lives, and have evolved to become part of mainstream Muslim culture, too, like engagement rings, white wedding dresses and even the Hajj.
Engagement rings have a purely capitalistic origin. In the 1940s, they were deliberately marketed for the explicit purpose of profiting jewelers and diamond miners. Despite its predominantly materialistic origins, everyone gets an engagement ring, regardless of the spectrum of Islamic-ness you fall into. I have nothing against having a nice diamond on my finger, but let’s face it, it’s not particularly Islamic… Seriously, though – who cares? “Not I,” said the wise woman who likes her jewelry. If we are allowed to imbibe parts of culture whose origins aren’t necessarily pure and Islamic, why can’t we incorporate Halloween into our lives?
Another example of an acceptable Islamic tradition is the white wedding dress. I actually found a really interesting fatwah by some Shaykh I’ve never really heard of:
“It is permissible for a woman to wear white so long as it is not in the same form as men’s clothing. With regard to it being an imitation of the kuffaar, that is no longer the case, because now all Muslim women wear such clothes when they are getting married. The ruling depends on whether the reason for it is present or not. If it is no longer an imitation of the kuffaar and this has now become something that is common to both Muslims and kaafirs, then the ruling no longer applies, unless something is haraam in and of itself and not because it is an imitation of others. Such things are haraam in all cases.” –Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen from his Majmoo’at As’ilat tahumm al-Mar’ah
According to him, if we aren’t doing it to imitate non-Muslims and if it is not essentially haram then it is okay. Yes! So let’s celebrate Halloween!
Most everything (using toothbrushes, watching T.V., technological innovations, etc) started off as “unislamic”, but we slowly accepted it. For instance, look at the thobes Muslim men wear. From my cultural viewpoint, those are dresses. Last I remember, men aren’t supposed to dress like women, but nobody calls out the thobe-wearing community for it. Saudi culture has influenced our cultural perceptions; relatively speaking, they are not considered effeminate. In fact – men are considered more “Islamic” when they wear it. Why must Arab culture often trump pretty much everybody else’s? Why can’t Muslim culture in America reflect American culture, too?
Furthermore, why is condemning Halloween on par or more important than condemning other adults who are seriously doing wrong – like stealing, murdering, abusing their wives, etc. In other words why don’t adult, Muslim authority figures pick on someone their own size instead of trying to impose convoluted views and negative intentions on innocent kids? Which brings me to another point (and 1/3 of our knowledge)– ‘Actions are by their intentions.’
Finally, in Islamic history, the Kabah had pure origins. In time, though, it became desecrated by idolatry, and later was restored to its original purpose. It would be an egregious error to state that we shouldn’t perform hajj because at one time people performed pagan rituals there or to say it has “pagan origins”. How do we really know what Halloween initially stemmed from? The Halloween of today is very far removed from the supposed satanic rituals of yesteryear. Besides, there are some personal and societal benefits of celebrating Halloween.
Trick-or-Treating is an opportunity for everyday Muslims, young and old, to socialize and connect with their neighbors. Most kids play indoors glued to their iPads, iPods, Wii, Xboxes, etc., often playing solitary, graphic and aggressive video games. When do kids get to interact with the other kids on a larger scale – again, only through sports? It is no wonder we appear as Greco-Romans from a bygone era… Trick or treating is an opportunity for kids to actually play outside, particularly for those kids who are not sporty. Halloween benefits parents, too. I read a blog where one parent shared that it is his only opportunity to meet the other families in the neighborhood. Trick or treating gave him information about what houses to avoid, which kids have bad reputations in their neighborhoods, and which neighbors are friendly. In the kind of suburban communities some of us live in, you hardly even see your neighbors, let alone interact beyond a greeting.
Furthermore, providing alternative Halloween activities at Islamic schools is snobbish and does nothing to build healthy bonds with the larger non-Muslim community. Islam is not a subculture. It is for mankind, not just for Muslim kids from affluent backgrounds who are privileged to attend private, Islamic schools. The separate but equal approach didn’t work for African Americans here, and I don’t think it is healthy for us as Muslims, either.
Eventually, like all teenagers in America, kids grow out of trick or treating. It is simply a fun, American rite of passage (that doesn’t haunt you (no pun intended) like the scars or trauma after playing a game like football). For now, though, what is scarier – cute, little kids dressed up as barn yard animals, ringing the doorbell and with their innocent, smiling faces saying, “Trick or treat!” – or young, barbaric Muslim men who are storming foreign embassies and killing diplomats? Yeah, that is what I thought, too.
Bonsor, K, Keener, C. How Diamonds Work. Retrieved from: http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/earth/geology/diamond5.htm
Father Augustine Thompson, O.P. (2000) Surprise: Halloween’s Not a Pagan Festival
An-Nawawi, Imam (2010). An-Nawawi’s Forty Hadith. E. Ibrahim and D. Johnson-Davies, Trans. Darya Ganj, New Delhi: Islamic Book Service. (Originally published sometime before 676 AH)