THE GOATMILK DEBATES: “Muslims Should be Allowed to Practice Halloween” by Shabana Jameel


SHABANA JAMEEL

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

After All. The holiday and its customs are completely Christian, and some are uniquely American. Retrieved from

http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Catholic/2000/10/Surprise-Halloweens-Not-A-Pagan-Festivalafter-All.aspx

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)

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21 thoughts on “THE GOATMILK DEBATES: “Muslims Should be Allowed to Practice Halloween” by Shabana Jameel

  1. “get candy, period”? Well, if that’s the only reason you think Halloween should be allowed to be practiced by Muslim kids, I am opposed to it. Candy is NOT healthy. It’s SUGAR! Sugar is the cause of diabetes, obesity, and yes cancer. Sugar also causes the overacidification of blood and tissues thus causing the “flu.” Did you notice that the flu season starts in November? Yes, right after Halloween, thank you!

    • Sugar isnot the only cause of diabetes there are new born babies that have diabetes than the mon and father must measure blood sugar level than give the babies insluin. There are mult-cause od diabetes.

    • Aamer: Thank you for your article concerning Christmas. I commend your promotion of doing good such as charitable work. I am also glad that you have “weaned” you kids off the plastic tree.

      I am a fairly moderate, if not liberal Muslim. However I think decorating our own homes for Christmas is not appropriate as it is not our holiday. No wreaths on our doors, no tree.

      For many Muslims, attending festive gatherings held by non-Muslim friends is recognized as a social event. Exchanging gifts is viewed as an end-of-year acknowledgement to a number of people. Often neighbors hold “open houses” during Christmas and people drop in to wish each other well.

      Few in the larger culture actually believe Jesus was born on December 25th. It’s known that it coincides with the winter solstice when the sun is at its lowest point in the year (Dec 21- 22) and ancient cultures celebrated 3 days of darkness (to Dec 25). This is reflected in the Christian belief that Jesus decended into hell for 3 days after the crucifixion. He then arose – just as the sun begins to rise into longer days, post solstice.

      Hanukkah has turned into a opportunity for some Jews to compete with Christmas. For eight days, kids are given presents etc. It’s proximity to Christmas has created a sense of cultural competitiveness. The important Maccabean revolt and commemorating the rededication of the second Temple in Jerusalem is mixed with latkes, chocolate gelt and dreidels. At one point a “Hanukkah Bush” was created to compete with the Christmas tree in assimilated Jewish homes in North America. This practice is discouraged by most Rabbis.

      We can recognize all the positive aspects of Christmas – especially the charitable ones, without being all “decked out” ourselves, in our own domains.

      Identifying Eid as an appropriate time to decorate our homes is a good and required delineation for Muslim children – who can partake in Christmas activities to a reasonable extent, but still maintain that it is not within our own tradition’s compass – although we wish those who celebrate it, within their own traditions, all the best.

  2. . Somehow, I think I would be a lot more comfortable if the author had just said “Come on, this is no big deal” and left it at that. But I really didn’t like the mode of argument used, especially the rhetorical questions.Arguing that something should be permitted because you don’t personally know anyone who has apostatized from it is a really weak kind of argument and sets the bar really low.

    It is also weird to argue: “here are all these other ways in which Muslim Americans have already assimilated to paganism or made compromises, so lets go whole hog and celebrate this Christian/pagan holiday”

    The article vividly reminds me of the famous hadith:

    Abu Sa’id al-Khudri reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: You would tread the same path as was trodden by those before you inch by inch and step by step so much so that if they had entered into the hole of the lizard, you would follow them in this also. We said: Allah’s Messenger, do you mean Jews and Christians (by your words)” those before you”? He said: Who else (than those two religious groups)?

    • Truth. Another hadith relates that the giving hand is better than the receiving hand. Kids shouldnt go around asking for candy like beggars. Bad life skill to learn. Also, nothing haram about kids dressing up and having fun. Just don’t do it on the same day as a pagan rooted holiday. That’s what the Christians did with Christmas, now look at them.

  3. Lol. Love this. Esp ” 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.”

  4. First of all your reasoning is a little off. Football and the olympics are sports not Holidays. Second before you go attacking Islamic school which it seems to me as if you are, my kid goes to school there and let me assure you we are far from rich. The activities they provide are for the community not the wealthy as you’ve assumed. And lasty nobody is perfect if someone decides they think Holloween is un-islamic who are you to tell them it’s ok to celebrate it. Everyone has to do what they think is right for THEIR own kids. That’s the beauty of Islam everyone is accountable for their own actions. By your reasoning every American holiday, Easter, Christmas etc have all become cultural holidays and “kids just want to have fun” so why not let your kids celebrate them all. We have two holidays that last 3 days each make it special for your kids instead of trying so hard to assimilate. The quote you used, about us being made into diff nations and tribes so that we may come to know one another, my point exactly we’re diff we have diff holidays diff and equally beautiful traditions teach your kids that stuff instead of piggybacking off of everyone else’s customs.

  5. Excerpt from article:

    ” 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).”

    As a recently graduated college student at a huge university, I can tell you that most teenagers might “grow out” of trick or treating for Halloween, but that is usually only to replace it by large parties where everyone gets drunk and many hook up. And the costumes are still there, but a lot less innocent (especially for the girls). Halloween during high school is very different either.

    I guess this is a decision that every kid and every family needs to make after a thoughtful discussion among themselves. My 2 cents is that Muslim children need to learn how to be confident in drawing-the-line at where their values don’t match up with those around them, and be graceful in backing out of such activities. And their communities should be there to advise them on how to make such decisions on their own, and help them through any past mistakes.

  6. I am a different Sarah from the one who posted earlier on this blog.

    I have watched Muslim parents refusing to allow their children to participate in Halloween events at their schools. The child is either kept home or removed from Halloween parties etc at their school. They do so believing it is “unIslamic”. Trick or treating is done after school, so not participating in it is not as obvious as school activities.

    There is little thought about how the young Muslim kids view this. They see a fun filled activity of costumes and candy only. The pagan origins etc are beyond their understanding. No one is doing anything diabolical or horrendous – just playing games, making decorations etc.

    The embarrassment faced by these Muslim kids, while being questioned by school mates about why they can’t join in, is not considered. They are told by parents that it is due to religion (Islam). The restrictions of being Muslim has begun over a puerile activity.

    As a child, I remember trick or treating by collecting funds for UNICEF in black and orange boxes. We got candy and money for needy children. We did fundraising events for this good cause.

    While the Muslim child is subject to this limitation, there is little discussion about some cultural practices of Muslim parents that may originate from non-Muslim sources (especially wedding customs in the Indo/Pakistani culture). More orthodox Muslim may consider these commonally occuring practices as “bidah” or innovation. If they stem from their homelands, it is accepted. If something stems from the west (such as Halloween) – it is haram and our children must be “protected” from it’s evil influences.

    We really need to pick our battles about what we want to convey to our Muslim children and Halloween is not the place to start.

    • I agree with you wholeheartedly. Esp on paragraph 5. I think I should have had you written that part for me on my little “essay”. Thanks for sharing. And I like your childhood spin on the holiday – I think there are probably lots of creative ways like that to incorporate our own values and infuse them into this holiday rather than declaring war on it altogether or providing some completely separate alternative to it.

      • Shabana: I respect that Muslim parents have quite a task to raise their children in a western environment. They do their best according to their abilities and vision for their kids. The issue of holidays is constant and re-ocurring. Muslim holidays and traditions hold deep meaning and value to us. They should most definitely be taught and celebrated with our children.

        At the same time, we live amongst non-Muslims. They have their long standing holidays, the bulk of which is now cultural residue. The emphasis of most holidays here is “family”. Each holiday brings family together, family traditions, family dinners, incorporating guests, sharing, being mindful of the needy such as donating – e.g. Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc. These are all immensely positive things.

        In Canada recently an issue was raised that to be “politically correct” the famous Christmas tree of old should be now referred to as the “holiday tree”. This ridiculous suggestion came from the fact that as a multi-cultural nation – giving “the tree” a religious tone (Christmas) may offend some.

        It was absolutely awful that due to misplaced “sensitivities” from some non-Christians (not necessarily Muslim), the long standing tradition of the Christmas tree should change name. There were many complaints about this and rightfully so. A misplaced concern if there ever was one.

        Assimilation is different from integration. We will always live as minorities in this great nation. Our children need to be taught about traditions in their environments both Muslim and non-Muslim – as we live and must function here.

        While I respect Muslim parents’ rights to send their children to Islamic schools and all the great responsibilities parents take on, we must also not take it to the extreme where we attempt to remove our kids from the realities of the actual, existing, dominant culture around us and not create false bubbles as a reaction to living here – as they will grow up and work/live within the larger culture.

        Again integration vs assimilation.

        Exposure and teaching our children how to cope or understand different aspects may prove to be a better strategy in the long run than removing, rejecting and ignoring cultural practices/holidays.

        If we examined many of the origins of our own Muslim cultural practices and traditions, we may be in for a rude awakening about their non-Islamic or manufactured origins (that is a subject for another blog).

        Our children are smart. If we attempt to protect them over inane issues they will, in time, reject the vacuous nature of our arguments and may react by assimilating. Integrating ourselves as Muslims into the larger culture, by being mindful of our holidays whilst appreciating how other’s celebrate and even participating (without aimlessly absorbing it as pop culture), may prove to be more positive.

  7. Not directly related to Halloween: One caveat I must include is when celebrating a holiday such as the 4th of July – American independence – it is not simply one of picnics and fireworks. Aside from recognizing all the great achievements since 1776 and hard fought wins for civil rights – that we also teach our children such power and domination has also resulted in the oppression of others (many in Muslim lands) via imperialism and it’s related extension.

    So in celebrating our independence and freedom, we don’t ignore the portion of that success (especially achieved in the second half of the 20th century) paid by others who continue to struggle with installed dictators and lack of freedom due to impositions of our foreign policy which seeks geo-political advantage at a tremendous price to fellow Muslims, especially those in resource rich places. I am sure most readers are clear on what I am referring to.

    We share in the freedoms we have here, learn about our history and pay respect to American lives given in its defence. We also teach our children about how the misuse of might should not be overlooked nor clouded by the superficial aspects of holiday celebrations, which may not take into account the existing circumstances elsewhere.

    From American history – a good read is from Frederick Douglass (a former slave) in his “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July”, written July 5, 1852. There are great lessons in a number of holidays.

    Let’s educate our children so they may grow up to articulate and advocate in a constructive manner as productive citizens, for the benefit of all, and not consume their intellectual capital over more mundane matters.

    • I’m actually a big fan of Frederick Douglas. He had that 10% idea… Thanks for the reference. I’m definitely gonna read up on it.

      • Shabana: There are positive aspects in what some may consider negative. Let’s all get past issues such as the perceived perils of a carved pumpkin.

        The link below is for “Trick or Treat for UNICEF” – which raises funds at Halloween. It helps to save children’s lives (including many Muslims) in needy countries, with food, clean water and medicine:

        http://youth.unicefusa.org/trickortreat/participate/

      • While I think it is great for older kids to incorporate raising funds for those less fortunate, I also feel that kids simply need to be allowed to have fun for the sake of having fun (and getting free candy)!

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