That title is cleverer than you actually thought by the way. The pause at the comma is obligatory. The inflexion applied to the last two words in the same sentence is a must. The understanding of “Treat” to mean “very well” or “significantly” is essential. After all that is done, this entire article is encapsulated by that first sentence. But you guys already worked that out right?
So a friend of mine asked me, “What do I tell my kids about Halloween in Islam?”
To which I responded, “I haven’t got a clue!”
“But you teach classes on raising kids!”
“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean I like them or understand them or know how to turn Halloween into a halal bedtime story!”
After that shocking admission, let me also admit that I have no idea how to explain to a Halloween-obsessed world full of adults let alone kids why you would have to be absolutely stark raving bonkers as a Muslim to either celebrate it, or partake in it, or think it is something nice and simple.
As you can imagine, any scholar trying to educate Muslims about Halloween is going to come in for a hiding to nothing. People have changed. Muslims don’t have that same self-respect that they were so well-known for. As a community, we have become far more liberal than we ever should have, an understandable reaction to the increase in folks going the other way: radical extremism. But an unprecedented level of feeling inferior to others – especially the wider society that we are part of in the West – means that our new found liberalism leads to us often going to great lengths to find excuses for things, to wash away facts, paper over the cracks and ignore matters which go against the very root of the Qur’an and Sunnah that we stand for.
If you were to try and explain the Islamic ruling on Halloween, the only thing people read is: “this guy wants to say kids going Trick or Treating for sweets is haram lol” – and therein lies the problem. Are we even mature enough as a community to discuss things like this? Are you willing to question those things you considered to be so innocent and innocuous, and put yourself in awkward positions trying to explain a different perspective to your kids, or neighbours, or colleagues?
Let us rewind a little so that I can mention a few things about Halloween:
- There are enough historical and religious facts about the origins of Halloween to shock even the most sceptic of academics, and keep even the most talented of scholars busy.
- Halloween is a Pagan festival, originating in Samhain. Those who denied this, said it has purely Christian roots. Note: that doesn’t make it much better.
- At its core, Halloween’s rituals involve the warding off of demons, devils and anything else evil you can draw at school.
- The concept of “Trick or Treating” today, is a later addition and doesn’t necessarily have a Pagan or religious origin per se.
I think pretty much everyone knows these few things about Halloween, or has seen a lecture or two somewhere about the same. It leads virtually all Imams to rule that concerning Halloween, the partaking in, or celebration thereof, or the preparation for, is all impermissible and contradictory to Islamic principles. I have no problem adding my voice to that, with a few caveats which I might mention later, but I think there is something of greater value here to explore.
See, from a scholarly angle, the ruling on the celebrating of Halloween is a far more complex issue than meets the eye, and requires a very detailed and holistic study of some of the following questions:
- For a celebration to be considered impermissible, does it have to be religious in nature or is it sufficient to be anything which is celebrated or remembered regularly as the word ‘Eid in the hadith suggests? And what would be the dhawābit or parameters of “regular”?
- Those celebrations or festivals which are religious in nature, with specific reasons: if their reasons for celebration change, does the ruling also change?
- If so, how would we measure that there has been enough of a change in perception or reasoning behind a celebration? To what measure is ‘urf the decider, and what if there are outliers in that ‘urf which would suggest the exact opposite. For example, if all kids on the planet see Halloween as a chance to get free sweets, but a small minority practice their modern version of Satanism and other Pagan rituals on that night, who is given priority from an usūl point of view, and what is the evidence? And what if a majority in terms of numbers see a festival such as Christmas to be a national Capatilist holiday, yet the media market it as a religious one? Who is given the greater weight in determining the change in perception, for the sake of the Islamic ruling on the issue?
- How actually important is one’s intention in these matters? Can one’s intention to partake in something impermissible, for the sake of not looking out of place or awkward in a neighbourhood, ever overcome the apparent ruling on the matter?
- What are the dhawābit for the concept of “celebration”? Do greetings and words carry the full connotation of celebration? Is it actions which are to be taken into account?
- Is there still a place to try and solve these issues from an usūl perspective as opposed to just using a more lazy approach and citing dharūrah and fatwas (i.e. for the “sake of necessity”) associated with that? Or seeing ourselves in a paradigm of fiqh al-aqalliyyāt or “laws pertaining to a minority living amongst a non-Muslim majority”, or interacting with non-Muslims who are not mukhātab bi’l-furū’ and thus don’t come under Islamic rules and allow our full interaction with them on that basis.
These are reflections that might need their own research paper for each question! And this is why I always told my students that it won’t be a Faqīh who will solve this issue for us, but an Usūli, someone who can work with the principles of jurisprudence in a very comfortable and deep way to help us understand the mechanics at hand. The more you study these questions, the more you realise that modern day scholars largely skirt around the detail concerning them, because not only is there no consensus, but there is actually little agreement and scant evidence.
I often discuss this issue with my colleagues and we all admit that it requires further study and tahqīq, and it is for that reason why we will leave these for now, and just stick to an almost second-rate approach to fiqh and temporarily judge by what it looks like from the outside, in order to give the Muslims general guidance in the short-term.
So when it comes to Halloween, you’d have to be blind to not see that “outside” looking pretty crazy. People celebrating magic, the dark arts, dressing up as everything evil and celebrating the macabre and death itself etc etc.
But sometimes, it’s not even necessary to have to study a particular issue in detail such as what Halloween is, or was, or what it entails, or what it will lead to etc. Sometimes, if you have the right glasses on, you can step back and survey the field, and see a potential, more insidious danger for future (and this?) Muslims generations.
Reflect on this: how did we allow evil to become so sweet? Naughty but nice, right? Think of all the adverts: the devil either comes across as a charming, lovable rogue, or something so horrific and plastic, that it can only be a fake latex mask. Meaning: we’ve allowed evil to hide its identity very efficiently, and that cannot bode well. It’s either too nice to hate, or too crazy to be real.
“So what??” you might say. “Shall we ban Harry Potter movies now and stop kids watching Dynamo and not take opportunity of the cheap price of chocolate this week LOL??” you might argue.
Well, I don’t know. I will tell you something though: when I watch the eyes of children as they watch magic spells being cast by Harry, and then later hear them speaking amongst themselves about how they will summon the power of the xyz to do blah blah blah (fill in the gaps as you wish), it does make me wonder. When I see kids talking about Dynamo as a hero, I think to myself that if Shaytan offered these children the same power as Dynamo, would they take it, or would they feel enough fear to reject it outright without hesitation? At what point does child’s play, become a semi-belief taken into adulthood, and then left to linger as it mixes in your heart with pure iman?
If you are a believer, you should take those last few sentences above very, very seriously. Muslims believe in the Dark Side. And it is kufr to summon that Dark Side. This isn’t a joke or a movie trailer. This is Qur’anic and Prophetic fact and teaching.
So when I hear of Muslims – yes Muslims – amongst so many others, dabbling in Ouija boards and trying their hand at the dark arts, I wonder what was the role of the modern day movie culture in all that? What is the role of Halloween in that, if any? What is the role of celebrating escapism of this dunya in those things which are not Jannah-based, but Jahannam based? See, every industry will always rubbish these kind of associations with their product and teachings to protect their brand, but what about when that industry is Capitalism itself? What about when it has a $6 billion Halloween product to lose just in America?
There are many things that if you think upon them deeply, you will realise we have become desensitised to. And when one becomes desensitised, we often fall into it ourselves.
Nudity is the easiest example to think of, both at the observational level and at the level of individual practice as well. Many of us don’t bat an eyelid anymore if we see a near-naked girl walk by. Shock is old hat. Get with the times. But bring someone from the Sālihīn to visit, and they will be literally having a heart-attack on the streets. As for young girls themselves, then psychologically when everyone around you doesn’t cover, then to cover yourself becomes even more difficult. Likewise sexuality. Likewise ethics and values. Likewise evil. And likewise the Devil and all of his realm. The more innocent and natural and fun and normal it all becomes and it is sold as, the more easier it will be for us to fall into his game and no longer take him as the open enemy that Allah commands us to do.
Now you understand why I called this article “Have we been tricked, a treat?” ya‘ni, was it that easy for us as a community to have the wool so blatantly pulled over our eyes when it came to the realities of this dunya and evil and bid‘ah and kufr and its effect on our hearts and iman? But hey, you knew that already.
Reflect also on this: why have we failed to give our children and families and communities, enough reason to enjoy and celebrate good, healthy, pure, innocent reasons to celebrate and have fun? Why do we always have to go looking outside and genetically modify those acts which are anything but pure in their origin or their current reality, and use those instead? What are we saying about ourselves and our identity? Are we that weak and insecure? I don’t mean by this to pursue an isolationist policy within our community, but instead I would love for us to be proud of our own ethical and religious filter which removes those things objectionable to our theology and principles, and yet still live happy, fulfilling, beneficial and patriotic lives in our countries.
I think people give up far too easily on this. I certainly never had a problem living a fully Western and yet Islamic life, and neither should you. I never missed out on being authentically British despite never getting involved one iota in Halloween all my life, and neither will my kids, and neither should you. We sometimes exaggerate the impact of being different and are scared to make a change to the way we live our lives, or even perceive our lives. Well, you shouldn’t be so scared. And yes, sometimes that impact of being different is a significant one and might actually benefit you. In both worlds.
And so, for all those folks who just got bored silly with the last few pages of philosophy and just clicked on this article to read a few do’s and don’ts and get their fatwa, then let me save you all the research that is needed and all the evidences that should be quoted and say in the best of scholarly traditions:
- It is not permissible to dress up at Halloween time in those costumes associated with this festival. It is even more haram to dress up as a clown at this time because suicide is not permissible whatsoever.
- It is not permissible to intentionally do things different in your normal routine because of Halloween. And if you feel ashamed of what the neighbours will think because you never bought extra sweets to give out to everyone, then just bottle it and don’t open the door. Or go to Blackburn Sharif for a few days. You won’t find any folks knocking for jack diddly squat there…well, other than TJs knocking on for gasht but then we pretend we’re not home when they come anyway so that’s cool.
- If one is buying a normal box of chocolates or a latte as per usual, but now it’s Halloween-themed, or pumpkin-spiced, it is permissible for that to be purchased and taken.
- It is not permissible to give celebratory greetings for Halloween. If it is coincidentally a national holiday, it is permissible to wish folks a happy holiday or happy break etc.
- It should be obligatory upon all parents as a counter to the prevalent culture to use this opportunity and explain to their children the true nature of Shaytan, the Jinn, magical powers, and the entire Dark side, and inculcate in them instead a love for the pure, the human, the limited, the normal, as well as the Angelic realm.
- It is impermissible to partake in bonfires as some sort of celebration or event as part of Halloween itself. However if you decide to do a bonfire at the same time for the sole reason of burning rubbish to save on rubbish-tip costs under the cover of the fact that everyone is burning bonfires for Halloween, then not only is that allowed but you Sir are a genius and I would like to shake your hand.
- You should not let your children go “Trick of Treating”, neither for social, safety or religious reasons. However, if someone knocks on your door and you’re silly enough to open the door and they ask for a treat, it is permissible to give something. But of course it is better to hide behind the curtains with the lights off and threaten anyone at home with death if they make a single sound.
Okay, maybe not that last one then.
And Allah knows best.