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Halloween: Muslim Perspectives

Conversation between Dr. Shabir Ally and Dr. Safiyyah Ally

Watch the full video here

Halloween is coming up. Some people are going trick-or-treating, and Muslims might be interested in joining as well. What is Halloween? What are its origins? What different scholars have said about it?

Halloween now seems to be a conglomeration of many different celebrations from around the world. Among Christians, we have All Saints Day, and the word Halloween comes from that. Another way of saying All Saints Day in Old English is All Hallows, and the evening of that day is All Hallows Eve. All Hallows Eve gets shortened to Halloween, and finally, Halloween. This is the day on which many different denominations of Christians, for example, the Anglican church, hold a service in which they pray for their departed dead. Of course, Muslims pray for our departed dead as well, and Muslims do that very regularly in our Friday sermons and our daily prayers. In Mexico, The Day of the Dead occurs around the same time.

The ancient Celts had the festival of Samhain, which was a time when they believed that somehow there is an opening between the world of the dead and the world of the living, so the dead will come into the world of the living. To protect their children from being kidnapped, they disguised their children as animals or monsters so that they would not be known as human children and therefore wouldn’t be kidnapped.

People see that among the Romans, there is a festival known as Feralia and another one known as Pomona. All of these festivals seem to have occurred around the same time. So, what is it about this time? People see that especially when there is a vast change in climate between winter and summer, November is the time when it starts to get cold. People will start to go indoors, preparing for a long-drawn winter. The days get shorter too.

Whatever outdoor festivity they could put together, October is about the end date for that. That’s where the idea of lighting a fire comes from, because it’s starting to get cold, but people also thought that by lighting a fire, it could have the effect of driving away witches and protecting the farm. With all of this history, Muslims are looking at Halloween and wondering, “Can we have anything to do with these histories, which are either Christian or pagan?”

Many scholars have weighed in on this issue, and many of them seem to say that Muslims should stay away from Halloween. At the same time, many Muslims are participating in Halloween. They're going trick-or-treating and their kids are dressing up in costumes because Halloween is part of our culture in Canada. Many people, especially if their kids are going to public school, will think, “it's harmless fun”.

Let’s start with the perspective of Muslim scholars. A large number of scholars who have written about this all over the web can be found to be saying Halloween is impermissible, it is haraam. Some even use the term “shirk”, which means associating partners with God, which for Muslims is an unforgivable sin. This is because they're looking at the pagan origins and arguing that if you participate in anything of this nature, suddenly, a person has fallen into this whole big mess of shirk, of associating partners with God. That's something a person can't touch with a 10-foot pole. Dr. Shabir Ally have seen that an official fatwa-issuing body in Malaysia has given a fatwa against celebrating Halloween some years ago. Apparently, Halloween became something that Muslims there wanted to have some participation in, and the fatwa strictly says no. Even some scholars whom might have expected would give a more liberal sort of ruling regarding this have weighed in against it.

For example, Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, who was the head of the Fiqh Council of North America, also said no. Despite the fact that he lives in the United States of America and he knows that Muslims are going through these challenges, that he might have given some leeway in that regard. Especially since Dr. Shabir Ally read an article at from a Muslim woman who grew up in the United States of America. Now she has children, and she's wondering, "My child is going to turn three soon and will be wondering, 'Can’t I go trick-and-treating like everyone else in the neighborhood?'" How can Muslims remain so different when everyone around them is doing something which, to them, seems harmless? So Dr. Shabir Ally thought that with this reality, we might've gotten a more liberal stance, but no.

Halloween, to some people, might not seem very wholesome. You go and beg for candy, and then there's the trick-or-treating aspect, the trick part. Then you're kind of celebrating death and gory things. The only relief that he found from all of these negative fatwas, negative not meaning that they're wrong, but that's the perspective on the negative side. Then on the positive side, Dr. Shabir Ally found that the Dar al-Ifta al Misriyyah, the Egyptian Fatwa Board, were asked on their website about Halloween and Valentine’s Day, and they said so long as you participate in some permissible aspects, that should be fine, but don't go into what are clearly impermissible things. But they did not give much detail. So, there seems to be a middle ground. Muslims themselves can decide, based on their own inclinations, their own feelings, and how they interact with people, what their goals are as Muslims.

They can decide whether Halloween fits into those goals. And the situation in which a person lives. If a Muslim child is saying, "Look, all my friends are going out trick-or-treating, why can I not go?”. A Muslim parent can say, "That's because you're a Muslim," then that adds up in the balance sheet of cost and benefit in the child's mind, like, Islam is costing them greatly, they cannot have fun. So this is one fun thing that they are deprived of, and then there's gonna be another fun thing, and a third fun thing, and a fourth one, so eventually, that could contribute to our children leaving Islam, because it becomes too difficult for them to be Muslim.

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