Halloween: Muslim Perspectives

Conversation between Dr. Shabir Ally and Dr. Safiyyah Ally

Watch the full video here.

Dr. Safiyyah Ally: Halloween is coming up. Some people are going trick-or-treating, and Muslims might be interested in joining as well. I thought it would be interesting to discuss with you, Dr. Shabir, what Halloween is, what its origins are, and what different scholars have said about it.

Dr. Shabir Ally: Sure. 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 Hallowe’en, 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 courses, we Muslims pray for our departed dead as well, and we do that very regularly in our Friday sermons and our daily prayers. In Mexico, The Day of the Dead occurs around the same time.

Dr. Safiyyah: Then there’s a Celtic pagan holiday.

Dr. Shabir: Yes, 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. We 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? We 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.

Dr. Safiyyah: And the days get shorter as well.

Dr. Shabir: Yes. 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?”

Dr. Safiyyah: I know that 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, I see that many Muslims are participating in Halloween. They're going trick-or-treating and their kids are dressing up in costumes. I guess 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”.

Dr. Shabir: Let me see if I can draw out these different perspectives. Let’s start with the perspective of Muslim scholars. I almost said that in the singular. We should say perspectives, but 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, you have fallen into this whole big mess of shirk, of associating partners with God. That's something you can't touch with a 10-foot pole. I’ve 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 I 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. I thought by 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 I've read an article at blog.hautehijab.com 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 I thought that with this reality, we might've gotten a more liberal stance, but no.

Dr. Safiyyah: I guess because 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. So those might be some of the reasons, Dr. Shabir.

Dr. Shabir: Yes, and of course, I was gonna add that the only relief I've 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, I've 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.

Dr. Safiyyah: I think that's a great kind of middle path. Muslims themselves can decide, based on their own inclinations, their own feelings, and how they interact with people, what their goals are as Muslims.

Dr. Shabir: Yes.

Dr. Safiyyah: They can decide whether Halloween fits into those goals.

Dr. Shabir: And the situation in which you live. If your kid is saying, "Look, all my friends are going out trick-or-treating, why can I not go?”. If you 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.

Dr. Safiyyah: Mm-hm. I should point out, Dr. Shabir, that neither of us has ever participated in Halloween. I mean, you're my father, and you've never really allowed us to do that! I wanted to add that in as well.

Dr. Shabir: Yeah, I've scarred you for the remainder of your life!

Dr. Safiyyah: Haha. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Dr. Shabir.

Dr. Shabir: You’re welcome.

WATCH the full video here.