by Shaykh Omar Subedar
When walking into a mall or going to school at this time of the year, it’s quite difficult to not notice decorations of ghosts and goblins, vampires and witches displayed on walls and hanging from ceilings in an eye-catching manner. A ghoulish and demonic theme is set everywhere thus influencing society to get in the Halloween mood. In preparation for the night of October 31 adults purchase candies and chocolate, children buy costumes and plans are made for trick or treating and Halloween parties.
In the midst of all this commotion many Muslim children are left debating with one another over the permissibility of becoming involved in Halloween activities. While some deem it impermissible simply because their parents told them so others maintain there is absolutely nothing wrong with it and wholeheartedly embrace the occasion’s mood and events. This makes the religious minded child feel left out and leaves him somewhat confused. As he approaches his parents on this issue he seldom gets the attention and answers he’s looking for, which consequently leads him to eventually accepting what the mainstream is doing.
In order to understand whether getting involved in an event or activity is islamically permissible or not it is important to research its origins and objectives before arriving at a conclusion.
When conducting a bit of research on Halloween we find that this is not an event that was constructed recently in the western world but rather dates back thousands of years. According to the online encyclopedia, Britannica.com, Halloween has its origins in the festival of Samhain among the Celts of ancient Britain and Ireland. Samhain, which in Celtic means ‘end of summer’, was one of the most important and sinister calendar festivals of the Celtic year. This event was held on November 1 and was considered the end of the summer period, the date on which the herds were returned from pasture and land tenures were renewed. Contrary to the fundamental Muslim belief of tawheed the Celts believed that on this day the world of the gods would become visible to mankind, and the gods would play many tricks on their mortal worshipers. It was a time filled with danger, charged with fear, and full of supernatural episodes. Sacrifices of every kind were thought to be vital, for without them the Celts believed they could not prevail over the hazards of the season or counteract the activities of the gods.
As Muslims, it is imperative that we do not become associated with notions that entertain shirk. Our God is one god; Allah, there is no god except He. In this world Allah has made it a policy that He will not make Himself visible to any being simply because they do not have the physical capacity to see Him. He mentions in the Holy Qur’än, “Vision perceives Him not but He perceives all vision.” (6:103). In His Final Testament Allah has related the story of Musa’s A.S. request to view Him which resulted in him falling unconscious. Allah explains, “And when Musa arrived at Our appointed time and his Lord spoke to Him, he said, “My Lord, show me (Yourself) that I may look at You.” (Allah) said, “You will not see Me, but look at the mountain; if it should remain in place then you will see Me.” But when his Lord appeared to the mountain, He rendered it level and Musa fell unconscious. And when he awoke, he said, “Exalted are You! I have repented to You, and I am the first of the believers.” (7:143)
Bear in mind that Allah does not harass his creation in any way nor does He demand that sacrifices be made for Him in order to keep Him calm. Allah says, “Indeed Allah does not wrong the people at all…” (10:44)
The Celts also believed that on this day the souls of those who had died would return to visit their homes. People set bonfires on hilltops for relighting their fireplaces for the winter and to frighten away evil spirits, and they sometimes wore masks and other disguises to avoid being recognized by the ghosts thought to be present. It was in these ways that beings such as witches, hobgoblins, fairies, and demons came to be associated with the day. In Islam there is absolutely no concept of ghosts. A ghost is defined as: the supposed spirit of somebody who has died, believed to appear as a shadowy form or to cause sounds. When a person’s soul is taken away from this world it can never return to it again. Allah states, “…and behind them (i.e. the dead) is a barrier until the day they are resurrected.” (23:100)
From the information provided it becomes clear that the current day costume dressing during Halloween stems from a pagan practice that is founded on a pagan belief. In order to safeguard our tawheed and to protect us from adopting practices that are not approved by Allah or to develop any resemblance with them, the Prophet S.A.W. has emphatically ordered, “Oppose the Polytheists.” (Sahëh Muslim: 602)
In the 7th century A.D., Pope Boniface IV established All Saints’ Day originally on May 13. In the following century, perhaps in an effort to replace the pagan holiday with a Christian observance, it was moved to November 1. The evening before All Saints’ Day became a holy, or hallowed, eve and thus Halloween. By the end of the Middle Ages, the secular and the sacred days had merged. The Reformation essentially put an end to the religious holiday among Protestants, although in Britain especially Halloween continued to be celebrated as a secular holiday. When large numbers of immigrants, including the Irish, went to the United States beginning in the mid 19th century, they took their Halloween customs with them and in the 20th century Halloween became one of the principal U.S. holidays, particularly among children.
Throughout the years Halloween has come to be associated with a number of activities. Among the most famous of them is that celebrants wear masks and costumes for parties and for trick-or-treating, thought to have derived from the British practice of allowing the poor to beg for food, called “soul cakes.” Today trick-or-treaters go from house to house with the threat that they will pull a trick if they do not receive a treat, usually candy.
Halloween parties often include games such as bobbing for apples perhaps derived from the Roman celebration of Pomona. In Roman mythology, Pomona was the goddess of fruit trees, gardens, and orchards. She was particularly associated with the blossoming of trees versus the harvest.
Another symbol is the jack-o’-lantern, a hollowed-out pumpkin, originally a turnip, carved into a demonic face and lit with a candle inside. This practice is associated with an old Irish folktale of a person named Jack, a lazy yet shrewd farmer who used a cross to trap the Devil. Legend has it that Jack tricked the Devil into climbing an apple tree, and once he was up there Jack quickly placed crosses around the trunk or carved a cross into the bark, so that the Devil couldn’t get down. He only agreed to let the Devil go if the Devil agreed to never to take his soul, which he consented to. After a while Jack died. Unfortunately his life had been too sinful for him to go to heaven; however, the Devil had promised not to take his soul, and so he was barred from hell as well. He now had nowhere to go. He asked how he would see where to go, as he had no light, and the Devil mockingly tossed him an ember that would never burn out from the flames of hell. Jack carved out one of his turnips (which were his favourite food), put the ember inside it, and began endlessly wandering the Earth for a resting place. He became known as “Jack of the Lantern”, or Jack-o’-Lantern.
With a variety of shirk and false notions being the foundation of this event it becomes quite difficult for a Muslim to not see the impermissibility of becoming involved in it. The Prophet p.b.u.h. always distanced himself from all pagan practices and diverted his followers attention to Islamically acceptable observances.
A classical example is when the Prophet p.b.u.h. first arrived at Madinah and witnessed the locals holding a day of celebration. Upon being informed of it’s origin he dissuaded them from continuing this practice by introducing them to an Islamically acceptable one. Anas r.a. reported, “Allah’s Messenger p.b.u.h. came to Madinah while the (locals) had two (fixed) days in which they would have fun. He inquired, “What are these two days (about)?” The locals replied, “We used to have fun on these days in the pre-islamic era.” Allah’s Messenger p.b.u.h. explained, “Allah has substituted those two days for you with something better; the day of Adha and the day of Fitr.” (Abu Dawud: 1134)
According to Sh. Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri these two days were Nowruz (the Persian New Year which is held annually on the vernal equinox, as the beginning of spring) and Mehregān (an Iranian festival celebrated in honor of Mithra, a mythical deity, which is held on the autumnal equinox every year). (Buth’lul Majhud vol. 2 p.200)
Although it hurts to feel left out when everyone is having a good time, a Muslim should take solace in the fact that the enjoyment of this world is temporary while the enjoyment of Paradise is everlasting. However earning Paradise requires sacrifice and abstaining from activities that are founded on shirk and false beliefs is just one of those sacrifices we are required to make. May Allah make it easy for us all. Ameen
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