2021 October 31 — JJ — female age 33 — Week 8
Is Halloween a haram (forbidden) holiday? This is one of the main topics we discussed in today’s class, along with the holiday Diwali, Ice Cream (or Intellectual Curiosity), some new vocabulary words, homework expectations, heaven and hell, morality and leadership.
I arrived at today’s class two and a half hours late. The teacher was in the middle of a discussion about Halloween. Apparently, I just missed the lecture on the Hindu holiday Diwali, which is one of the major holidays of the Hindu religion. Diwali is a festival of lights that represents the spiritual victory of light over darkness. There are some parts of the world where Hindus will bring their Muslim neighbors food on Diwali, while Muslims bring their Hindu neighbors food on the Eid days.
When the teacher asked the students about Halloween, there were some students who immediately said that this was a haram holiday. The teacher didn’t say whether Halloween was haram or not, but he asked the students to think about how their actions are perceived by non-muslims in a majority non-muslim society. If a South Asian or Arab person denies a non-muslim kid candy on Halloween, how is that non-muslim kid going to start perceiving South Asian and Arab people? Or if this anti-candy person is visibly Muslim (wearing the hijab or kufi hat), what conclusions will this non-muslim child come to about Muslim people? This non-muslim child doesn’t know enough about Islam to understand why someone may abstain from handing out candy. The non-muslim child may just assume that Muslim people are anti-candy and anti-holiday spirit.
Some students said that Halloween was haram because it was about worshipping the devil. Others said it was haram because the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) did not celebrate Halloween himself. Another person in the class pointed out that the Prophet also didn’t drive a car. A student retorted, “What’s so haram about driving a car?” This person replied, “What’s so haram about handing out candy to children and wearing a costume?”
The teacher added that at one point, pagans circled the Kaaba (the house of worship built by Abraham and his son Ismael). So since pagans circled the Kaaba and stuck their idols inside, does that mean that no one should circle the Kaaba? This logic applies to Halloween, just because pagans once celebrated Halloween, does that mean that Muslims cannot give out candy and dress up in costumes as long as it is done in a halal (permissible) way? Our teacher pointed out that even muslim majority countries are now celebrating Halloween. Even Saudi Arabia is allowing the celebration of Halloween.
As the Halloween discussion drew to a close, I stood up to give some of the students advice about their essays. Since I write and edit for a living, I decided to give the students some pointers. Yet the biggest thing I noticed in many of the students’ essays is that they simply don’t run a spelling and grammar check on what they have written. Doing such a thing only takes a few seconds. In addition to that, I told the students it also helps to have a peer review their work. However, the mistake I made is that I did not introduce myself. The teacher corrected me on this point. All good leaders must introduce themselves to people to make sure they are known in the community.
Later in the class we started talking about converts to Islam and their families. The teacher pointed out that me and C were the two converts in the room. He said that we used our brains to question illogical systems and traditions behind our original religions. He said this was a quality of someone who is not a sheep and that he wants the other students in the class to think for themselves and avoid being sheep. This was part of his discussion on “ice cream,” or intellectual curiosity.
This goes into a common discussion that occurs in our class about sheep and goats. Sheep are said to be followers whereas goats are leaders. Sheep go along with the herd to be slaughtered. Goats go off on their own and survive the slaughter.
At one point, a student said that people who aren’t Muslim are going to Hell. This led to a conversation about who is allowed to make that kind of judgment upon people. A teaching assistant pointed out that the Quran tells us not to judge other people and leave judgement for God.
The teacher then went over some vocabulary words:
- Ethical: Relating to moral principles.
- Purist: A person who insists on absolute adherence to traditional rules or structures, especially in language or style.
- Prudent: Acting with or showing care and thought for the future.
- Paucity: The presence of something only in small or insufficient quantities or amounts; scarcity.
Since I was late and can’t comment much more on the conversations that occurred in the class, I would like to apply some lessons from the Quran to the discussion on judgement mentioned above.
There’s a story in the Quran about two men (angels in disguise) who appeared to the Prophet David. They asked the Prophet David to judge a matter for them. David rushed to judge which man was innocent and which man was guilty. Ultimately, David ended up being wrong for jumping to conclusions and begged God for forgiveness. Again and again the Quran implores for us to think, to wonder, to contemplate. The Quran asks us not to rush to judgement of others. I think this practice of not rushing to judgement is something that needs to be emphasized more in our ummah (community).
However, this is an example from the Quran, and our teacher does implore us to go beyond Quran and Hadith and use our common sense. Common sense dictates that it’s better to use reason and collect all the facts before making a judgment. As worshippers of God, it is also best for us to leave all judgments to God and be as kind and polite to people as we can. The Prophet PBUH himself was said to be excellent in his manners (to both Muslims and non-muslims).
In summary, I personally don’t think that dressing up on Halloween or giving out candy is on par with worshipping the devil. Sure, if someone is dressing like Satan or wearing a sexually inappropriate costume, then this may be haram. But if someone is dressed modestly and giving their neighbors sweets, how can that be haram when we also give our neighbors sweets on Eid? There is no historical evidence that Halloween was a holiday about worshipping the devil. Now what we do know is that it was once a popular pagan holiday for venerating the dead (similar to the Mexican “Day of the Dead”). Many of the holidays celebrated today were once pagan in origin.
In fact, fasting itself is a pre-islamic tradition that was practiced by Christians, Jews and Arab Pagans alike. In Studies in Islamic History and Institutions, while tracing the history and development of Ramadan, SD Goitein writes about how “pre-Islamic Arabs were familiar with the idea of holy months as well as with fasting. Certain passages in the Quran and some Muslim oral traditions make it likely that even the practice of fasting during a whole month was known to the ancient Arabs.” So if pagans also fasted for a whole month and gave to charity, does that mean that fasting for a month and giving to charity is automatically an act of the devil and that Muslims can’t do it?
And if someone is going to be this much of a purist about Halloween, then naturally one must ask this purist person, Do they pray all the Sunnah prayers? Do they pray the night prayer at 2 AM everyday? Do they fast twice a week? Do they dress like the Prophet Muhammad PBUH did? Have they given all their possessions to charity and have only a bowl and a comb, as the Prophet PBUH did? Are they willing to give up their video games, tv and favorite clothes to charity since the Quran implores us to give up what we love? Are they willing to stop playing basketball because the Prophet PBUH didn’t play basketball? At the end of the day, we can only be accountable for our own behavior and actions and leave the judgment of others for God most high. No one can be perfect. All we can do is our personal best.
We must be as polite, kind and non-judgemental to others as we can, because if we are kind, polite and non-judgemental toward non-muslims, they may end up wanting to join Islam, as people often did in Muhammad’s time upon seeing his excellent manners, tolerance and compassion. Indeed when I was a non-Muslim, most of the Muslims around me were fairly tolerant and accepting of different faiths. In my mid-twenties, I rented a room from a Muslim family that celebrated all the American holidays in addition to Ramadan. This is part of what encouraged me to be a Muslim. If I was around Muslims who told me I was haram for celebrating American holidays, I might have been scared away and never converted.