Every year, on the evening of October 31st, millions of children across North America paint their faces, dress up in costumes, and go from door to door in order to collect treats. The adults often decorate their houses with ghostly figures, carve scary faces on pumpkins, and put candles in them to create ‘Jack-O-Lanterns.’ Unfortunately, among the millions of North Americans partaking in this custom, many are Muslims.
The modern ritual of Halloween contains many aspects of innocent fun and entertainment, especially for children: dressing up in costumes, getting candy from neighbors, and getting to carve pumpkins. Intrinsically, there is nothing wrong with any of these acts, which is why many Muslims participate in the rituals.
But there is another aspect of Halloween that revolves around witchcraft and black magic, evil and superstition. It is common to dress as witches, vampires, demons, zombies, and even Satan [or what people assume he looks like]. School classrooms and work offices are adorned with cobwebs and spiders. Some creative residents decorate their lawns with fake coffins and corpses or hang human skeletons from their doors.
Most people don’t stop to question why these things are associated with Halloween. But Muslims are not supposed to be like ‘most people’. Islam encourages them to think and question, reflect and criticize. Why are people doing what we are doing? Why do they dress up in costumes like this? Where did the idea of going ‘trick or treat’ come from? Why are pumpkins mostly neglected throughout the year but become prevalent during Halloween season? Who came up with the game of ‘bobbing for apples’?
Do you know? One quarter of all the candy sold annually in the U.S. is purchased for Halloween.
History of Halloween
Researching the origins of Halloween reveals a lot of interesting history. Halloween traces its history back to the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain [pronounced sow-in]. The Celts lived in and around modern day Ireland about 2000 years ago and celebrated their new year on November 1st. On the last day of the year [i.e. October 31st] they believed that dead spirits returned to the world, so their priests would light huge bonfires where people would make sacrifices to their gods.
Later, the Romans conquered the Celtic territory around 43 C.E. They were also pagans and had two festivals: one to commemorate the passing of the dead in late October and the other to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit. These two celebrations were eventually merged with the day of Samhain.
Centuries later, the Catholic Church established a day to honor all the Christian martyrs who had been killed and called it All Martyrs Day [also known as All Hallows Day]. This was originally celebrated in May but was eventually moved to November 1st to displace the pagan day of Samhain that was still celebrated in the region. Later, another day was added called All Souls Day to include all dead people. The night before All Hallows was called All Hallows Eve and the name evolved to become Halloween. The pagan Celtic ritual about dead spirits mixed with the Catholic one about honoring of the dead.
In colonial America, observing Halloween was originally very limited because the Protestant Christians wanted nothing to do with pagan rituals. In the second half of the nineteenth century, more immigrants from Europe began to migrate to America, many of them coming from Ireland due to the potato famine of 1846. These white immigrants brought the celebration of Halloween with them and it began to spread throughout the country. By the 20th century, Halloween became a little more sanitized and the religious and superstitious aspects of the day were mostly gone. The symbols of ghosts and witchcraft remained but were not widely believed in due to a change in American attitudes. Nonetheless, many neopagans and Wiccans still believe in and celebrate Samhain. Today, Halloween has become commercialized and rakes in about $6 billion every year in the US alone. A fourth of all candy sold throughout the year is purchased for Halloween celebrations.
It is clear that Halloween is a day that has evolved over time, incorporating many different elements and cultures, mostly pagan, into it. The practice of dressing up in costumes originated from the fear of ghosts roaming the earth on Halloween. The Celts believed that if someone wore a scary mask or costume then the ghosts might not recognize them as humans.
To prevent ghosts from coming inside their homes, they use to leave food outside for roaming spirits to eat. The food also served as a ‘treat’ for the good ghosts from their deceased family members. The Catholic Church tried to displace this practice by encouraging people to give out ‘soul-cakes’ so people would pray for the dead instead. During the All Souls Day celebrations in England, poor people would go from house to house begging for food and families would give them some if they promised to pray for their dead ancestors. Over time, the twin practices of leaving treats for ghosts and begging for soul-cakes merged to become ‘trick-or-treating’. The ‘trick’ was added when people began to threatening others that if they do not give some ‘treat’, a ‘trick’ will be played on them through some mischievous act.
The ‘jack-o-lantern’ originated from the practice of carving scary faces into turnips or pumpkins and leaving them outside the house to scare away ghosts. The game of ‘bobbing for apples’ originates from the festival of the Roman deity Pomona, whose symbol is the apple. There were many other customs and superstitions associated with Halloween that have died out with the passage of time.
Symbolism and Secularism
Since Halloween has mostly become a secularized festival in the West, some Muslims argue that there is nothing wrong with adopting it. Knowing the history of Halloween and the origins of the symbols that are still associated with the day, we must be more cautious.
When the Christian ʿAdī ibn Ḥātim accepted Islam, he went to go visit the Prophet Muhammad with a golden cross around his neck. The Messenger of Allah pointed to his necklace and told him, “ʿAdī, throw this idol away.” It is important to reflect on this statement. ʿAdī had already accepted Islam, which means that he had already abandoned the idea that Jesus is divine. For him, the cross around his neck was only a symbol now. Maybe he liked the way it looked or had become accustomed to wearing it as a fashion piece. Prior to accepting Islam, that cross symbolized belief in Jesus being God and having died for the sins of all people. The moment ʿAdī accepted Islam, the cross that he was wearing immediately ceased to have this meaning, which is why he continued to wear it. Nevertheless, the Prophet made it clear to ʿAdī that this cross was still considered an idol because of what it symbolized, and must be discarded entirely.
What’s Wrong in Celebrating Halloween as Muslim when every one else is doing it-
There are many Hadeeth which Prohibit us from following the Wrong ways-
- It was narrated from Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri (may Allaah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “You will certainly follow the ways of those who came before you hand span by hand span, cubit by cubit, to the extent that if they entered the hole of a lizard, you will enter it too.” We said: “O Messenger of Allaah, (do you mean) the Jews and the Christians?” He said: “Who else?” Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 1397; Muslim, 4822.
This hadeeth indicates that it is haraam to imitate the Jews and the Christians, and that those who follow them and tread the same path as them are criticized. Islam has reinforced this prohibition, by describing those who imitate the kuffaar as being of them.
2 . Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allaah have mercy on him) said:
This at the very least indicates that it is haraam to imitate them, although the apparent meaning is that the one who imitates them is a kaafir.
The one who imitates the kuffaar feels that inferior and defeated, so he hastens to make up for his feelings of inadequacy by imitating those whom he admires. If these people were to ponder the greatness of Islamic sharee’ah and understand how corrupt is that civilization they are running after, they would realize that they are doing wrong and that they have forsaken something that is perfect and true for something that is imperfect and corrupt.
Iqtida’ al-Siraat al-Mustaqeem, 237.
- With regard to the words of ‘Abd-Allaah ibn Mas’ood (may Allaah be pleased with him), “What the Muslims think is good is good before Allaah”, this does not refer to things that go against sharee’ah but which may be deemed good on the basis of rational thinking. Imam al-Shaafa’i (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: “Whoever thinks something is good issuing a ruling.” It does not refer to when one person thinks a thing is good but the majority of people do not. Rather this phrase may be interpreted in one of two ways, both of which are sound:
1 – That what is meant is traditions and customs that do not go against sharee’ah
2 – That what is meant is the proof of scholarly consensus, for the Muslims are unanimously agreed that thinking a thing is good is consensus which counts as evidence. So this thing must be good before Allaah as well. This is what is indicated by the words, “What the Muslims think is good.”
See al-Mabsoot by al-Sarkhasi, 12/138’ al-Faroosiyyah by Ibn al-Qayyim, p. 298.
Hidayah from Quran:
“When it is said unto them, ‘Come to what Allah has revealed, come to the Messenger,’ they say, ‘Enough for us are the ways we found our fathers following.’ What! Even though their fathers were void of knowledge and guidance?” (Qur’an 5:104)
“Has not the time arrived for the believers, that their hearts in all humility should engage in the remembrance of Allah and of the Truth which has been revealed to them? That they should not become like those to whom was given the Book aforetime, but long ages passed over them and their hearts grew hard? For many among them are rebellious transgressors.” (Qur’an 57:16)
- Other Resources.