Question # 248: We live in a neighborhood, where the community arranges various programs for the residents during all Muslims and non-Muslims festivals. During this week, as we approach Halloween, they have arranged various events involving dances, music and costume contest. What is the Islamic ruling with respect to participation during this occasion?

Bismi-llahi r-raḥmani r-raḥīm,

Assalamu ‘laikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh,

All praise and thanks are due to Allah (سبحانه و تعالى), and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger (صلى الله عليه و سلم).

Dear questioner,

First of all, we implore Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) to help us serve His cause and render our work for His sake.

Shorter Answer: Although today, Halloween is celebrated for fun, many of its traditions can be traced back to historical religious cultures. The Celts, who lived in Europe celebrated a festival involving dead called Samhain. They believed that on the last day of October, the souls of the dead return to the realm of the living and along with the Celtic gods, create havoc, harm crops, and play tricks on the living. Hence, they dressed up in hideous disguises to avoid the malicious intentions of these spirits. They also offered gifts to please the gods and spirits and keep them from interfering in their lives. At night, they would light large bonfires to scare off the evil spirits, which were fueled with bones from animals slaughtered as sacrifices to the gods. Later, Celts were conquered by the Roman Empire, whereby a fusion of customs occurred with the Celtic festival of Samhain merged with the Roman festival. Nearly 2,000 years ago, the Roman Catholic Church endeavored to transform pagan local celebrations into Christian holidays and blended and fused Samhain with All Saints’ Day to evolve into Halloween.

Today, Halloween is celebrated by children wearing scary costumes, going trick-or-treating, and are given candy stems and unknowingly they carry on Celtic tradition. The use of jack-o’-lanterns, or pumpkins hollowed, carved into frightening faces, and illuminated by a candle, also stems from a myth about a dead man.

Although, nowadays Halloween is not taken as a religious holiday, Muslims should not celebrate or participate in it. Our children should be educated about the reason for not celebrating this festival and its bad effect. Also, candy-begging is not an Islamic virtue, because in Islam, asking favors from people should be a last resort. There are many non-Muslim Americans who don’t celebrate Halloween because they don’t approve of it. Finally, celebrating our Eids confirms our Islamic identity, whereas celebrating Halloween erodes it.

Long Answer: Before discussing the Islamic ruling, let us understand the occasion of Halloween, its origin and practices.

According to the book “Holidays and Celebrations – Halloween and Commemorations of the Dead” by Roseanne Montillo:

“Mostly celebrated in North America, Halloween is a day, children dress in costumes and go door-to-door in their neighborhoods “trick-or-treating” for candy… Witches and ghosts are popular themes of the day. People also carve pumpkins known as jack-o’-lanterns. While today Halloween is a secular holiday mostly celebrated for fun, many of the traditions found in today’s popular Halloween celebrations can be traced back thousands of years through a long series of influences and cultures.

Origin

One of the earliest known examples of a celebration involving the dead is the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain. The Celts were a group of people who lived in Europe beginning in the second millennium B.C.E. (between the years 1999 B.C.E. and 1000 B.C.E.), and possibly much earlier.

The Celtic word Samhain, or Samain, means “end of summer,” and indeed this holiday is believed to have marked the transition from the summer season to autumn and winter, as well as the Celtic new year. Because the Celts lived so long ago, it is difficult for historians to decipher the details surrounding this holiday. As a result, there is much disagreement when it comes to the specific aspects of the celebration of Samhain. What is known, however, is that many of the traditions of Samhain, as well as the date of the holiday, have carried over into the modern celebration of Halloween.

Many believe Samhain was the date every year on which the shepherds brought their flocks in from the pastures and people began preparing for the winter season. Winter was also known as the “lord of death.” The Celts believed that on their New Year’s Eve, the last day of the month of October, the border between the worlds of the living and the dead opened, allowing the souls of the dead to return to the realm of the living and to the homes they had left behind. These spirits, along with the Celtic gods, were believed to create havoc, harm crops, and play tricks on the living. Some of the common symbols of Halloween, such as witches and goblins, may rise out of these ancient beliefs.

The Celtic people employed many tactics to avoid the malicious intentions of these spirits, including dressing up in hideous disguises made with animal heads and skins so that they might be mistaken for fellow spirits and left alone. They also offered gifts to the gods, often in the form of sweets or animal sacrifices. Often, they would leave food on their doorsteps. The Celts hoped these gifts would please the gods and spirits and keep them from interfering in the lives of the living.

Fire also played an important role in the Samhain festival. At night, the Celtic people would gather on hilltops and light large bonfires. One purpose of these fires was to burn the plant waste from harvesting the crops. But the fires were also seen as a way to scare off the evil spirits, and were often stoked further with the bones from animals slaughtered either as food for the winter or as sacrifices to the gods. Some historians also believe people would intentionally put out the everyday fires in the fireplaces of their homes and relight them later from the great bonfires, which they viewed as sacred and as a way to protect themselves over the winter. The idea was that the spiritual power of the bonfire would be transferred to the home fire.

The supernatural nature of this holiday was also believed to allow the Celtic priests, known as druids, to see into the future and predict events to come…

By the first century C.E., the Celts, like many other civilizations, had been conquered by the Roman Empire, whose influence spread across much of what is now the European continent and beyond. With the arrival of the Romans, the old customs of Samhain were replaced by Roman traditions and deities.

One of the Roman festivals was Feralia, the last day in a week-long series of events in the name of the manen, the spirits of the dead. The celebration started on February 13 with the festival of Parentalia, which celebrated all the family members who were dead. The commemorations were held in private until the last day, when Feralia took place. On this public holiday, people made their way to the graves and left their offerings of remembrance.

The festival took place in February because, according to Roman lore, it was the most unlucky month in the Roman calendar. Romans believed that in February the spirits of the departed would become restless and need appeasing. Because it was the most turbulent period, no one got married or carried on any of their customary business transactions between Parentalia and Feralia.

Historians and folklorists agree that a fusion of customs probably occurred during the 400 years the Romans ruled the Celts, with the Celtic festival of Samhain merging with the Roman festival of Feralia and also with Pomona. Pomona was a festival celebrating the Roman goddess of the same name who presided over gardens and orchards… This was combined with the feeling of divination surrounding Samhain and resulted in an overall aura of romance, magic, and enchantment. The Pomona festival took place around November 1 and 2. One tradition was to bury apples in the ground to provide nourishment for the souls traveling between the two worlds. Another practice was bobbing for apples…

Around the time of the establishment of Christianity nearly 2,000 years ago, the Roman Catholic Church endeavored to transform pagan local celebrations into Christian holidays. For centuries the Church had designated the observance of All Saints’ Day as a day to exalt the saints. Traditionally All Saints’ Day was celebrated in May. Because the Celts were reluctant to give up their Samhain end-of-summer celebration; however, the Church blended and fused Samhain with All Saints’ Day to evolve what is now known as the Eve of All Saints, Eve of All Hallows, or Hallow Eve, celebrated in the fall. The name eventually became Halloween.

Celebrating Halloween

Although children today do not dress up in order to hide from evil spirits, they are unknowingly carrying on a Celtic tradition by wearing costumes. Modern-day Halloween costumes, though not as grotesque as those made of animal heads and skins worn during Samhain, still tend to favor frightening subjects such as monsters, witches, skeletons, ghosts, and beasts…

Dressed in these costumes children go trick-or-treating. Trick-or-treating involves children going door-to-door in costume and asking for sweets… The tradition of giving candy stems from when people would offer animal sacrifices and other such gifts to the gods and spirits during Samhain…

During Samhain, young people would venture door-to-door, collecting not only food offerings but also kindling for large fires used to summon the gods. Animal offerings were placed on top of these open fires as a way of winning the gods’ favor. Though such offerings are rarely made today, the tradition of the Halloween bonfire continues in many places all around the world.

A more controlled use of fire on Halloween occurs with the use of jack-o’-lanterns, or pumpkins hollowed, carved into frightening faces, and illuminated from within by a candle. This jack-o’-lantern custom originated in Ireland with the myth of a man named Jack who, after dying, could not get into either heaven or hell. He was doomed to walk the Earth in search of a final resting place. Before Jack began to walk the Earth, the devil went into hell, picked up a piece of lighted coal, and gave it to him. Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and with the aid of that shining light walked from place to place searching for his final resting spot. According to legend, Jack has been roaming the Earth ever since. Jack became known as “Jack of the Lantern,” which, over time, became abbreviated to “Jack-o’Lantern.” People all over Ireland and Scotland began making their own versions of Jack’s turnip lantern, sometimes using potatoes instead of turnips…These were placed in windows and doorways to cast off Jack and other frightening spirits.

When immigrants from Europe arrived on the shores of the United States they brought their traditions with them… All Hallows’ Eve, later Halloween, gained popularity in the United States as these Irish immigrants popularized its customs. While in Ireland people traditionally carved turnips…, in the United States pumpkins were used.”

Islamic Perspective

According to Dr. Main Khalid Al-Qudah, Member of the Fatwa Committee of Assembly of Muslim Jurists in America: “…Although people nowadays (at least in the U.S.) do not take it as a religious holiday, Halloween has a religious background as explained above, and that is why Muslims should not celebrate it. At the same time, there should be such joy, happiness, and celebration during Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha as to be an Islamic alternative to any other non-Islamic religious occasions… Meanwhile, dealing with our kids in this society needs a lot of prudence and wisdom, providing that they love having fun and imitating other kids in their age. So, banning them completely from having fun in this occasion without educating them on why we should not celebrate it might have some bad reactions and side effect. Allowing youngsters to join other kids while working hard on educating them on the importance of preserving their own Muslim identity and celebrating the two Muslim holidays; Al-Fitr and Al-Adha is the best way to handle this issue.”

According to Dr. Hatem al-Haj, Member of the Fatwa Committee of Assembly of Muslim Jurists in America: “…Candy-begging is not an Islamic virtue, because in Islam, asking favors from people should be a last resort, and for necessity, not a luxury. There are many non-Muslim Americans who don’t celebrate Halloween because they don’t approve of it. Finally, celebrating our ‘eids confirms our Islamic identity whereas celebrating Halloween erodes it….”

Allahu A’lam (Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) knows best) and all Perfections belong to Allah, and all mistakes belong to me alone. May Allah (سبحانه و تعالى) forgive me, Ameen.

Wassalaam