Halal Halloween? Not Hardly, by Shaykh Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad


images.jpgI read a fatwa by a Mufti out of Great Britain which legalized trick-or-treating, Halloween costumes of witches, ghouls, goblins, and the celebration of Halloween for Muslim children and surprising enough, adults as well. Part of the text of the fatwa is as follows; “It is permissible for children (and grown-ups) to partake in Halloween customs in general which include practices such as ‘Trick or Treat’ or to dress as monsters, witches etc. Despite these practices being of pagan origin, they no longer carry such meanings in general and neither can lead to Paganism from a realistic perspective”. You can read the fatwa here

The Mufti seems to be making a sincere attempt to address a serious issue about the challenges of assimilation of Muslims into Western society and the pressure upon the children to blend in. For this we applaud him and may Allah strengthen and guide him. Ameen. As for the fatwa itself? Suffice it to say that the triangulated fatwa, although perhaps well-intended, is fundamentally flawed and misleading. The problem begins with his opening statement; Despite these practices being of pagan origin, they no longer carry such meanings in general and neither can lead to Paganism from a realistic perspective”.   What he misses is that paganism does not have to lead to paganism in order to be considered paganism. It is not a matter in the case of Halloween of something leading to paganism, the ritual practices of Halloween are itself paganism. It’s like saying; “having unmarried sex doesn’t lead to fornication”, not realizing that having unmarried sex, is itself, fornication.

The opinion of this fatwa’s author is that “these practices no longer have meaning”, whereas in reality, for millions upon millions of people, these practices have very great meaning. Additionally, it remains that the religion of Islam, it’s laws, it’s creed and its theology, still has meaning, and as long as our religion has meaning, issues that our religion addresses, such as paganism, have meaning. The dressing up in evil costumes goes back to the time when men used to dress up as ghouls [jinn] and ghosts in order to seek protection from the jinn. This pagan practice was mentioned in the Quran as having only resulted in increased wrongdoing and disbelief. “And verily, there were men among mankind who took shelter with the masculine among the jinns, but they (jinns) increased the and people are still under contract to m (mankind) in sin and disbelief”. 72:6

The idea and practice behind Halloween is that you are seeking refuge in demons to protect you from them and other demons. This is why it is so prohibited, as mentioned in the Book; “They bowed down except Iblis. He was one of the Jinns, and he broke the Command of his Lord. Will ye then take him and his progeny as protectors rather than Me? And they are enemies to you! Evil would be the exchange for the wrong-doers!” 18:50. The costumed trick-or-treater is essentially seeking protection from the demons that he or she not be harmed by demons and this, as the verses clearly illustrates is prohibited in Islam.

Evil jinn still roam the earth. They still incite people to evil, and people are still under contract to take the shaitaan as an enemy. What the author of the fatwa seems to be saying is that Halloween is a pagan practice but since children of today do not realize that it was a pagan practice [of jaahiliyyah], it’s okay for them to do it. He further asserts in the fatwa that as adults, even though we know that this is a pagan practice summoning the jinn, we should still subject ourselves and our children to it. Unfortunately, he is mistaken on all counts.

What the fatwa seems to be saying also is; Halloween is okay because even though it started as a pagan rite, the people don’t believe in the pagan rites part anymore so therefore its harmless, and if its harmless, it must be permissible. Our response to that premise is that even if some people do not believe in the meanings and consequences of pagan rites anymore (although many people still do), pagan rites still have meaning, and still have consequence. Pagan rites especially those that venerate the devil and his minions are considered kufr [heresy], and kufr can never be considered harmless. Magic is kufr whether a person believes in magic or not. If some people stopped believing in magic, it does not mean magic does not exist, and it does not make it not kufr. Herein lies the problem of this fatwa. Paganism is not something that you can simply flip the switch, or interpret a couple of hadith and boom, it’s halal.

The Prophet’s entire mission ﷺ was dedicated to monotheism and the eradication of idolatry, and pagan beliefs and practices. To make paganism halal requires fine-tuned legalese and fiqh finesse at the very least. Which is what this fatwa attempts, albeit unsuccessfully, to do. Magic, witches, ghouls and monsters do not represent Islamic principles or morals and they never will. In fact, these things are antithetical to godliness and to submission to God.

Pagan rites are satanic acts of worship that honor the Devil. Satan does not lose his resolve or potency with the passage of time. He does not become an old man and retires to the hell-fire way station.  Even if people stopped believing in him, [the Devil], it doesn’t mean that he ceases to exist. So if a child no longer attaches meaning to the pagan rites of demon worship, it is still demon worship nevertheless. Magic and the practice of sorcery is devil’s work. There is no difference of opinion of Muslim scholars on this fact. Ghouls are satanic jinn[1], and ghosts are tormented earthbound souls in a state of punishment. Making these creatures into seeming harmless costumed caricatures does not change their status in Islam.

What the fatwa also seems to suggest is that good and evil are both, especially evil, archaic notions of the past. If we threw away the belief system in Islam, then of course there would be nothing wrong with this fatwa at all, and hence, nothing wrong with Halloween. Halloween simply would be an ideologically neutral, morally unaligned practice; however, that is not the case. Halloween is not ideologically neutral. Halloween is a celebration of Iblis and his allies and it is not permissible for a Muslim to celebrate Iblis because he is an enemy of Allah. Batman, Superman, and Captain America just come along for the ride but the holiday itself and all the associated characters, are all part of the Iblis crowd. It is their party. If we didn’t believe that there was a God and that there was a Devil, or believed that they both were baseless superstitions, then we could write off Halloween fanfare; ghosts, magic, witches, and ghouls as just a bunch of groundless superstitions of a bygone era.

For people who grew up with and understand the connotations of Halloween in the United States [ahlul-urf] and those who understand the culture of the bogeyman, the scary movie, Freddy Kruger, Jason, and haunted houses, the fatwa at first glance is absolutely absurd. More of a voice of treason rather than a voice of reason as the author states. This is a cultural fatwa more than it is an islamically legal fatwa. Cultural fatwas are what comes along when you suppose that the religion is no longer relevant. We are in a great flux of misguidance these days so expect more of these cultural fatwas, and don’t let anything shock you.

The fatwa seems to be written for a particular audience. The Muslim immigrants to the west who are grappling with assimilation, acceptance, finding their place and not standing out might find this fatwa as a relief. It gives them the license to celebrate Halloween, and by default, Christmas, Easter, St Valentine’s Day. They finally get to tell their children that there is a Santa Claus. This fatwa is for them. For Muslim American converts, or a second generation Muslims wo are not clamoring to assimilate, who are not concerned about not being accepted as Americans or true Brits, who are not waiting in terror fearing backlash, this fatwa is completely absurd.  The only thing legitimate about it is that it’s called a fatwa. In Western culture, at least in the United States, people do not associate witches, casting spells, and monsters that go about in the night, with God or godliness.  In Islam we obviously do not associate these things with Allah, with prophetic guidance, or with worshipping Allah.

Even without a ruling affirming the prohibition of Halloween practices and pagan rites, this is something that Muslims know and understand instinctively; that witches, ghosts, goblins, and little horned devils with pitch forks, are not heroes and icons of faith in Allah; but are things representing the culture and tradition of paganism and the occult.  We see a witch mixing a brew or conjuring a spell, we don’t say; ma sha Allah! Yum, yum. what cha cooking? On the contrary, we would seek refuge in Allah from the Shaitaan.

Another issue with the fatwa is that the brother does not only allow it for children; he takes the extra step of allowing it for adults which creates another issue; children under the age of puberty are ghariru mukallaf [Legally not liable for their actions} based upon the hadith; “the pen is lifted off of three people” and among them are the child until he reaches puberty. However, for the adult, he or she is responsible for their actions and it is not permissible for an adult Muslim to celebrate the devil, to emulate satanic jinn, Witches are real and so are ghouls, as well as evil spirits, and even ghosts. Witches are practitioners of magic and the black arts, ghosts are earthbound souls, and ghouls are satanic jinn. Dressing up as them is a celebration of their identities and it is not permissible for a Muslim to venerate Iblis, or to celebrate his army or his avowed allies.

If we threw away the belief system, and moral framework of Islam, then of course there would be nothing wrong with this fatwa at all, and hence, nothing wrong with Halloween. Halloween would be an ideologically neutral, morally nonaligned practice; however, that is not the case. If we didn’t believe that there was a God and that there was a Devil, or believed that they both were superstitions then we could write off Halloween fanfare; ghosts, magic, witches, and demons, as part of superstition. Halloween is not ideologically neutral, Halloween is literally a celebration of Iblis’s family and it is not permissible for a Muslim to celebrate Iblis, his family, or his army. Knowing what Halloween represents, and the pagan practices of the holiday, it is very unlikely that the Prophet ﷺ would have sanctioned his wives, his children going out dressed up as witches’ monsters and goblins at Maghreb time, literally begging people for candy. How can trick-or-treating be permissible when tricking people itself is haram?

Fatwa analysis: Assimilation on steroids

In the current political-cultural climate of hyper-assimilation, fighting islamophobia, wanting and needing to fit in, and shedding negative stereotypes of Islam and Muslims, there exists an air of near desperation. Desperately wanting to be accepted, of wanting to be a part of western society not only in name and citizenship, but in being part of the buddy crowd. There is nothing inherently wrong with western society, and there is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to belong. Many of us, myself included were born in the West and have been here for generations. We are part of these societies and not seeking the way to become part of any other nation. There is a very strong push however, to gain acceptance, to lessen the real or perceived disparagement, unflattering stares, and innuendoes, that Muslim are subject to these days.  Many of us couldn’t care less how others perceive us but for many others, their sense of self-worth, personal sense of pride, and their well-being is connected to how westerners view them.

This fatwa, though categorically errant, speaks to this reality and this need by many Muslims for acceptance. It is not simply a matter of scholarly deduction; it is more a matter of relieving the stress off of a certain segment of the Muslim population in western countries and trying to find a way to do it to under Islam. The problem here is that we’re taking about Halloween when it comes to paganism. Scholarly deduction would reject paganism and the veneration of witches, ghouls and demons at the outset. You don’t have to be a mufti to know that these things are wrong.

Muslim children will survive if they don’t dress up for trick-or-treat, and Muslim adults won’t rack up any more brownie points if they go to work the next day and say; ‘hey guys! My kids and I went out trick-or-treating last night!  Nevertheless, the fear of backlash, the fear of being labelled an extremist, and the fear of not being accepted is real. Overblown sometimes, but real nevertheless. Subsequently this is not necessarily an islamic based fatwa; it is a culturally based and a culturally biased fatwa that uses vague islamic legal precedence for some of its foundation but ultimately fails to make a convincing argument for permissibility of Halloween practices because he approaches what is meant to be an islamic legal point, from a particular cultural perspective and reality. Let me explain.

Then there’s the double standards by which many fatwas are applied here in the West and certainly in the United States. You have scholars, who when it comes to validating full assimilation into western culture and lifestyle for immigrants coming from the Muslim world, are very liberal, and make wide allowances for them. Almost anything goes. However, when it comes to American and British converts who are born in these countries, many scholars tend to be much harsher, and will haram just about anything we do, even if it has nothing to do with religion. If an American Muslim convert or one of our Imams here in the United States, cited the same arguments as quoted in the fatwa, he would be verbally crucified. There is a double standard in play, one for indigenous Blacks, and converts; and another standard for everyone else. I don’t believe this brother had bias in mind when he wrote the fatwa.

So, here we are, trying to teach our children about Allah, about virtue, about morality and about Islam and here comes this fine gentleman, scholar if you will, telling our children that the wicked witch, the goblin, the ghost and the monsters that enter into their dreams are things that we should embrace, at least on Halloween, a day by the way, that people dedicate to these creatures. Now even a five-year-old will tell you that witches, goblins, bogeymen, monsters, Dracula, and the like, all consider Satan to be their master of masters. Whether spoken or unspoken, Shaitaan is the big boss of the magic and monster crowd.  Everybody, well almost everybody knows that these characters are decidedly on the side of Satan and not considered in our religious, cultural or urfi understanding to be the party of God. They are not the ones around which we should establish holidays when we are supposed to know better.

Yet here is this fatwa making Halloween and its trappings of pagan rites, permissible. And after all, it’s a fatwa, it’s a sheikh saying it, and to put icing on the cake, he’s a mufti. This deceptive fatwa certainly open’s a Pandora’s box and we can either try to put a lid on it, or open it further. If Halloween is okay, then celebrating Christmas is a must, and that goes for Easter too, the celebration of the Goddess of fertility.  This ideologically compromising fatwa and those like it affects our moral-cultural trajectory as Muslims from and who have immigrated to the West. If we don’t get handle on this type of recklessness in fatwa making, the next thing you know, Santa Claus will be giving the khutba on Friday and little elves will be running through the ranks collecting zakat. Ho, ho, ho, in al-humda lillaah….

Bizarre Fatwas and Political Fatwas

Bizarre fatwas are nothing new. There was once a fatwa out of Egypt which allowed Muslim liquor store owners to sell liquor in the United States as long as they didn’t sell to Muslims. To this very day, there are Muslim liquor owners who use that fatwa to liquor to people in the United States. There was another fatwa once that mandated that every Muslim in the United States take up arms and wage jihad against our country [there were several of these]. There was another fatwa that said you can’t say; “hey bro” to someone who is not your brother in Islam or your biological brother. We hear and read about bizarre fatwas all the time. The internet has no borders in the West so fickle fatwas slip through the cracks on a regular basis.

Can a fatwa compromise a principle of Islam? Yes, and in these last days, or end times, such does happen more often than we’d like. Is every fatwa binding? No, of course not! Are some fatwas ill conceived? Yes. Is the fatwa making celebrating traditional Halloween permissible, one of those ill-conceived fatwas? Absolutely Yes. When people celebrate witches, magic, ghosts ghouls, and evil spirits, they are celebrating creatures who all work for Iblis, are part of his army, or who have been foiled or defiled by him in some way.

Fatwa making can have a lot of politics to it. As American Muslims who have been through years and years of Halloweens, growing up on Freddie Kruger, Friday the 13th, the headless horseman, and Jason, we kinda know how to identify demonic creatures even if they have a smile on their face, or appear in a cartoon. The problem is that you have scholars, who when it comes to validating full assimilation into western culture and lifestyle for immigrants coming from the Muslim world, are very liberal, and make wide allowances for them. Hence, halal Halloween. However, when it comes to American and British converts who are born in these countries, many scholars tend to be much harsher, and will haram just about anything we do, even if it has nothing to do with religion or paganism at all. If an American Muslim convert or one of our Imams cited the same arguments as quoted in the Halloween fatwa, he would be verbally crucified.

I wouldn’t characterize this fatwa as completely irresponsible, nor would I call it flimsy altogether or unfounded. The brother uses daleel, and he follows scholarly procedure to some degree to come up with his conclusions. However, the errantry in the fatwa has to do with one, misinformation about the underlying ramifications of celebrating Halloween, and two, being under-informed about the ideological attachments that come part and parcel with the holiday.

Remember as I have mentioned, there are two distinctly different Muslim communities; one made up of immigrants, and the other made up of converts who in both the case of Great Britain and on the United States, are primarily African American for the latter, and African –Caribbean in the case of the former. This fatwa is a result of happens when people are so desperate to be accepted, that will do and so most anything to convince people that they are as western as anyone else, What the fatwa amounts to is assimilation on steroids.

The bigger picture that we don’t want to miss here is the dichotomous civilizational and cultural construct being created. On the one hand you have indigenous American Muslims who are much more familiar with the situational placement of holidays in America whereas there is more precise navigation and understanding of detail with regards to line between religion and culture. On the other hand, you have a people [immigrants] who are simply trying to create a new civilizational construct for themselves without the benefit of the former’s experiences in the same country in which they are exponentially more familiar.

American Muslim converts by and large are proud of their distinctions as Muslims, while immigrants are ashamed of their distinctions as Muslims. This shame is not just limited to immigrants. Converts are being taught this shame mentality as well these days. The more you beg to be accepted by the greater society and long for them to regard you like they regard themselves, the more shameful your own religion appears to you. We felt so ashamed of our religion that we changed its fourteen-hundred year meaning from submission to peace.

Further Analysis of the ruling

The ruling rendering Halloween practices permissible is an errant ruling. It sanctions paganism while paganism is antithetical to tawheed. Paganism is prohibited in Islam as are pagan acts. Knowing what Halloween represents, and the paganistic practices of the holiday, it is very unlikely that the Prophet ﷺ would have sanctioned his wives or his children going out dressed up as witches’ monsters and goblins at Maghreb time, begging people for candy. How can trick-or-treating be permissible when tricking people itself is haram?

American children do not find any problem dissing Halloween amongst their peers without having to worry about being called a terrorist, an outsider, or somehow strange.  Not everybody in the United States or Great Britain goes in for the Halloween thing anyway. Many Christians are staunchly against it as it goes against biblical principles. For those of us who grew up in the united states, we know that some of the coolest people in junior high school, and grade school were the people who didn’t go for Halloween. An indigenous American Muslim child Black, white or Latino can go to school and say “man, Halloween is whack!” without the fear of reprisal. An immigrant child may not have the same level of confidence and feel that any rebuff of American culture would open them to harassment, dislike or being called names. This happens simply because the way that their parents acculturate them to life in America.

Thus, a fatwa like this is made to appeal to that group, to the assimilation seeking group, in the hopes that it will lessen the alienation that some Muslim children feel as new immigrants and by sticking out as different from the others. In this way, I understand the fatwa although I disagree with it. As far as indigenous American Muslim converts are concerned, we know what Halloween represents; notwithstanding the pagan origins; we grew up with Friday the 13th, Freddie Kruger, Jason, Inkabad Crane, the headless horseman, and the crazy clown so we automatically know what Halloween represents and what it summons.

The fatwa is well-intended, and makes a couple of good points but ultimately fails to make the argument of making the pagan practices of Halloween permissible. Halloween in the traditional trick-or –treat, witches and goblin promotion, and jack-o-lantern rendition, is haram. He makes a good point for example about the misuse and overuse of the hadith; “whoever imitates a people then he is from amongst them”. Because that is the singular hadith that you can use to haram almost any type of clothing, manner of speech, gourmet food, amusement parks, skiing, football, cotton candy and thousands of other things. I think that the fatwa was well intended. There’s no reason to believe that the brother is intentionally trying to deceive anyone, in this fatwa or that he did not apply appropriate fiqhi reasoning and methodology to the topic. It seems clear that he did. He just happens to be on the wrong track in this case. Just because Hollywood and pop culture can make Shaitaan appear to be a fair seeming, hip and handsome, humanitarian with a conscious, and who drives a BMW, doesn’t make him any less than the devil he is.

Sheikh Abu Laith Luqman Ahmad

We’ll be talking about these issues on my next broadcast of the Muslim Review radio show with your host Imam Luqman Ahmad. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/themuslimreview

[1] Dictionary of Islam, Thomas P. Hughes, p.139.

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