A Muslim Changes His Mind About Halloween

This is a guest post from Hesham Hassaballa, who will soon be joining the Patheos family as a columnist.

My entire life has been an evolution of belief, opinion and thought. A big part of that has been my religious interpretation. My committment to my Islamic faith has never waivered. Indeed, I did have a crisis of faith during my university years, but my devotion to the Lord has never weakened. But, I have changed considerably over the past decade.
In 2002, I penned a piece for Beliefnet about my belief regarding Halloween. At that time, I wrote – and truly believed – that I should not participate in Halloween because of its origins:

“And this is why I will not send my daughter trick or treating this year or any other year. Halloween honors Celtic and Roman gods. Islam is strictly monotheistic, and anything having to do with the worship of any other god besides the Most Holy One is out of the question…While it’s true that Halloween is not, as I once thought, based on devil worship, it nevertheless mixes Celtic, Roman, and Catholic influences. The Celts, inhabitants of Great Britain and Northern France, celebrated their New Year on Nov. 1, which marked the end of the “season of the sun” and the beginning of the “season of darkness and cold.” On Oct. 31, the cooking fires would be extinguished after all the crops were harvested and stored. The Celtic priests would light new fires and offer sacrifices to the gods.”

Now, I still believe now what I did then – that Islam accepts the cultural traditions of a people so long as those traditions do not contradict the principles of Islam. And yes, festivals that honor other gods beside the Lord our God will not be celebrated by me. 
But, I have a confession to make: For the past several years, I have personally gone trick-or-treating with my children and have passed out candy to the kids who come to my door. Now, years ago trick-or-treaters would come to my door, and I would not answer them. I would pretend not to be home in order to “not participate” in Halloween. But I realized that this practice, in trying to be devout to the Lord, was really not very neighborly at all, and it is very important to be neighborly if I am to be godly.
I also really started to think about Halloween itself. It is really is a cultural tradition. Yes, many centuries ago, it was a Celtic/Roman festival. Now, however, it is an annual thing that Americans do to have some fun while wearing costumes and collecting candy. There is nothing religious at all about Halloween. True, I don’t like the gruesomeness that some people put into Halloween, and I would never decorate my house or anything like that. But, I see no harm in having my kids dress up in costumes and going out and get some candy from their neighbors.
Have I flip-flopped? Perhaps I am vulnerable to this criticism. Have I sold out my religion in order to look nice for the neighbors? Some may say that about me, but I don’t want everyone to look at the Muslim house and think, “There is the miserly guy who doesn’t want to give our kids candy.” And, most importantly in the years since I penned that Beliefnet piece, I have aged and have had more children. As my children have grown up as Americans, I have had to really think about what parts of the culture in which they can participate.
For instance, we will not, one day, start celebrating Christmas, even though it can be argued that Christmas has lost all its religiosity as of late. No matter what, Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Christ, believed by Christians to be the Son of God. As a Muslim, I will not participate in this tradition. I have nothing against this holiday and those who celebrate it, but I will not partake in the “fun” aspects of it. The same goes with Easter, Yom Kippur or Rosh Hashana. Again, I have nothing against those holidays and those who celebrate them, but as a Muslim, I will not celebrate them.
But, when it comes to Halloween, it really is not a religious festival at all. And so I see no harm in doing it with my children. I did the same when I was a kid, and nothing bad happened to me. A number of commenters told me to “lighten up” after reading my piece in 2002. With time, aging, reflection and study, indeed I have done just that.

– Hesham Hassaballa is a Chicago-based doctor and writer, the co-author of The Beliefnet Guide to Islam (Doubleday), and his essay, “Why I Love the Ten Commandments,” was published in the award-winning book Taking Back Islam (Rodale). His latest book, Noble Brother, is the story of the Prophet Muhammad told entirely in poetry.

About Dilshad Ali
  • Guest

    Muslims are the most corrupted people on the planet Earth. They say something but do something the opposite. As long as the corrupt Al-Saud family in the country of Hijaz is ruling nothing is going to change and muslims get worse day by day. The Al-Saud family is more enthusiastic to celebrate Halloween than Americans or other western countries .

  • Gcrv72

    So how did you travel from being neighbourly and giving out candy to going out with your kids for trick and treating?  What next bikini carwashes to raise funds for the masjid?

  • Shaiqattack

    I think you were right not to celebrate it originally.  Forget the non religious aspect of the festival( and i agree with you to some extent there). As you may already know, participating in a festival that encourages dressing up in ghoulish costumes however fun/sportively done is against  some core islamic practices. The most basic of our muslim practice of saying As salaam alaykum means “peace be on you”. Is replaced by a ON-the-surface harmless yet devious greeting of “trick or treat”.  Adopting the appearance of something even mildly sinister is highly discouraged. 
    The end command in Islam is resolutely clear accept it wholly. not it parts. and MAy Allah taallah both help and guide both you , me and every other brother to the right path. Ameen.

  • salam

    Very nice article. But I think that the debate in our Muslim community over Halloween is over-emphasized. It is a red herring issue when it comes to other issues that the Muslim community faces. People, the decision of whether or not to participate in Halloween will have no overbearing effect on our community, so participating should just be left to the sole preference of the family and should not offend others. Also, “What next bikini carwashes to raise funds for the masjid?” is not an appropriate way to engage in this debate, or any for that matter.
    Wallahu A’lam

  • Omar

    Dear Hesham,

    It shows depth and maturity, not to mention, courage, to write this piece, acknowledging that you may have erred in the past, while knowing that you will get hounded by people who anonymously will criticize you here online.

    I am a practicing Muslim and grew up in America. We trick or treated like every other kid on our block and it did not affect my religion negatively at all. It is a lighthearted means of fun for kids which should be a non-issue religiously. If the Muslim scholarship grew up here or would take the time to understand the country and its customs, they would be able to focus on much more important elements that need to be addressed, like how to reduce violence in our communities or improve the conditions of homelessness and poverty, as a few examples.

    Thank you for writing this.


  • ggg

    Actually Halloween still carries huge religious significance for many many pagan worshippers over in Britain and Ireland. So the writer is wrong about that. It is a festival celebrating who? The devil himself and the raising of evil spirits! Goodness, if we can’t stay away from this obviously un-Islamic festival, what can we stay away from??

  • sista from Ottawa

    My daughter just started JK this year, and I am searching the opinions out there. Most of my friends are absolutely against Halloween and hold the opinion you did prior to lightening up. I also grew up while trick-or-treating for years. This article sheds some light on other aspects that Islam emphasizes on, like neighbourliness (a word?). Thanks for giving your opinion, my search goes on haha for a good fit for my family and me.

  • Sarah

    I do wish that Muslims, Jews and even some Christians, would engage in a little bit of RESEARCH about who the Celts actually were, and what they likely believed in BEFORE the start calling my ancestors Devil worshippers. Just because you believe that yours once were doesn’t necessarily mean mine were. We know very little about their religious beliefs because their priests (Druids) were forbidden from writing them down but we do now that they refused to make any realistic likeness of any living thing but permitted stylized images (hence the weird art) and didn’t make statues and laughed at the Greek “gods” of stone. When Christianity came they were all converted fairly quickly and without bloodshed, and it was Celtic monks themselves who collected their ancestral stories lest they be lost. Had Judaism or Islam made it there first, perhaps the entire northwest of Europe would be Jewish or Muslim instead, who knows. They certainly would have agreed with not making images and worshipping them.

    They did believe that there was an “Otherworld” and that the veils between worlds were thinner at certain times…but guess what, Muslim mystics believe in such an “other world” too, which they call the Alam al-Mythal. Perhaps they are heretics and pagans now too? And if Islam should ever disappear, what would later peoples makes of Muslims have 99 different names of diety in their theology? Probably they would think Muslims worshipped 99 different gods. Don’t be quick to judge those who cannot defend themselves but you should think charitably of them until you know otherwise! If you chose not to partake because they aren’t your holidays, and you aren’t certain what their origin is, fine, but have the sense not to talk as if you know the truth of them when their own descendants have been studying them for centuries trying to figure out the reality. It only makes you look bigoted, intolerant and mostly, just ignorant.

    The only people who look more foolish are Christians who attack Halloween practices that are certainly not native and are wholly Christian in origin. That is what comes of looking so hard for evil to attack, that soon you forget what evil really is and start attacking everyone and everything. Soon, such people become evil themselves. Congratulations to the author, not for celebrating per se, but for thinking more carefully. And soon Xmas WILL be everybody’s holiday BTW, as most of the Sikhs I know celebrate it and even some Muslims and Jews already celebrate it at least a little….not sure if that is a good or bad thing. Hallmark Holidays are always worse that anybody’s actual religion