From a young age, we taught our children some simple rules in the practice of our religion. Serendipitously, some of those rules then went on to later frame our family’s discussion around Halloween.
We don’t make fun of death. We treat the topic — which includes the grave and our eventual reduction to bones — with reverence and contemplation since it is a reality that we will all eventually face and since the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) told us to think about it (i.e. death) at least twenty times a day.
The unseen world — which includes demonic forces and the dark arts — is real, and we don’t make light of Satan, our avowed enemy. As the saying goes, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” In our worldview, Iblis is not a fictitious cartoon character meant for our amusement. Instead, he is seen as a constant reminder that this world is an abode of danger, and we must remain vigilant and focused until our very last breath.
Frightening people or deliberately causing them any grief or anxiety is prohibited for Muslims.
We cleanse our homes of all things ugly and unclean (including bones and cobwebs and dirt) so that we attract angels and the Divine Light into our lives. It is part of a human being’s fitra, or primordial nature, to want a home environment that is pure and pleasing to the eye and to the soul. A healthy human nature is attracted to light instead of darkness.
We never said anything trite like “Halloween is Shaytan’s birthday” or “trick-or-treating is like begging” or “candy is bad for you.” We only tried to get our children to look at the world around them with “the eye of discernment.” Once they had this perspective, it was no longer necessary to have to explain why we chose not to celebrate Halloween. They were able to differentiate between right and wrong, truth and falsehood, fun and heedlessness for themselves. A parent’s greatest task is not necessarily teaching their children what to think; rather, it’s teaching them how to think.
Having said all of that, when the kids were younger and more likely to care about these types of culturally popular events that were rooted in tradition and celebration, we did make sure that they got tons of candy, a fun outing called November’s Eve on October 31 (we didn’t call it a “Halaloween”), and discounted costumes (the non-spooky kind) the day after. Understanding that there is an allure to dressing up, our homeschooling co-op organized a Costume Day for the kids to enjoy during another month.
For our November’s Eve event, we gathered on a friend’s ranch with other families and had a potluck dinner, face painting (nothing morbid or macabre), inspirational and amusing story-telling, nighttime hayrides, pony rides, anasheed (devotional songs)-singing around a bonfire, and hot chocolate and roasted marshmallows on sticks. We returned to our neighborhoods long after the local trick-or-treaters had retired to their own homes for the night. A wise teacher once told us, “For every haraam (prohibited act) that you stop your children from, you have to give them two halals (permissible acts) that they can enjoy.” That particular philosophy requires a lot of creativity and hard work on the part of the parents (especially in the early years), and November’s Eve was just one example of that philosophy in action.
When my eldest son started attending public high school, I asked him if he ever felt that maybe he had missed out on something fun and crucial in his childhood by not participating in Halloween while growing up. He thought about it for a moment and then replied, “If we hadn’t had November’s Eve to enjoy, then maybe yes, I might have felt that way. But we always had somewhere fun to go on October 31st. When other kids asked me what I was going to do that evening, I was always able to tell them that we were going somewhere fun and we were going to have a good time too. In the end, that’s all that mattered anyway.”
This is a crucial reminder that most children aren’t interested in proselytizing to or lecturing other people about their beliefs, even if they are sincere in the practice of their faith. They simply want to fit in. Young people just want acceptable alternatives for the things they are being told that they can’t or shouldn’t do. It’s the responsibility of the adults to provide those alternatives and to include their children in the discussion of what kinds of alternatives are acceptable for all.
And the last rule we taught our children was that no one should be contemptuous of those Muslims who do choose to celebrate Halloween. The attitude we tried to teach was that we should be hard on ourselves but easy on others. Nothing is more off-putting than a self-righteous and judgmental “religious” person. Our job is simply to try to protect our own hearts and souls while also setting a good example and praying for the safety and success of everyone else for whom we feel any care or concern. “Wish people well while sticking unapologetically to your own principles” was the mantra in our home. Alhamdulillah.