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Halloween unleashed: A World beyond the west

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By: Peer Mohammad Amir Qureshi

It is one of the famous festivals celebrated in America in which people are seen walking like ghosts and witches in the streets, markets, entertainment centers and other places dressed in scary faces and scary clothes.

Outside the houses, huge pumpkins are kept, carved with awesome shapes, and candles and lamps are burning inside them. They set up scary structures outside some houses and when you pass near them, they give you a heart-wrenching laugh. These eerie sights come to life as October arrives, culminating on October 31st. As darkness falls, costumed children and adults embark on a nocturnal quest, knocking on doors with a simple yet sinister request: “trick-or-treat.” In other words, sweets or mild mischief are on offer. Families respond by generously sharing chocolates and sugary treats

Halloween’s inception in the United States can be traced back to 1921, when it was celebrated in the northern state of Minnesota at the city level. Over time, this ancient festival spanning two millennia expanded its reach, growing into a nationwide celebration and a significant commercial enterprise.

Historical Roots

Historians postulate that Halloween can be traced to pre-Christian traditions in Britain, Ireland, and Northern France. Celtic tribes marked this festival on October 31, as their new year commenced on November 1. With the conclusion of the harvest season in late October, the onset of cold, dark days symbolized deathand the spirit world’s proximity. The Celts believed that on the night of October 31, the barrier between the living and the dead was thin, allowing spirits to visit and potentially cause harm. To appease these spirits, they lit grand bonfires, offered grains, and sacrificed animals, donning animal skins and peculiar headgear.

In the 8th century, when Christianity gained prominence in these regions, Pope Boniface IV designated November 1 as ‘All Saints’ Day,’ aiming to supplant the older pagan festival. This day was known as ‘All Hallow’s Eve’ and eventually evolved into Halloween. Despite the Church’s efforts, the significance of Halloween enduredand people continued to celebrate it in their distinctive manner.

Halloween’s American Evolution

Upon the discovery of America, European settlers brought their cultural traditions and festivals with them, albeit on a small scale. The influx of European immigrants, notably the Irish, during the 19th century, breathed new life into Halloween, introducing customs like ‘trick-or-treat.’ Halloween parties became prevalent, characterized by eerie costumes, games, and culinary delights.

Around the 1950s,Halloween shifted from a religious festival to a cultural one, welcoming participation from a myriad of global cultures. The commercial sector seized the opportunity to market costumes and merchandise, transforming Halloween into a multi-billion-dollar cultural extravaganza.

Islamic Perspective

Whoever imitates a nation is one of them.” (Abu Dawud)

While Halloween is traditionally not a part of Arab culture, it has gained some popularity in recent years, especially in urban areas and among expatriate communities. Arab countries with expatriate populations, such as the UAE and Qatar, have seen a growth in Halloween celebrations, often in a commercial and entertainment context.In these settings, you might find costume parties, themed decorations, and children going door-to-door for candies. However, it’s essential to recognize that these celebrations are often influenced by Western culture and are not deeply rooted in Arab traditions.

The level of acceptance and participation in Halloween celebrations can vary widely from one Arab country to another and even within different regions of the same country. Some people embrace the fun and festive aspects of Halloween, while others may view it as a foreign and commercialized event.

From a Shariah perspective, it is impermissible for followers of Islam to partake in customs and practices intrinsically tied to specific cultures, religions, or ideologies, as these may contravene their identity. The teachings of the Prophet of Islam, peace and blessings be upon him, caution against imitating other nations. Consequently, celebrations like Halloween, rooted in the traditions of Western civilization, are prohibited in Islam, as they share commonality with non-Muslim practices.

But such acts which are not related to any particular religion and culture but are performed by different nations without distinction, it is permissible to do them. Halloween is a festival of Western civilization that originated with the tribes of Ireland.  These tribes believed that on the night of October 31, the boundary between the spirits of the living and the dead softened and the spirits could enter the world and harm people, livestock and crops.

To appease the spirits, tribals used to light bonfires, distribute grains and sacrifice cattle on the night of October 31.  The current ritual of Halloween is an evolution of this thought.  Celebrating such festivals is not permissible in Islam but is forbidden due to similarity with non-Muslims.

(The author is a Ganderbal based writer and columnist)

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