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Navigating Halloween Celebrations in Saudi Arabia as a Muslim Mom in America

Saudi Arabia celebrated Halloween this year, a once-banned festival where people dressed up in scary costumes and took to the streets of Riyadh. The world watched as the widely advertised “Scary Weekend” went viral and sparked controversy across the globe. Perhaps it is time for a key question: As most of the Muslim world looks to Saudi Arabia for its important decisions, should it now accept Halloween as a celebration that should be practiced every year?

Recall the hadith of the Prophet (pbuh), where he said, “The final hour will not come until my followers imitate the deeds of the previous nations and follow them very closely, span by span, and cubit by cubit (inch by inch)” (Sahih Bukhari). Some may find that this narration is obvious enough in its reference to wrongdoing and that participating in such an event would be a clear violation of Islamic conduct. Others may see Halloween as harmless, believing that only extremists would call it un-Islamic. Despite the fact that we may have a difference of opinion or a need to clarify what the word ‘imitate’ means in this context, one thing is clear: every parent must know where they stand on this issue and many others that will ultimately arise as we are raising the next generation of Muslims in the West. 

It is poignant, then, to explore what Halloween truly stands for, not just in a religious sense, but in appealing to our common sense as well.

One can be Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, or of any other ideology and still recognize that this issue is not solely religious. It is about how we, as conscientious humans, ultimately want to raise our families. It’s about us conveying to our children what our core beliefs are as a family, and being true to those principles. It is also about making sure that we properly guide our children and follow through with our actions and decisions as parents in ways that are healthy for them psychologically and spiritually.

So Is Halloween really just another harmless holiday or should we think twice before celebrating it?

That decision ultimately rests on the individual, but as an educator who has frequently dealt with students of various backgrounds and their parents, and as a mother with twenty years of experience in raising my children, I have a number of considerations to offer on this topic. The questions I share below have helped me in reviewing my own beliefs and solidifying my own decision on doing what is best for my family.

When deciding how to address Halloween with your children, consider the following questions:

Does this celebration and its elements fall in line with our personal beliefs and morals as a family?

This question can apply to any family with any religious background. It is not solely a reflection for Muslim parents. As a teacher, I have conversed with Catholic and Buddhist mothers who asked me to not allow their children to participate in Halloween festivities. They explained that it was a holiday that went against their family beliefs due to its origin and association with the underworld, an explanation I completely understood and respected. Whether such a holiday matches with our family ideals is the first question to ask ourselves. 

We must also consider whether the theme of scaring or harming others for amusement is one that we want our children to participate in and unconsciously accept, considering how the film and entertainment industry portrays Halloween as a social norm that cannot be questioned. Even further, do we want our children to develop fear of characters or concepts as though they have greater power than God Himself?

Do I know the origins and history of the celebration?

It is of crucial importance to ask ourselves whether we are blindly following a trendy holiday without being aware of its symbolism. As parents, we cannot just endorse or participate in events without knowing why they are celebrated and where they originated from. 

Halloween has origins in Celtic mythology that believes the veil of the “otherworld” and our world thins during Samhein, a festival that historians have linked to Halloween, making it easier for spirits and the souls of the dead to return to this world. Ominous legends hold that jack-o’-lanterns, a Halloween symbol, are in reference to a drunkard named Jack who made a deal with Satan and continues to wander the Earth until he can find an eternal resting place. To read more, visit this page: Halloween.

Is “fitting in” more important than having our children follow our core beliefs?

There comes a point where we have to consider what we are willing to compromise, even if that means not being true to who we are. The most influential people in history, be they religious, philosophical, or inventive, were different. They most definitely did not fit the status quo and did not make efforts to fit in.

Many influential figures throughout history, such as Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) and Jesus, Buddha, Ghanaian and Socrates were mocked and made fun of for not following social norms. Some were even jailed or tortured. They dared to be different and stood up for what they believed in, despite enormous societal pressures.

Islamically, as the Holy Prophet (pbuh) said, “Islam came as something strange and will return as something strange, so give glad tidings to the strangers.”  From this, we learn that we are not meant to fit in, but to be defined and set a high moral precedent for ourselves and our families.

Is it more important to give children what they want or what they need?

Children naturally follow after feel-good activities and desires, as it is part of their sensitive developmental stages of learning. Our job as parents is to guide them through their emotions and lead them away from impulses towards a more reflective and meaningful lifestyle.

While they may complain and show discontent, we know what our children need and must trust our intuition as mothers. After all, if we leave them to their desires, most kids would eat ice cream and candy for food, never bathe properly, and stay up past midnight to watch YouTube videos or play video games.

All mothers want better for their children than that. Sometimes, that entails making hard decisions that they may not understand just yet, and that’s fine.

How to involve others if you decide not to celebrate 

Spouse – Have a heart-to-heart talk with your spouse about your feelings. You must both be on the same page for the children. Reach a mutual decision that you both agree is best for the family and stick to that decision. Inconsistency just confuses the children.

Family – It can be difficult to deal with the larger family. I have always sung a different tune than other family members and got a lot of backlash for it. In hindsight, however, I am happy I listened to my intuition and I am proud of how my children have turned out. Do what you feel is right for your children, and come to terms with the fact that others may not see eye-to-eye with you, even if they are family. 

Teacher – Tell your child’s teacher that you do not wish for your child to participate in Halloween celebrations. It is 2022 and we live in a multicultural world. As parents, we are free to practice our faith and raise our children as we see fit. That is the beauty of freedom of religion and practicing our faith as a given right. If we feel constrained, as the Prophet (pbuh) did at one time, the world is vast; we can explore our options and Allah (SWT) will make a way for those who are steadfast Insha’Allah.

Friends – I would advise keeping your child home if there is a party at school. If other mothers or friends want to make the same decision, do it together. If there are any stay-at-home mothers, they could stay with the children or engage them in a creative way. Remember, If there is a will, there’s a way.

After reflecting through the above questions, and deciding not to celebrate, I chose to live in a way that I felt was best for my family.

I have had to come up with creative ways to make the children happy. I thought outside of the box on the matter and was fine with the reality that my children or my family may not understand every reason for my decisions.

I told my children the history of Halloween. I helped them understand why we don’t celebrate it and how it does not align with our family values. I told them I love them and want them to be happy, and for Allah (swt) to be happy with them. I helped them recognize that there are so many other things that are better for us as a family that we can do. I gave them options that were healthy and worked better with our core principles.

In the end, our family decided to focus on the changing season and went apple and pumpkin picking. We made all sorts of yummy treats together and made the season more about spending time together. Now, my children look forward to autumn every year and barely care about Halloween.

If you take something away, replace it with something better. It will teach children that there are many halal options for them. They will then seek them in other situations, insha’Allah. 

“The good deed and the evil deed cannot be equal. Repel evil with that which is better” (Holy Qur’an 41:34) 

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