Starting around the beginning of October, my kids started seeing Halloween decorations popping up on people’s front lawns and Halloween costumes at the grocery store.
One weekend in early October, they went to visit grandparents whose next-door neighbors go above and beyond with their Halloween decorations. They set up an entire scene on their front yard, from a witch stirring potion that produced actual bubbles in a big vat, to a skeleton riding a carriage, to carved pumpkins, to flying ghosts. The works.
My kids stood by this dazzling display and stared.
Back at home, we had a long and lively discussion about Halloween, after I listened patiently to the detailed description of the neighbors’ setup. It was disconcerting for me, although very natural, to hear the excitement in their voices.
I had to explain it in a way that didn’t generate even more fascination in them with Halloween but also answered all the questions. When I answer their questions about things that non-Muslims do, I generally stick to the truth and explain things matter-of-factly. I never lie to them or pacify them with some little-kid fantasy that has no basis in reality.
“Do you guys know how Halloween started? It used to be called All Hallows Eve. It was made up by some pagans and polytheists, مشركين. (My kids know about مشركين from the stories of Quraysh. We talk about the differences betweenمشركين, polytheists, ملحدين, atheists, نصارى, Christians, يهود, Jews, etc. And how Islam is distinct from all of the above.)
These pagans were scared of things like ghosts, like dead people coming back to life. They had all these superstitions, which are irrational fears. They were scared of things like witches, bats, skeletons, ghosts. So they dedicated a whole holiday to these things to try to protect themselves from the things they feared.
Now it’s changed into a holiday that most non-Muslims, including Christians and Jews and people of other religions, celebrate by dressing up in scary costumes and going to strangers’ houses to get candy.
The phrase they say is: “Trick or treat!” This means: “Either you give us candy or we will do a trick on you!” So people give them candy.”
My 4-year-old interjected indignantly, “That is not fair. You can’t say that to someone!” (Kids have a strong sense of justice and fairness, and this random demand for free candy and threatening didn’t sit well with him.)
“Yes, you’re right,” I said. “It is kind of pushy.”
My 5-year-old added, “Plus too much candy will mess up their teeth.”
I nodded, trying to stifle a laugh. My 5-year-old is the one with the biggest sweet tooth.
My 7-year-old said, “Why did they feel so scared of those things? Especially dead people. They can never come back to life except for on يوم القيامة, the Day of Judgment!” (We talk extensively about the events of the Day of Judgment and humans being resurrected by Allah, since it is often referred to in the short surahs of جزء عم, the 30th juz’.)
“That’s true,” I said. “Plus, as Muslims, we know that we don’t have to fear anyone or anything except Allah. We don’t fear fake things like witches or skeletons or ghosts. These are silly things that people made up themselves. They are not real. But Shaytan likes to make people feel fear, so they obey him and not Allah.
Besides, we have our own awesome Muslim holidays! Which ones do we celebrate?”
“Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr!” The kids answered excitedly.
“Yep. And those are based on true events and the revelation of Allah, not the imaginations of people who worship fake gods. We celebrate things that are worthy of celebration, not out of fear of imaginary things or stuff we made up ourselves.
Islam is perfect as it is, as Allah has written in the Quran and as the prophet Muhammad -s- has shown to us through his life. Imagine a cup that is filled with water, right up to the brim. What would happen if you tried to pour something else into it?”
“It would run over and spill!”
“Exactly,” I said. “If we try to add anything new to Islam that isn’t a part of it, something else will spill out. We are ruining the perfectly full cup and trying to add strange things to it that don’t belong. So we don’t celebrate other holidays other than the ones Allah has already given us.”
This seemed to make sense to them. The conversation turned naturally to other subjects and we moved on with our day.
Next weekend, when the kids went to visit Grandpa again, there was a problem. When Grandpa talked to them about going trick or treating, they told him straight up that we don’t celebrate Halloween and that it’s based on pagan origins.
This announcement did not go down well. Grandpa kept insisting that Halloween is a perfectly innocent holiday that has nothing to do with religion and isn’t un-Islamic and is only about having fun and eating candy.
So the kids and I had a follow-up conversation at home, about family members who are Muslim but think differently than we do, or who don’t identify themselves as Muslims at all.
“We love our relatives and family members. They are family and we have to respect them and love them, especially when they are older than us,” I began.
I was trying to get the wording just right. I didn’t want to agree with Grandpa’s statement and confuse the kids but I also didn’t want to tarnish the image of Grandpa in their young eyes.
“But sometimes our relatives believe in things that are not part of Islam. They might think that something is Islamic or perfectly acceptable, but it isn’t. What do we do when that happens? We just let it go without fighting or arguing with them, but we don’t follow their way, either. Like for example, in this case, we know that Muslims don’t celebrate Halloween and that it’s a silly event, but we don’t want to hurt Grandpa’s feelings. So if he brings up Halloween again, we can just let it go and talk about something else. We don’t agree with him when he’s wrong, but we don’t start a fight with him either. We don’t want him to feel bad, right?”
“Right,” the kids said.
“Maybe Grandpa doesn’t like to be corrected by someone younger than him,” one child speculated.
“Maybe,” I said. “But either way, our love for Grandpa is strong enough to last through things like disagreement or confusion over these matters. We love him and will listen to him in all the things that are true and that he’s right in. But if he’s wrong (and we are all human!) we still love him but we just won’t listen to that part.”