Arguments among Muslims regarding the permissibility of Halloween are not new, but this year they took place against a surprising background of Muslims dressed up as zombies and other monsters strolling around the streets of Saudi Arabia, where the government had sponsored a “horror weekend.”
In the West, Islamists were outraged. Prominent Deobandi cleric Yasir Nadeem Al Wajidi, hurried to clarify that Halloween was in fact “Haramoween” [forbidden] and that a “bunch of pseudo zombies […] on Saudi streets don’t make it halal [permissible].”
Meanwhile, Texas-based hardline Islamist Daniel Haqiqatjou claimed that Madkhalis, a term used to refer to followers of the Saudi scholar Rabee Al-Madkhali that tend to loyally support Saudi rulers, had declared his blood to be halal (i.e. authorizing his murder) because he had criticized the new Saudi tolerance of Halloween.
Muslim Skeptic, Haqiqatjou’s publication, had posted a piece on Saudi Arabia’s Halloween festival. Writing under the pseudonym of Crypto Cranium, the author warned about Saudi Arabia facing “significant threats to its preservation of a traditional Islamic society,” the latest of which taking the “form of a huge Halloween party.” Citing Saudi’s other supposedly un-Islamic activities, such as authorizing concerts, he asked “exactly how much will have to happen before Muslims vehemently oppose these ‘rulers’ of modernizing Muslim countries like Saudi?”
The implication that Muslims should revolt against Saudi Arabia apparently resulted in virulent Madkhali criticism of Haqiqatjou who reacted furiously on his Telegram channel. He accused Madkhalis of believing that he “should be killed for opposing the normalization of Halloween” and dismissed them as a “a deranged, dangerous cult that has nothing to do with Islam.”
However, Omar Chatila, a Florida-based Salafi, noted that he and many others had in fact condemned the celebration in Saudi Arabia, and that their criticism of Haqiqatjou had nothing to do with Halloween but was based on his “spreading fitna [discord],” “inciting rebellion,” and “trying to destroy the Muslim countries.”
One Madkhali page did indeed condemn Halloween, but did so in classical Madkhali fashion by framing the problem in a curiously specific way, stating that “trick-or-treating may be considered extortion or begging, and Muslims are not allowed to coerce or bribe others.”
The page also posted a recent ruling by well-known Saudi Shaykh Al Fawzan who must have found himself in the most uncomfortable position of being unable to harshly condemn the celebration without it being interpreted as criticism of the Saudi regime. Carefully avoiding the issue of the impermissibility of Halloween, he noted that while it is obligatory to advise Muslim rulers, “trying to reach out to them from the gatherings and the pulpits is considered to be the impermissible backbiting.” Al-Fawzan additionally warned against criticizing Islamic scholars and expressed his suspicion that such criticism “is a conspiracy from outside this land and its perpetrators are of foreign origin.”
Al-Fawzan would no doubt be displeased by American Islamist Hamza wald Maqbul’s very popular post. In a tweet that was liked more than 600 times, Maqbul said that he didn’t know why “everyone is freaking out about Saudis celebrating Halloween” and joked that the prominent Saudi imam Al-Sudais, who regularly leads prayer in the Grand Mosque of Makkah, “has been dressing up like a scholar at this point for years.”
Some American Islamists denounced Halloween without referring to Saudi Arabia. Zaid Shakir bemoaned “the tragedy of our times” that is “the easy willingness some Muslims accept practices, rituals or cultural symbols that have their roots in demonic or occult practices” such as “halaloween” parties.
The Islamic Center of Hagerstown in Maryland took the issue much more seriously and published a 39-page long booklet by a certain Sheikh Faruq compiling reasons to fear Halloween. It included a reference to an alleged claim by Satanists that “when you dress up for Halloween, you give the devil the legal rights to change your identity.”
Along with a stereotypically Islamist prayer asking God to “save us from all deviations and innovations that will lead us into the fires of Hell,” Faruq also expressed the more pragmatic request that God “aid us to recognize our enemies that try to adorn for us misguidance in the forms of glitters, gold, candy, costumes and parties.”
In Canada, Salafi imam Younus Kathrada focused on condemning the Islamic centers “holding events as an ‘alternative’ to Halloween or Christmas.” Kathrada described this practice as “quite dangerous” and likely to teach “children that these days are of significance and we just have a different way of celebrating them.” Indeed, the Canadian Al Falah Islamic Center had organized a “halaloween” party which was promptly denounced by The Reign of Islamic Dawah (Troid), a Canadian Salafi organization, as an example of “pacification, normalisation and utter imitation of the people of disbelief and their evil traditions.” Troid claimed the party was a result of “the weakness and tomfoolery you get when nurtured upon the ikhwāni [Muslim Brotherhood] methodology.”
In the midst of these arguments, Muslim Girl, a publication that is reviled by Islamists, offered “10 creative Halloween costume ideas for the modest gal” as well as “last-minute makeup looks to save your costume.” But the most provocative Halloween suggestion undoubtedly came from HEART, a Muslim organization whose progressive views on gender relations and women’s rights regularly places it at odds with Islamists. It sarcastically offered “extra scary options” for Halloween costumes. These included dressing up as the “Haram Police,” a derogatory term for Muslims who are obsessed with other Muslims’ religious practices. The costume was said to be “complete” with “their nose in everyone else’s business” and a “superiority complex.”
While this year’s celebrations in Saudi Arabia may have encouraged Islamists in the West to be more outspoken than usual, these virulent reactions are symbolic of the fear that their dogmatic interpretations of Islam are not being taken seriously by many Western Muslims. It doesn’t appear that “halaloween” celebrations were widespread and so, Islamist concerns about these events are unlikely to be justified. But as the posts by Muslim Girl and HEART show, many Muslims do not see Halloween as inherently incompatible with Islam and the Islamist opposition to the holiday can seem outdated. Given that Halloween has been eagerly embraced in Saudi Arabia, a country where it is not a tradition, how much longer can Islamists really expect Muslims in the West to reject the holiday?
Martha Lee is a research fellow for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.