As a kid, my parents didn't have an issue with my going out on Halloween and trick-or-treating. They didn't even hassle us much about bringing home too much candy. Their main concern was probably the same one my sisters and I had: what if we bit into an apple with a razor blade into it?? That was the fear much of America seemed to have in my day -- as if kids of our generation actually had an iota of interest in healthy apples when presented with so many other, more decadent options.
It didn't dawn on me until years later that there are significant chunks of the American public who avoid Halloween, either because it elevates violence (and candy corn), or because of its roots. There are Christians who avoid celebrating Halloween because of its ties to pagan traditions. Plenty of Orthodox Jews don't celebrate, either.
But a couple weeks ago, as I was agonizing over what costume my kid should wear on Halloween, I started wondering about her Muslim friends and classmates, and whether I'd seen them in our little neighborhood parade in the past.
As it turns out, the issue of whether or not to celebrate Halloween is one that many Muslims think about.
"You have posed a very controversial question in the Muslim/Arab world," wrote Liali Albana, in response to my query.
Albana lives in Princeton, New Jersey, and grew up celebrating, although her parents had reservations.
"We thought [of it as] a fun secular celebration that included dressing up and free candy," she wrote. "What more could a kid want?"
These days, Albana says she strongly discourages her son from celebrating, because it's not one of the two main holidays celebrated in Islam. And he's fine with that.
"The fact that he goes to a private school helps a lot too," she wrote, noting that the school organizes alternative activities so that kids don't feel left out. "He often asks me, 'Mommy, what's the point of scaring people? Why do they have a holiday that scares people?' And add to that the idea of mischief night, and you realize that it really is not a harmless holiday. It does not teach us any valuable or moral lessons. It is exactly the opposite. It teaches us that scaring others, throwing eggs at their door, wrapping their porch with toilet paper, and eating a lot of candy is alright. Not to forget the fact that Halloween is a holiday that is still significant for alot of pagan rituals and witch craft."
Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher is Muslim and is organizing the trick-or-treating in her Manhattan building, but she's also an academic who studied 70 Pakistani students in a public high school in New York City. In her dissertation she wrote:
Not surprisingly, none of the youth had any plans on celebrating Halloween, but what was a little unexpected was the way two students, Basaam and once again Tanveer talked about the holiday. Both of them referred to Halloween as a “holiday of the devil” and then laughed as if they were in on a secret that others did not know about. Their reaction implied to me that they thought that they were “superior” because they had no desire to engage in this “pagan” holiday. Yet, to me, their reaction seemed to be a defensive mechanism to cope with their positioning of outsiders--a consequence of the racism in the aftermath of September 11th.
Ameena told me that none of the kids she observed followed Thanksgiving either, or Valentine's Day. In her opinion, "it is a class thing."
"Kids from working class families seem to have a much more restricted view of what is considered "haraam" and "halaal" - and I mean this beyond food!" she wrote. "Beyond class, I think some (national) groups have more restrictive notions of Islam (e.g. Pakistanis are more restrictive than, say, Lebanese Muslims etc)."
It's not just Muslim immigrants who have second thoughts about celebrating. Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, author of "Green Deen," is black, and his early associations with Halloween are distinctly unpleasant.
"I grew up in NYC at a time when murders were at an all time high, when shootouts and automatic gunfire was normal to hear at night, and when my schoolyard was littered with crack vials," he wrote. "On Halloween kids took it as an opportunity to act extra wild; they would beat people up, steal stuff, etc, Halloween was an excuse to be stupid, crazy, and dangerous - another reason i wanted nothing to do with it."
Abdul-Matin is married to an Indian-born Muslim, and they don't plan to celebrate, when they have kids, or to create an alternative event.
"I think parents who secretly felt left out, or who want to be "normal" force the normative experience or the fear of not being left out on their kids. I think folks have to be clear - this is not what we do. End of story."
However, Paula Desrochers-Yakout says she lets her kids dress up, provided they wear "halal" costumes, "such as a pumpkin or a Disney character."
"Halloween just seems American and taking that away to me just seems to be one more thing that makes them different and not really appreciate being Muslim," she wrote. "I want my kids to love being Muslim – not to feel like they are SO different than those that they go to school with. I want them to be PROUD that they celebrate Eid but also have one thing in common that they have fun with."