As Halloween comes around, some Muslim parents will enquire once again into the shar’i permissibility of allowing their children to dress up in costumes and join in activities such as trick-or-treating. We could get into a long-winded and technical breakdown on what it means to participate in a festival that includes enthusiastically dressing up as Shaitan & Co (regardless of whether one’s child also does or does not) but I think most people, intuitively, can figure out what is appropriate for the people of imaan and followers of the Prophets.
So my point here isn’t to engage with Halloween, but with sentiments that are tangentially raised by some parents when asking me the question: “Is it permissible…because I don’t want the kids to feel left out and it’s good that they integrate/get involved…” So the two points parents reason with are: (1) Integration, and (2) feeling left out. Generally, it’s very important that Muslims integrate rather than segregate for a number of shar’i and political reasons (better explored elsewhere), and fitting in as much as possible (and as much as is feasible in accordance with the shari’ah) normalises people of faith in wider society and helps young believers develop a sense of belonging to their people.
However, the way in which integration and ‘feeling left out’ is used in this context is quite misplaced.
- On a general level, social integration doesn’t necessitate engaging in every single activity/practice people might be up to. And it’s a bit of an overreach to argue that abstaining from certain things qualifies as social segregation. We live in a diverse society, and the word diverse denotes difference. As believers, there are activities we enjoy with others, but others that we logically wouldn’t, and we can reasonably deduce that not all things people of kufr do is acceptable to those of imaan. The fact that we will maintain a healthy and reasonable difference (whilst tolerant) on some matters is a no-brainer. If one takes to integration as absolutists, which really is assimilation, the logical question is why haven’t you gone all the way and joined the majority faith as well? (Not that I’m advocating it any way of course.) There is a notable point of guidance God delivers on this matter: The Prophet Joseph, whilst integrating into Egypt society and identifying with its people, was very clear as to where his divergence was: “I disregard the faith of those who disbelieve in God and deny the life to come.” (12:37)
- Even non-Muslims themselves do not necessarily engage in the same activities. They come together for many events, but intentionally avoid others, either out of some moral concern, or simply because it’s not their thing. On the topic of Halloween, I’ve met atheists who abjectly refuse to allow their children to participate because they abhor anything of a superstitious nature, even where it is only mildly associated.
- Integration is not assimilation: As co-citizens of equal political value, we unite on those commonalities that bind us, and remain tolerant where we differ (which doesn’t preclude civilised disagreement and dialogue). That’s not only to do with matters of faith, but extends to sub-cultures and conceptions of a good life.
As for ‘feeling left out’, it might be beneficial to think about the following, especially in terms of advantageous life-skills for the young:
- There will be a number of things that your children ought to avoid growing up, not only things that are antithetical to a godly outlook, but things that very simply aren’t conducive to their interests. To raise and nurture children without such reflexes is irresponsible. A mentality that seeks to ‘fit in’ unconditionally, even on those matters where there’s good reason not to do so, is destructive. When it comes to matters of faith we’re warned about the ramifications of fitting in with particular associations: “If only I had taken the same path as the Messenger. Woe is me! If only I had not taken so and so as an influencing friend; he led me away from revelation after it reached me.” (25:27-29)
- Fitting in shouldn’t be the cardinal consideration (it’s encouraged as a general norm – Muslims shouldn’t go out of their way to be contrary for the sake of it). All children (regardless ethnicity, faith, and culture) should be cultivated to deeply think about issues and develop a strong sense of discernment to get them intelligently through life, as well as to a good outcome in the hereafter. “They will say: If only we had listened, or (intelligently) reasoned, we would not be with the inhabitants of the blazing fire.” (67:10)
- Occasionally feeling left out cultivates resilience; it is a form of character-building. Such fortitude is one of the foundations of dignity, honour and righteousness. Luqman exhorted his son with such parental advice: “Keep up the prayer my son; command what is right; forbid what is wrong; bear anything that happens to you steadfastly: these are things to be aspired to.” (31:17)
So whilst these two points are generally legitimate considerations in the shari’ah, as with all things we ought to be godly (rabbani) and nuanced in our deliberations. Our approach should build confidence in our wholesome submission to the Most High, based on rational propositions; civil without antagonism; seeking an honourable stead amongst people and a sound heart with which to achieve God’s favour.