Halloween in the Middle East: Haraam or tradition? Indeed, partaking in celebrations of pagan origins, such as Halloween, is HARAAM (forbidden) in Islam. As Prophet Muhammad (puh) warned to his followers:
“Whoever imitates a nation is one of them!” (Abu Da’oud)
Thus, all Muslims are expected to condemn pagan and non-Sunna traditions such as Halloween, Christmas and even birthdays, as they are all considered a type of shirk (idolatry). Regardless…is Halloween in the Middle East still celebrated? How many Muslims, and non-Muslims, in the Arab world still trick-or-treat among conflicting traditions and beliefs? We’ll find out about Halloween celebrations (or condemnations!) in a couple of Middle Eastern countries today.
“Save the celebration, the fun and games, for our ‘Eid festivals. Children […] should learn that we only acknowledge holidays that have a religious significance to us as Muslims” instructs the article “Halloween in Islam” (Islam.about.com)
As a Christian and a foreigner, I do question whether Arabs still dress up and go to Halloween-themed parties regardless of what their faith “instructs” them to do. Just ask me, a Christian who went to Catholic schools her whole life. I remember clearly the countless of sermons at school regarding this “evil day and celebrations” that are “corrupting our world, corrupting our children, corrupting our lives”! I still dressed up, mom still took my sister and me trick-or-treating. But she had a policy: “You can never wear a devil or spooky costume!” I asked mom why was that, she told me she heard stories of children dying Exorcist-style from wearing those in Halloween (and she actually believed this could happen to her daughters). Talk about superstitions!
Likewise, Halloween in the Middle East is still an event. Just like Christians & other religions in the West condemn it yet some still celebrate it, this Celtic import is still somewhat alive in Arab nations.
I got a countless amount of Halloween party invitations from several clubs and friends of mine living in Egypt. May I emphasize though, 99.9% of those evnts were being held in the cities of Cairo (mainly in Zamalek & Maadi neighborhoods), Sharm El Sheikh, and Hurghada, which is where most tourists and foreigners are. And while many Egyptians claim that Halloween and any event related to it are the “expats’ fault,” it is really a mix of both locals and foreigners who still partake in spooky celebrations. I do, however, still know that more Egyptians agree that Halloween is haraam. So what is it, really? I found a poll posted by an Egyptian Muslim on a forum that said that around 90% of Egyptians do not celebrate Halloween — without a source on it. Take it as you wish!
UAE & Persian Gulf
According to user Elphaba, the main moderator of UAE ExpatForum.com, it is “not a big thing” in the Emirates. Furthermore, he argued, “many people don’t have a clue about it.” While you will find Halloween items on sale in certain shops, “cultural caution” is urged, meaning do not go trick-or-treating around your neighborhood or go all-out when it comes to Halloween decor unless you live in a “Westernized” or expat (mostly non-Muslim) community. As a result, most foreigners and liberal Arabs organize Halloween costume house parties or attend the few themed events at select hotels in the main cities around Dubai and Abu Dhabi (see flyer above).
On the other hand, it is quite popular in the Gulf countries (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait) to celebrate a holiday strikingly similar to Halloween during the Holy month of Ramadan, called Qarqe’an (month varies anually, based on lunar calendar). Just like in “pagan Halloween,” children dress-up in traditional costumes and go “trick-or-treating” (read: Go door-to-door singing to get nuts and candy). Cool huh?
Halloween in the Middle East and Jewish tradition…same same or different? Halloween in Judaism was described as follows by Tzvi Freeman on an article published on Chabad.org:
“Since Abraham and Sarah broke away from the Sumerian cult of gods and demons, we have lived amongst other peoples while being very different from them. And we dramatically changed the world by being that way”
Parallel to Muslim beliefs, Freeman argues that Jews were called by God to separate from pagans and thus, should not celebrate Halloween. Furthermore, the author made sure to explain how Jewish children still have fun, exchange gifts/treats and even “dress up as as sages, princesses, heroes and clowns” on the Jewish holiday called Purim. While it is not celebrated in October (but in March instead), they still got a “Holy Halloween” or so to speak!
Conversely, there are also many Israelis that celebrate the spooky Halloween on October 31st. Clubs and bars host special events and costume contests, just like residents throw house parties and some even go trick-or-treating in certain neighborhoods all throughout Israel.
What I like to call a “geographical hybrid” between Europe and Middle East, Halloween in Turkey is inevitably another mix of the East and the West. However, the TurkishWineForum.com emphasizes that not only finding a pumpkin, but also finding a Halloween costume can be quite a challenge in Turkey, even in Istanbul:
“- Finding a pumpkin may not be as easy a task in Istanbul, unless you use the greenish white variety of squash
– Finding a costume is also a challenge so a bit more creativity and an ability to use face paint well is definitely a must
– The trick-or-treating aspect of Halloween may not work too well either […] (Your neighbor) would probably grab the nearest broom and beat you with it”
What to do if one is traveling during Halloween in the Middle East, particularly through Turkey!? As our UAE expat forum friends, it is recommended to either stick to house parties or find a Halloween party at some glitzy hotel in the city. Oh, by the way, click here for a list of places to buy costumes and Halloween treats in Istanbul, compliments of Talya Arditi at TheGuideIstanbul.com!
While its government is known to be more secular, Syria is one of the more conservative Middle Eastern countries when it comes to traditions. Naturally, if you wish to celebrate Halloween in the Middle East, Syria should be on the top of your “countries to avoid in October” list. But…go to celebrate it in December instead? On December 4th, Arab Christians do have a holiday very similar to Halloween, called Eid Il-Burbara (Saint Barbara’s Day). Not only does it include wearing costumes, but also a version of trick-or-treating and some songs to sing along while at it!
Whether you think Halloween in the Middle East is HARAAM or tradition, one thing is certain: Everywhere in the world, no matter the celebration, there will always be some that condemn it and others that celebrate it, no matter the background, religion, or race. The “fight between good and evil” will always remain!
Have you experienced Halloween in the Middle East? Comment below!