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Halloween’s Strange Fruit -Ruth Nasrullah

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The family down the street from me has a 20-foot-long effigy of a body hanging from the branch of a tree in their front lawn. It has a skeletal face fixed in a grimace and long strands of gray hair hanging down in clumps.

I kind of get it – Halloween is about all things ghoulish – but I’m also horrified at the over-the-top morbidity. It makes me think of the old Billie Holiday song inspired by the lynching of two black men, “Strange Fruit”:

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

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I was always really into Halloween. Costumes and candy – it doesn’t get much better than that. Although Halloween is ostensibly about scary and macabre things, it has traditionally been paper cutouts and cartoons – a lampoon of violence and deviltry.

In the last few years as I’ve tried to practice my deen more carefully I’ve had to reconsider Halloween. For a Muslim there is the issue of celebrating a holiday other than eid, but there is also the issue, perhaps bigger, of pretending to commune with evil and darkness, of being a pagan for a day. I understand that, and we do turn out the porch light when the trick-or-treaters come out, but I’d also like to think that schoolchildren don’t take the spookiness to heart. They just want candy.

Over recent years Halloween celebrations in schools have been modified and canceled on a variety of grounds including the apparent occultism, health and security risks, and even the potential offense to Wiccans, the “real witches,” who find the holiday as celebrated by mainstream America to mock their actual religious practice. Halloween is being eroded. Like so many things, it’s far from the same as it was when I was a child. In one Illinois town it even became about patriotism and American culture.

So Halloween has taken a very different meaning than it had when I was a kid, for me personally and for many others, and maybe that’s why the dummy corpse hanging in my neighbor’s tree seems so horrible. Halloween is now about more than bite-sized Milky Ways and fake spiders. It’s about sorting through issues of an increasingly diverse society. I’m sure my neighbors had only good intentions, but you have to wonder if they thought about the images of Saddam’s final moments, or the widely reported hanging executions of gay men in Iran, or the Jena incident, or even America’s own history of lynching in the south. In years past those would have been silly things to think about a Halloween decoration, but the holiday, like the US, isn’t what it once was.

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32 Comments

32 Comments

  1. Moiez

    October 31, 2007 at 10:56 AM

    Speaking of Halloween, My MSA is doing something called halaaloween where you trick or treat and watch movies after. The question is can halloween be halaaloweened?

  2. iMuslim

    October 31, 2007 at 11:05 AM

    Halal-o-ween… Muslims never tire of word play :D

    Those lyrics are very disturbing. The imagery they conjure up… horrific. More scary than anything Haloween-related. That’s all make-believe, and childish pretence (even when adults engage in it)… the twisted exploits of misguided humans… now that’s terrifying.

  3. Umm Layth

    October 31, 2007 at 11:26 AM

    My parents, who are not so much practicing Catholics, did not support us celebrating this back in the days. They told us all the time that the deeper messages that this holiday brings, is sadness, evil, hatred, etc,.

    We still tried to do the candy thing, dress up with what we had, or save our money and just buy things behind their back, unfortunately. We were part of the public school system and everyone else was involved and so we rebelled against our parent’s wishes.

    Even during my pre-Islam days it didn’t feel right. I may have involved myself in it, but I never understood the intentional scaring. Is it allowed to scare people? To mock death? To pretend that evil is okay? I never believed so, and even more so now.

  4. Amad

    October 31, 2007 at 11:39 AM

    Any event or day that celebrated lynching or any other form of human indignation (racism, murder, bigotry, etc.) should be removed from the face of the earth, IMHO. Even if that wasn’t the main or big part of it. The fact that it existed and that there are still remants with black dummies still hanging off nooses as part of the “decorations” tells us that this is not a holy-day, rather it is unholy in many ways, from its origins to its implications. And it is sad when Muslims, in the spirit of “assimilation” completely ignore deeper meanings.

    I wont be surprised if you’ll find many “Muslim-looking” scary figures among the hottest decorations! In fact, if anyone sees anything like this, please do report.

  5. AnonyMouse

    October 31, 2007 at 1:18 PM

    Eek… really quite unpleasant!
    I’ve never cared for Halloween much, although some of the toys and decor that comes out at this time amuses me (anything that has a button to push and says odd things amuses me, so maybe that doesn’t actually count for much, lol); and I can’t wait for Halloween to END because then all the candy goes on sale and we buy them by the bagfuls! :p

  6. SaqibSaab

    October 31, 2007 at 1:50 PM

    I heard that B. Holiday song back in high school when we read American literature from the civil rights movement. The teacher showed a video in which she would perform it at halls and the people would be swayed from emotion because of the wave on lynchings throughout the southern United States.

  7. Pingback:   Halloween’s Strange Fruit by 3stuff

  8. AnonMuslim

    October 31, 2007 at 8:22 PM

    “For a Muslim there is the issue of celebrating a holiday other than eid, but there is also the issue, perhaps bigger, of pretending to commune with evil and darkness, of being a pagan for a day.”

    Seems a bit melodramatic.

    Is anyone really “communing with evil” and “being pagan for a day”?

    I say no. For 99% of the people going out on Halloween, which basically consists of kids ranging from 4-12 yrs old, it’s about dressing up as their favorite cartoon character, messing around with a pumpkin, and getting some free candy.

    Basically doing things that are only acceptable for 1 night out of the entire year. It’s pretty benign in the grand scheme of things

  9. Amad

    October 31, 2007 at 10:44 PM

    perhaps its a bit melodramatic, “AnonMuslim”, but children need not be given conflicting messages at an age where they are already faced with too many cross-roads.

    By making all the evil imagery acceptable to their impressionable mind, albeit for one day, is still a conflicting message— that its ok to be ok with bad stuff for one day in a year. And there are far too many bad things that happen to want this unnecessary holiday to just go away. If kids want to dress up and ask for candy, I am sure parents can arrange other “dressup” parties limited to “favorable” character outfits.

  10. ruth nasrullah

    October 31, 2007 at 11:14 PM

    In my defense, I don’t think it’s melodramatic at all. I’d emphasize that I wrote “pretending to commune with evil,” not actually communing with evil. If you read it with the sentence following it you’ll get my point, which rather agrees with AnonMuslim’s assessment of Halloween:

    “For a Muslim there is the issue of celebrating a holiday other than eid, but there is also the issue, perhaps bigger, of pretending to commune with evil and darkness, of being a pagan for a day. I understand that, and we do turn out the porch light when the trick-or-treaters come out, but I’d also like to think that schoolchildren don’t take the spookiness to heart. They just want candy.”

  11. Sequoia

    October 31, 2007 at 11:32 PM

    Amad, this is one of the rare times I disagree with you…but obvioulsy I do come at this issue from another perspective. Ruth, the noose is truely a disturbing image considering America’s past and the recent incident down in Louisiana. But I do not mot have that smae experience or decoration around here in Las Vegas. I have not seen anything resembling a noose used as decoration for Halloween. So i do think it is a tad unfair to use that incident by your house as symbolism for the Hallowen decorations.

    Again, i can only speak of my past expereinces… but Halloween was a time for me when i wa younger to use my imagination. I understand where you are going Amad with the conflicting views but I never had that experience. To me it was like a scary local disneyland. There was no confusion that the Headless Horseman was real….just fun make believe and dress up. I am not saying this is how it is universally or that your concerns aren’t legitimate, but rather just trying to say that my experience was never like that.

  12. ruth nasrullah

    October 31, 2007 at 11:45 PM

    My point wasn’t that simplistic…what I was saying is that the holiday used to be exactly what you and others described – candy, costumes, a haunted house, maybe. I always loved it and put a lot of effort and imagination into costumes, and of course who doesn’t love candy? But because of the incidents I linked to in the post (and my subsequent comment) and because of my own personally changed perspective, things like bodies hanging from trees just don’t seem as benign as they used to.

  13. Sequoia

    November 1, 2007 at 12:03 AM

    no i see the point ruth……and it does seem strange for a Halloween decoration…and strange as in very uncomfortable feeling also. But again, my persepctive is not as a parent..so I don’t have the same concerns as a parent would.

  14. Umm Layth

    November 1, 2007 at 4:46 AM

  15. Umm Layth

    November 1, 2007 at 4:52 AM

    What is important to understand is that even though Halloween in the past may not have been so dark and evil, the roots of the holiday remain the same. Where does Halloween come from? Who first started this holiday? What was the meaning behind Halloween? Does the fact that it has become candified change the history of this holiday, and its real message?

  16. Andrea

    November 1, 2007 at 7:46 AM

    “Where does Halloween come from? Who first started this holiday?”

    It’s Celtic pagan and nothing to do with “the devil” or “demons”.

    It has bren celebrated in eg Scotland Ireland, Wales and more rural parts of the uk for centuries (btw turnips or swedes were generally used for lanterns – pumpkins not existing here then).

    Roots are lost but it’s generally seen as celebrating the onset of winter and remembering the dead.

    Christian Church took over the festival as All Hallows (All Saints) and the day after as “All Souls”.

    Nothing sinister about it.

  17. AnonyMouse

    November 1, 2007 at 12:09 PM

    Celtic pagan – right there, a reason why we (Muslims) shouldn’t be celebrating it.

  18. Faiez

    November 1, 2007 at 6:49 PM

    Asalaamu alaikum

    I think Halloween is a good opportunity for Da’wah. What other time of year do you have fresh young minds coming to your doorstep ready to get something from you.

    It’d be a good idea to maybe put a piece of paper on the candy that says something about Islam what you believe (seeing that you are their neighbors).

    Or, if you have money, buy like mp3 players or USB Keys and put something like ‘a gift from you Muslim neighbors’ and put like a hadith or something about Islam.

    Any other ideas?

    Asalaamu alaikum

  19. Andrea

    November 7, 2007 at 9:20 PM

    Hi all, I wasn’t saying that you /should/celebrate Hallowe’en; clearly it doesn’t have a place in your spiritual calender .Just wanted to dispel some myths about the Devil/Satan/demons etc.

    For me it’s just a time when I think about all those generations that have died before me, and have contributed to our civilisation. Nothing sinister.

    Not a big deal, nothing to be frightened of.

  20. Pingback: Retread: Halloween’s Strange Fruit | MuslimMatters.org

  21. MR

    October 31, 2008 at 9:34 AM

    Man, I’d be playing my video games or on my PC during Halloween Night. Much better!

  22. Miako

    October 31, 2008 at 10:00 AM

    Faiez,

    You give good ideas! Please don’t be like those a**hole Fundie Christians, who pass out hatred tracts (talking about how the kids are going to hell, and with pictures!).

    I’d like it if we could celebrate a bit of everyone’s holidays… maybe not to the point of making them religious, but for the experience! It’s just a way to understand other people and their holidays…

  23. Fahad

    October 31, 2008 at 2:54 PM

    When I was a kid, to me it was a simple and a very fun holiday where I got a lot of candies and I never looked at it as being a day that would be detrimental for my upbringing as a person.

    Personally going into this society as a youth with all the fitnahs, whether in school, universities or work is the biggest horror for a child or person than to worry about a trick or treat day where they wear masks and collect candy.

    I do think the holiday does not make any sense at all obviously but it is a societys way of doing things and a child wants to have fun. If its safe, sound and something the kid will look back and said that he did, than its helpful for him when he grows up. There are other things that kids want to experiment in todays world, better this than that.

    However, I do agree that like the US, the holiday isn’t once was.

  24. Suhail

    October 31, 2008 at 3:05 PM

    It is a pagan celebration. Why you even want to celebrate it? I have no idea.

  25. ibnabeeomar

    October 31, 2008 at 4:39 PM

    Personally going into this society as a youth with all the fitnahs, whether in school, universities or work is the biggest horror for a child or person than to worry about a trick or treat day where they wear masks and collect candy.

    actually the friday khutbah i heard today specifically talked about this.

    this is a microcosm of a bigger issue, and that is establishing a sound muslim identity for people growing up in this society. yes, we’re different. the sahabah were different, they were tortured for being different, the seerah is full of examples of people persevering through difficulties because they were ‘different’ and not so integrated in.

    but here’s the questions that come up:

    1) do we as parents, educate our children about what these holidays are, and why they go against our iman, which is much more precious than “a mask and some candy”

    2) have we taught our children the inspirational stories of the sahabah and acquainted them with the seerah?

    3) why does celebrating halloween and christmas define being part of society? why dont we integrate into society by partaking in actions that really affect society and “integrate” us like volunteering our time at homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and tons of other activities that are of common concern to all of us in society (muslim or not)

    The last point to mention is that, we should be strict on these issues, but at the same time, when its time for eid, we should go all out and celebrate on those occassions, and teach our kids that *this* is our time to have fun and celebrate.

  26. Suhail

    October 31, 2008 at 5:56 PM

    Jazakallah Khair brother Ibn Abee Omar. That is what i am trying to say. We need to understand the concept of Al wala al bara. You cant take one thing from Islam and then reject the other things. Celebrating Pagan festivals is not allowed in Islam. As muslims we work with non muslims in everything that is good and we stay away from the things that angers Allah and is against what Islam stands for. It is as simple as that. It is not rocket science.

  27. Zahra

    October 31, 2008 at 6:44 PM

    In addition to morbidity one might consider the outright sexism and commodification of women that is perpetuated far more than usual on Halloween as food for thought.

    Some interesting information on people of faith and Halloween (historice details and all) by Irtiza Hasan can be found here: http://muslamics.blogspot.com/2008/10/people-of-faith-halloween.html

  28. UmmH

    November 2, 2008 at 10:30 AM

    Salamalaikum,

    Are there no moderators here? Why is Miako’s comment regarding fundamental Christians not deleted?

    • Maverick

      October 12, 2009 at 5:11 PM

      UmmH

      Why should all comments on this website only reflect one particular view or opinion? I didn’t see what was so terrible about the comment that Miako wrote.

      Live and let live.

  29. Alexis

    October 12, 2009 at 4:32 PM

    As a new convert, My views will always be the same- I will let my children decide if they want take part and if they do , I will help them pick out a costume that doesn’t depict anything satanic- my son wants to be a transformer, I will give out candy and string orange lights and pick out certain decorations- Smiley spiders and cats- and spider webs, as for me- i have to halloween parties to go to- one at my sons school and help with things at my university- always keeping allah in my heart- i have had issues with other about my wearing hijab- snickering and making jokes- sometimes even faces! but I just smile at them and keep walking. as for thanksgiving, it is a part of my heritage- being a native american. christmas is just retail stuff and as for the whole Jesus birthday- i personally don’t agree that the exact date was december 23

    • Cherine

      October 18, 2009 at 6:32 AM

      ASA Alexis – while I appreciate your democratic family ideals in letting children decide certain things, is it your JOB to parent them and guide them in the fundamental things of their life that will direct them in everything else.

      You would be allowing them to make decisions at an age where they are really not equipped to fully understand the basis or context of certain decisions. Will you also allow them to decide now whether or not they want to make their salat, go to college, do their homework, etc. – these are decisions a parent INSTILLS in their children from when they are very young.

      You are very young in your deen – insha’Allah as time goes on you will base your decisions on sound facts (just like you did with your hijab) not simply your feelings on a certain matter. Stay strong, sis.

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