Reconsidering the non-Muslim holidays
By Noor Saadeh
October 2021 and it was holiday time. Not Eid of course. The American holidays. Culture shock awaited me when I returned from a wonderful summer in Jordan with jaunts to the indescribably beautiful and historic Istanbul and plunged straight into the “Holiday Season.”
Actually, I was relieved to have missed the buildup. Over the years I found myself and so many other, who may be considered conservative, Muslims getting caught up in all the fuss and revelry simply because it’s in our face every minute.
Before the 1900s and the advent of marketing (cleverly depicted in AMC’s period drama “Mad Men” (2007-15), these holidays were simply not such a big deal. Thanksgiving was simply a time for celebrating the harvest, gratitude to one’s Creator and gathering the family. There was no Black Friday mayhem or Cyber Monday, no month-long rush to decorate, buy gifts, send cards, eat, drink and be merry for 30 days, culminating in a drunken revelry come New Year’s Eve followed by yet more feasting, football frenzy and after-holiday sales. What a brilliant plan to add more money to the big business’ coffers.
So, when I began to see social media posts advocating Halaloween, I went a little crazy. The much respected and beloved American scholar Zaid Shaker posted, reminding us of Halloween’s questionable origins (“Between the Deen and Halloween,” https://www.facebook.com/imamzaidshakir). What was surprising and shocking was the vehemence of fellow Muslims’ responses. How dare he spoil their harmless fun, taking candy out of the mouths of Muslim children, depriving them of yet another holiday that everyone celebrates and has little to do with its former traditions. Wow! One for all the armchair scholars out there. What’s happening to us? Okay, celebrate Halloween or any other non-Muslim holiday with your little ones. “There’s no compulsion in religion” (2:256) and “To you your way and to me mine” (109:6). But attack the scholar? We need a reset.
We can talk — and we have talked — about the origins of most of these holidays. Pagan, satanic even, insulting to our Indigenous brothers and sisters and others. But let’s take a real look at what’s behind all the lights, glamor and fun that observant Muslims feel so deprived of or are warned away from. It’s all about making money. Period. And like our fellow citizens, we fall for it hook, line and sinker.
As I spend time in both the Middle East and the U.S., I see a worrying trend in Muslim lands. After all, the holidays are big moneymakers and that’s what matters, right? Dabke dancing Santas in Jerusalem? Even the idea of the very European concept of Christmas trees and snowmen decorations in the lands that Jesus (‘alayhi as salam) walked and lived in seems ludicrous.
Last year in Jordan, more young people, even girls in hijab, were donning Halloween costumes and various malls offered Haunted House venues. Parents were eager to pose their children for selfies alongside goblins and ghouls. Photos of Amman’s Queen Alia Airport looked positively festive with Christmas decorations and holiday offerings everywhere. Food, fashion and holiday traditions appear like a tsunami, emanating from California and reaching Japan, taking everything and everyone in its path. Sadly, Muslims are all-too-willing victims.
Succumbing to pop culture pressure, constant need for more endorphin hits and the unrelenting search for pleasure, happiness and ease affects us all. There are plenty of Qur’anic verses that elaborate the reality of life: tests, trials and struggle. However, it’s safer and easier to go with the flow.
Overseas, to raise the most intelligent children with access to brilliant futures pushes many parents to send them to international schools where Islamic studies are diluted more each year. Native-speaker English teachers are highly sought after, and with them come exposure and the use of the Western holidays as a “fun” teaching tool. My Arab neighbors here, complain that their grandchildren living in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries cannot communicate with them in Arabic. Their first language being English.
Similar reports from other Muslim countries confirm a worrying trend. Foreign domestic help that tend to raise many children of more affluent families in the region also exacerbate the situation. They speak only English to their charges and expose them further to all things Western. Can Muslims step back, turn off the media for a moment, breathe and recall what God advises and warns us about in Quran and ask ourselves where we are going with all this?
Most of us know of the irreligious aspects of the Western/non-Muslim holidays. Yet knowing the inappropriate background no longer seems to deter us. So, let’s raise a few other objections as to why it might not be in our best interests to support and spend our hard-earned cash for these festivities.
Every Halloween, 600 million lbs. of candy is sold in the U.S., making up the overall 10% of the country’s annual candy sales — and the treats generate nearly $2 billion in sales each year (Stacy Liberatore, “The Bitter Truth About Halloween Candy,” www.dailymail.co.uk, Oct. 28, 2021). These treats have negative impacts on the environment and human rights. Sugar, cocoa and palm oil, popular ingredients used in many candies, are from crops mostly grown in the Amazon, where forests are converted into farmland through a process of slash and burn agriculture. Not only are we destroying forests, but the process also releases greenhouse gases. Child and trafficked labor in many countries work these farms. These are same ingredients sold for Easter and Valentine’s Day treats as well. Shouldn’t this give us pause? (Jade McClain, “Are Our Treats Too Tricky?” https://www.nyu.edu, Oct 27, 2021).
The 16th annual Autumn at the Dallas Arboretum Festival for example, once again displayed 90,000 pumpkins, gourds and squash hailing from the state’s pumpkin capital, Floydada (https://www.dallasarboretum.org/). How many hundreds of thousands of farms grow fir trees purely for the Christmas season? They are planted, watered and tended only to be chopped down, decorated and then discarded; some are mulched, and others end up in landfills. Some reports say that $3000 Christmas trees were sold in Saudi Arabia; while it was officially refuted, photos of public décor show abundant Christmas cheer. Muslims might well consider these things before joining in the festivities, for God dislikes waste (6:141).
In his book “Green Deen” (https://g.co/kgs/kSo3gZ), Ibrahim Abdul-Matin relates that Muslims are told to act as a khalif (caretaker) of His creation (2:230 and 33:72). The connections between Islamic teachings and environmentalism are long standing and deep. Abdul-Matin draws on research, scripture and interviews with American Muslims to trace Islam’s preoccupation with humanity’s collective role as Earth’s steward. Even our Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) declared that “Earth is a mosque” (“Sahih al-Bukhari” 438, Book 8, Hadith 87). We must begin to treat our planet as such. We can appreciate the gifts and contributions that Islam and Muslims have brought to environmentalism and continue this movement started by our predecessors.
These are other strong incentives to curtail our rush to celebrate those holidays that are not our own. We do not participate in the wastage that God dislikes and we can find better uses for the halal salaries we strive earnestly to earn, spend and share as charity. Consider that the number of people who seek counseling and the need of medication increases as episodes of depression and numbers of suicides spike following what is constantly advertised as a time of joy, peace and goodwill. Pouring our hard-earned cash into capitalism and consumerism of Western interest-fueled banks, institutions and industries ultimately supports those that dealt the death blow to our ummah and continues to fuel separation and division between us today. So just what are we missing if we don’t participate?
Noor Saadeh is co-founder of Noorart, Inc. (www.noorart.com).
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