On the Outside Looking In: Holiday Isolation as a Muslim

My experiences with feeling isolated due to the prominence of certain holidays and the ignorance regarding my own.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

For as long as I can remember, Halloween has been a dazzling spectacle, eagerly anticipated by all. From the moment the green leaves turn to rich shades of red and orange, the holiday seems to dominate the country: stores are decorated with ghosts and fake spiders, everything is suddenly pumpkin-flavored, and school is filled with discussions of costumes and trick-or-treating plans. Each year, elements of Halloween appear everywhere—a phenomenon that can get quite isolating for those who can’t celebrate Halloween, including myself.

In Islam, there are varying opinions regarding the permittance of Halloween. As with any religion, different followers choose to practice different beliefs. Yet among the vast majority of Muslims—including my family—Halloween is deemed a haram (prohibited) holiday. Though it is now a largely commercialized holiday, Halloween’s roots are found in paganism. Thousands of years ago, the ancient Celts celebrated a festival called Samhain. On Samhain, it was believed that otherworldly spirits and ghosts would return to Earth. In commemoration, the Celts would dress in costumes and build bonfires. Over the centuries, Samhain evolved into the modern practice of Halloween. Thus, Halloween can be considered a form of shirk (polytheism), a severe sin in Islam. Hence, I’ve never dressed-up or gone trick-or-treating for Halloween—something I would have no issue with if the holiday wasn’t so inescapable.

When I was younger, Halloween was often treated with the utmost importance, fueling my desolation. I vividly remember Halloween-themed class parties, jack-o’-lantern-decorating competitions, and—above all—my elementary school’s annual Halloween parade. During the parade, the whole school would march through the recess yard and display carefully-selected costumes. There were dozens of Disney princesses, slews of Hogwarts students, the occasional Ghostface, and many more. For most of my friends, the parade was an eagerly anticipated event—yet I loathed it. Year after year, I would shiver my way through the yard in everyday clothes, eagerly anticipating my return to the warm building. I wondered why I had to participate in activities relating to a holiday I don’t celebrate as a Muslim.

Such feelings extend far beyond Halloween. Each December, I’m once again made an outcast as Christmas festivities kick in. Much like Halloween, Christmas creeps into all aspects of daily life; every mall seems to have Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas is You” playing on repeat, most houses are adorned with miniature Santas and twinkling lights, and holiday shopping catalogs are constantly delivered in the mail. Once again, a holiday that is deeply rooted in religion becomes one that everyone is expected to participate in and enjoy. I have been labeled a “humbug” for not exuding Christmas spirit, despite having beliefs that do not align with the holiday.

The lack of understanding people have about why I don’t celebrate holidays such as Halloween and Christmas has only contributed to my isolation. I often elicit a similar response from those who are just learning about some of my religious restrictions, which extend to dietary choices and even the clothes I wear: “Wow, that sounds so depressing! How did you have a childhood?” At first, it was easy to laugh this comment off, but as I began to hear them over and over again, they became increasingly infuriating. 

After all, the popular commercialized holidays that sweep the West each year are not the only holidays that exist. There are other holidays that are vitally important in Islam—holidays that have molded my childhood. For example, there’s the month of Ramadan, which is considered the holiest month of the Islamic year: it is during this month that the Quran (Islam’s holy book) was revealed. To commemorate, Muslims spend Ramadan fasting from sunrise to sunset and partaking in acts of worship, as blessings are multiplied. Some of my strongest, most vivid memories entail watching live streams of a crowded Kaaba with my grandparents, going to a different family member’s house for iftar (the meal that breaks the fast) each weekend, and staying up late into the night in prostration. Ramadan has always been a time for me to reflect, allowing me to grow closer to my faith—something that I will forever appreciate; Islam is both a religion and lifestyle that affects my character, so Ramadan has always encouraged internal growth and development.

Eid Al-Fitr is my favorite holiday of the year. Eid Al-Fitr is a three day celebration that marks the end of Ramadan. Typically, Muslims take advantage of this occasion to wear their best clothes, enjoy mouthwatering food, and gather with family—the aspect of Eid that is most important to me. Eid provides both the opportunity for me to connect with extended family that I do not see regularly, as well as the ability to create new, lasting memories with those I am already close to: each year, my family decorates my grandparents’ house with gold and green balloons in the days leading up to the celebration. I can distinctly remember staying up late, waiting for the mehndi my cousin meticulously piped on my hands to dry. Furthermore, the warm memories of entering full houses to the smell of freshly cooked food and a bombardment of dozens of hugs, salaams, and cash gifts slipped into my hands, will always feel like home.

Additionally, there is a second Eid—Eid Al-Adha—which marks the end of Hajj, a pilgrimage to Mecca that is one of the five pillars of Islam. In observation, Muslims, including those who do not complete Hajj, are required to complete an animal sacrifice. Though this Eid tends to be less lively than Eid Al-Fitr, it is still a highlight of my year. Memories of the recurring struggle to wake up in time to make it to the masjid for the early salat (prayer), as well as of the deliveries of curries and frozen meat, have been embedded in me. Not only were they staples of my childhood, but they are events I look forward to each year.

Though these holidays aren’t as prominent as Halloween or Christmas in Western media, they are still incredibly important and reside in the hearts and memories of many. Ramadan, Eid Al-Fitr, and Eid Al-Adha are beautiful occasions that bring together Muslims around the world by developing a sense of community; at these times of the year, masjids tend to be packed to the brim, fostering an environment that promotes one’s faith and connections with others. They are times I use to develop stronger bonds with both my faith and my loved ones.

It saddens me to know that so many people are unaware of what Eid is—I have found myself explaining the holidays to friends and teachers alike every Ramadan. Even if you don’t celebrate a certain holiday, it doesn’t hurt to learn more about it and be aware of traditions other than your own. I myself love to hear about my friends’ experiences during Lunar New Year, from receiving Hong Bao to cleaning their houses to ensure good tidings for the new year. Meanwhile, my Jewish friends have taught me about the eight nights of Hanukkah, with each candle on the menorah representing one. Furthermore, despite the annoyance I often feel around Halloween, the joy that trick-or-treating brings to the children that pass through my block has always brought a smile to my face.

It is human nature to get caught up in our own “bubble” of sorts: we tend to believe that our way is the only way, and that anything different is “weird.” This is simply untrue. So much can be learned from other religions, cultures, and ethnicities, all of which matter equally. Thus, all holidays—even those that aren’t featured on a plethora of Hallmark greeting cards—should be acknowledged and treated equally, even if they are celebrated by a minority.