First a little background and history:
The etymology of the word Halloween is derived from a Scottish term "All Hallows' Evening" and is the night of October 31st. Some groups recognize the festival as a collection of 3 significant days known as Hallowmas: All Hallows' Eve, All Saints' Day, and All Souls' Day (also known as the "Day of the Dead," Oct.31 - Nov.2); these 3 days each year are traditionally "dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed believers," (Wikipedia).
Many scholars believe Halloween has its roots in Christianity, influenced by customs and beliefs from Celtic-speaking countries. Historically, there are many and various rituals associated with Halloween which can include lighting candles, praying for dead relatives, playing games, collecting treats, wearing disguises, and lighting bonfires. The smoke and flames from a bonfire were thought to have special powers to protect and cleanse. In Gaelic and Welsh regions, games and rituals for the festival were thought to enhance divination (which is the practice of attempting to foretell future events or discover hidden knowledge by occult or supernatural means.) All Saints' Day and All Hallows' Eve have been thought to be days on which dead souls had one last chance to seek vengeance on their enemies, their souls wandering until these days; accordingly, people wore disguises in order to not be recognized by angry dead souls. This belief and practice is thought to be the origin of the Halloween costume tradition. Dating back to the 16th century, the festival also included going home-to-home in disguise and reciting songs/verses for food. Additionally, in 12th century Europe, poor children used to go door-to-door to collect "soul cakes" in exchange for prayer for souls in purgatory (temporary punishment in the afterlife, a Roman Catholic teaching); it is thought that this is the origin of the trick-or-treating tradition commonly practiced in many countries. Trick or treating is when children dress in costumes and go door to door collecting treats.
As you can see from this brief and truncated sketch of the historical origins of Halloween, its current common practice as we know them today, came into being over time. It includes adapted customs which evolved gradually, shaping modern practices, which in different geographic areas might even still have just as much variation as it did in the past (I didn't research that). Additionally, the celebrated customs are rituals which have foundations in faiths outside of Islam. Therefore Halloween is a festival which violates Islamic principles, and the conscious Muslims should not take part in its festivities.
I know....you might be thinking right now how frivolous I am being. After all, Halloween has lost any sort of religious significance it may have once held in the past. And now Halloween could be considered nothing more than just harmless fun, and a shame for children to miss out on the fantastic chance to collect candy and dress up in costumes. There's nothing wrong with eating candy or wearing costumes. You can allow your kids to eat candy and wear costumes, just don't do it on Halloween and in celebration of it!
And since when should the Muslimeen look to the common culture to dictate which things are halal and haram? Should we really look to an evolved holiday with pagan and/or Christian origins to tell us how to behave? In a hadith narrated by Ibn ‘Umar, the Prophet SAW said: ‘Whoever imitates a people is one of them,’ (Abu Dawood).
Also, whereas helping others is generally considered good, I caution anyone in having any hand whatsoever in promoting or helping with a Halloween celebration/event. I base this caution around the following ayah, found in Qur'an Al Ma'idah verse 2:
“Help you one another in Al‑Birr and At‑Taqwa (virtue, righteousness and piety); but do not help one another in sin and transgression. And fear Allah. Verily, Allah is Severe in punishment.”
Here are some relevant hadith on the subject:
- The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said, "If somebody innovates something which is not in harmony with the principles of our religion, that thing is rejected," Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 49, Number 861, Narrated Aisha (RA)
- The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) warned the Muslims: "Every innovation is a misguidance and every misguidance goes to Hell fire," [Sahih Muslim]. Innovation is defined by Islamic scholars as "to originate anything which did not exist during the time of the Prophet" (SAW)
- The Prophet (SAW) said: "Allah, the Exalted and Glorious looks down on the middle night of Sha'ban and forgives all His creation except a polytheist or one who is mushahin (innovator in religion and out of the main stream of the community)," Tirmidhi #1306, Narrated by Abu Musa al-Ash'ari, Transmitted by Ibn Majah.
Therefore, based on the research and these evidences I have outlined here, my family and I don't celebrate Halloween. I don't let my kids participate in any and all Halloween activities. Since my kids' school recognizes it and makes parties and such, I made the decision to keep my kids home that day. Teachers for the most part should respect such a decision and accommodate your wishes (and my kids' teachers have, thankfully). ***See below for a sample letter you can edit and print and give to schools or teachers to put your wishes in writing.
Allah the All-Mighty knows what is best for us. Let us have fear in Allah SWT who will weigh our deeds on the Day of Judgement. Will you earn for yourself more weight in bad deeds over something so inconsequential as participation in the innovated festival of Halloween? May Allah SWT guide us all on the right path, Ameen.