Growing up in the late seventies and early eighties, Halloween was a big deal in my life. For weeks before October 31 my friends and I plotted the best neighborhood routes to maximize candy retrieval. We traded information in a “you tell me yours then I’ll tell you mine” manner to extract the locations of generous homes that doled out full size candy bars and stingy ones that gave out cheap toffees that tasted like expired cough drops. There were lengthy discussions as to which costumes to wear. As a child of the seventies, I have donned a long white nightgown and twisted my hair into two tight buns on the sides of my head a la Princess Leia, but my go-to costume was a gypsy. Simple and classic. Plus I had an excuse to wear every bit of jewelry I owned, as well as raid my mother’s jewelry box and “borrow” pieces from my sister when she was off putting on her own costume. Good times.
I had wanted these same good times for my children. Growing up in the West there are so few holiday traditions that Muslim kids share with their classmates. They do not participate in the, “Whatcha get from Santa?” discussions or “What did the Easter Bunny bring you?” conversations. After Halloween, though, I remember being in the thick of the candy bartering sessions, and I wanted my children to enjoy the same sense of belonging and participation. But my three children all attended an Islamic school and it never occurred to me that the school may view Halloween as anything but innocuous fun. My first clue to the contrary was the information sheet that came home in their backpacks outlining the pagan origins of the holiday. My second subtle hint was the sign that read, “We Do Not Celebrate Halloween. Please Do Not Ring Our Bell” designed and decorated in the students’ art class. I had trick or treated a few years past when I should have stopped and not once did I contemplate the arrival of this day. Even in my teens Halloween stood for free candy not worshipping Satan. Hence, the dilemma – I had chosen to enroll my children in this Islamic school and loved the school’s mission and ideals but what to do when their philosophy and mine clashed?
My genius plan, derived after much discussion with my husband, sister and friends, was to trick or treat in secret. It would be dark and the kids would be in costume, who would know? And for a few years we got away with it. In the mornings the kids dutifully made the signs in school and in the evenings we headed to Target to browse the costume aisles. The memories of tramping through the autumn darkness with my friends, the sight of my two boys in matching Power Ranger costumes and the reality of all that chocolate in my home drowned out the inconvenient fact that I was sending my children a mixed message.
Then one year, a much feared Arabic teacher at the school announced that she would ask each child on November 1 if they had been out the night before. Decision time. Abandon what we deemed harmless fun – an ode to Hershey kisses and not the devil – or succumb to the peer pressure of our Islamic school? As I was in the midst of mother angst my middle child had a solution. He said without skipping a beat, “Mom, I’ll lie when they ask me tomorrow.” Perfect – my love of Snickers had sent my children directly on the path to Hell. Do not pass Go. Do not collect 200 dollars. The maternal angst was out in tsunami form. Lying was not an option. So we gave the kids a choice – go trick or treating but own up to the action in school or stay home on the night of October 31 (and eat the candy we would buy for them- we wanted it to be a fair choice not Sofie’s Choice) and give an honest answer to the intimidating Arabic teacher the following morning. After some angst of their own and some pleading in favor of the fibbing option the kids all chose to go out. For all our hand wringing, the teacher forgot to ask the dreaded question the next day.
But the kids had taken their stand, and we had had the discussion I had been avoiding. I wanted for my children to heed the school’s strictures about the Qur’an and Islam but to understand that while we loved their school, we did not agree with everything the institution taught. Confusing stuff for my four, six and ten year olds.
Years removed from that decision no one has headed into therapy…so far. We now spend our Halloweens with two other Muslim families, going from house to house in my neighborhood and loading the children’s bags with candy. Then all three families enjoy dinner at a local restaurant. My kids are happy spending the evening with friends and making their own memories and they are reassured that they are not the only Muslims who go out on Halloween to celebrate Skittles and Snickers.
Nausheena Ahmed was born in England, raised in Canada and is currently living in New Jersey. She is busy raising three kids whose names she never wants to see on a front page with the words “serial killer” or “psychopath” beside them. This article was originally posted here on September 21, 2011.