Originally posted in October 2009.
America was indeed built as a melting pot of different cultures. That said, throughout our history there have become some universally accepted cultural practices. There is a famous and often misunderstood hadith (narration) which I would like to discuss as it has been understood by various scholars.
This hadith is found in the authentic collection of Abu Dawood. “Whoever imitates or resembles a people is one of them.” Coming from a background of an Islamic state where the Muslims were the dominant majority, many scholars said that this means that Muslims must completely look and act different than disbelievers in every facet of life. In that context it makes sense. In our context here in the west in 2009 it is a mistaken interpretation. This is due to the well-known reality that the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) was an Arab and had many cultural norms including his dress and eating style that were known for Arabs in his time whether they were Polytheist, Jew, Christian or Muslim. So the hadith is true that the Prophet ﷺ imitated and resembled the Arabs of his time so indeed he was one of them. So general non-religious culture is definitely not what is prohibited by the hadith.
According to the commentary of many scholars, past and present, the hadith is warning Muslims from imitating the non-Muslims in practices which indicate their religious beliefs like wearing something with a cross on it or celebrating Christmas. Similarly we must not follow culture in matters which are prohibited in our religion like men wearing gold or women plucking their eyebrows.
So to be crystal clear I will make an analogy. What is the difference between a Muslim and a non-Muslim doctor? They both wear similar clothes – maybe with a stethoscope around their necks. What makes them different is that the non-Muslim man may be wearing a cross or gold necklace whereas the Muslim will not be. The female Muslim doctor will be covering her hair while the non-Muslim won’t. The Muslim will take breaks for his or her obligatory prayers whereas the non-Muslim will not.
So let’s make a list of clothes, eating habits, and actions that are deemed permissible in the west by many scholars:
Wearing pants and shirts for men and women which do not reveal the `awrah (nakedness) as defined by our scholars. A dress might be best in concealing the beauty of a woman, but that doesn’t mean she cannot conceal her beauty with loose pants and a blouse. Men are not expected to wear hats whether in public or in the prayer. If a man is accustomed to wearing a hat and sees it as completion of common dress, then according to some scholars it would be makrooh (inadvisable) to come in the mosque without wearing it. Men may wear their pant leg below their ankles since this is not a sign of arrogance here.
There is nothing wrong with eating at a table with a spoon or fork. According to many scholars there is nothing wrong with eating the meat slaughtered by the people of the book. Others prohibited it based upon different principles. You may follow whichever you are convinced with, but you should not rebuke others for what they follow. Holidays and celebrations which do not represent religions and are not a gathering with worship overtones or un-Islamic activities are permissible. These are acceptable celebrations according to many great scholars: personal birthdays, marriage anniversaries, Independence Day, Mother’s or Father’s day on condition that we observe special love and respect for them every day, and Thanksgiving.
Things which would be forbidden are:
Wearing clothes which have a cross, Star of David, or other religious symbols of other faiths; wearing clothes which do not cover the `awrah; wearing clothes which represent immorality (i.e. Budweiser ad); wearing clothes with detailed pictures of living beings; women uncovering their hair or plucking their eyebrows; men wearing gold or silk; eating pork or foods fried or grilled without being cleaned after frying or grilling pork; eating or drinking with the left hand intentionally; shaking hands with a non-mahram (unrelated person of the opposite gender) in general (although with the condition of safety from desire some have allowed it); and celebrating Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s day, April Fool’s day or Halloween.
For anyone thinking that Halloween is just a harmless secular tradition for kids to have fun, please keep in mind the following:
The consensus of our scholars have prohibited taking part in the activities or selling the items specifically related to celebrating holidays representing religions other than Islam. This is due to the hadith we mentioned, “Whoever imitates or resembles a people is one of them,” (Bukhari).
Among these is Halloween which is an ancient polytheist pagan tradition of Europe that was switched to All Souls Day once Roman Catholicism had spread throughout Europe. It gained back its pagan roots with the capitalist venture of profit in those polytheist rituals. The current practices are almost identical to those done by the Polytheist originators of this holiday. If you are truly a follower of the Qur’an and Sunnah – not someone who follows their desires, or someone who simply wishes to fit in even when it compromises their religion – then read this thoroughly.
We must not take part in this celebration. Instead, we should try to organize mosque activities on this night, or try and go somewhere that doesn’t celebrate it, or at least just keep your lights off outside of your house.