THE GOATMILK DEBATES: “Muslims Should be Allowed to Practice Halloween” by Shabana Jameel


Every October 31st, Muslims must decide whether to trick-or-treat or pretend they aren’t at home. These two Halloween camps usually diametrically oppose one another.  The haram (forbidden) camp has gone so far as to provide alternative Halloween activities, thus making Halloween à Halal-o-ween (that has absolutely no resemblance to jack-o-lanterns because I am certain that even that comparison would be considered offensive).

I’m not a haram-card-holding member. Halloween is a cultural tradition that should be as permissible and mainstream to American Muslims as sporting events or other cultural traditions here.  Furthermore, I believe Halloween actually serves very positive benefits to the Muslim community.

So where does Halloween come from?  The age-old premise to the Halloween-is-haram-argument has always been that it has Pagan origins (which is easily Google-able so I won’t dwell on it here.) However, I was surprised and fascinated to find sources indicating it was a Christian influenced holiday whose purpose was to pray for the saints in purgatory, so they could enter heaven the next day.

As Halloween evolved, so did Christian opinion of the celebration, just as I believe Muslim views should evolve on the cultural practice based on what it is now.  (Where are the Ibn Abidins of our age?) Let’s be honest – the kids just want to dress up in fun costumes, get a break from dull routines, and, most importantly, get candy – end of story.  Before our own opinions were thrown to the wayside in favor of the local/national/international -insert religious leader’s title here- opinion (i.e. when we were left to think for ourselves) most of our parents let us celebrate Halloween.  Did any of your childhood Muslim friends end up apostatizing because they wore a Halloween costume and went trick or treating?  Yeah, I can’t think of anyone either.  Halloween’s origins aside, there are other cultural traditions we’ve adapted as American Muslims that have similar (or worse) origins.

Football is men dressed in really, really tight pants, tackling each other – for a ball.  It looks pretty barbaric to me, yet I have never heard any Muslims criticize this national pastime (especially the ones in Michigan).  I’m also not privy to the Hadith allowing boys/men to clobber each other for “fun.”  Have I mentioned those pants?  There is nothing modest about them. Yet, I’ve never heard anyone say, “Boys, you can only play football as long as those pants aren’t tight fitting.” Football, with all its trappings, is an acceptable cultural tradition.  But, where is the humanity in allowing grown men to physically tackle each other for sport, while barring cute, innocent little kids from trick or treating? American Muslim athletes are revered and applauded for their commitment to faith and their physical prowess.  However, try dressing your kid up for Halloween or decorating your house with a ghost in the window, and see how Islamic and American other Muslims think you are. (Be rest assured – no Muslims will be packing the theaters to watch Halal-o-ween, the movie, and TLC will probably not air the Halal-o-ween special either.)

Through sports, kids learn leadership, teamwork, and discipline.  It’s a way to channel their energy to keep them out of mischief.  However, what I don’t understand is why only sports are acceptable despite aspects of it like the physical contact that could seriously injure someone (or those pants!)  I learned the same values through orchestra even though music is supposedly “haram.” What perturbs me is why only the positive aspects are acknowledged for one activity (thus rendering it halal) while the negatives aspects of other pastimes are highlighted (thus making it haram).  While I played my violin as a kid, should I have poked someone in the eye with my bow? Would that have made it a more acceptable and Islamic pastime?

The Olympics is a global, cultural practice that Muslims participate in despite its origins.  There is NO doubt whatsoever that it has entirely Pagan origins; however, I haven’t heard a whisper of the “H” word here.  As it evolved, so did our opinions. So why hasn’t Muslim opinion changed to accept an innocuous custom like Halloween, too?  Although the Olympics is a worldwide tradition, while Halloween is a local custom, the magnitude of the event shouldn’t dictate whether Muslims participate.  Let’s be consistent and not participate in either.  Seriously?

The Olympics is very similar to Halloween for children.  School is their “world” apart from their family lives. Allah “created us from different nations and tribes so we may know one another” (49:13).  Shouldn’t that apply to kids, too? Halloween is an opportunity for kids to interact beyond the playground.  I like to think of each grade level as its own ‘tribe’ with very specific behaviors and a culture all to themselves. Halloween allows kids to participate in a larger community outside their homes and classrooms.  Think about how Muslim kids appear/feel when they are barred from partaking in Halloween activities. How would Muslims appear to the world if we shunned the Olympics?

Other cultural practices lack an Islamic origin or a pure history, but have permeated into the fabric our lives, and have evolved to become part of mainstream Muslim culture, too, like engagement rings, white wedding dresses and even the Hajj.

Engagement rings have a purely capitalistic origin.  In the 1940s, they were deliberately marketed for the explicit purpose of profiting jewelers and diamond miners. Despite its predominantly materialistic origins, everyone gets an engagement ring, regardless of the spectrum of Islamic-ness you fall into.  I have nothing against having a nice diamond on my finger, but let’s face it, it’s not particularly Islamic… Seriously, though – who cares?  “Not I,” said the wise woman who likes her jewelry.  If we are allowed to imbibe parts of culture whose origins aren’t necessarily pure and Islamic, why can’t we incorporate Halloween into our lives?

Another example of an acceptable Islamic tradition is the white wedding dress. I actually found a really interesting fatwah by some Shaykh I’ve never really heard of:

“It is permissible for a woman to wear white so long as it is not in the same form as men’s clothing. With regard to it being an imitation of the kuffaar, that is no longer the case, because now all Muslim women wear such clothes when they are getting married. The ruling depends on whether the reason for it is present or not. If it is no longer an imitation of the kuffaar and this has now become something that is common to both Muslims and kaafirs, then the ruling no longer applies, unless something is haraam in and of itself and not because it is an imitation of others. Such things are haraam in all cases.” –Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen from his Majmoo’at As’ilat tahumm al-Mar’ah

According to him, if we aren’t doing it to imitate non-Muslims and if it is not essentially haram then it is okay.  Yes! So let’s celebrate Halloween!

Most everything (using toothbrushes, watching T.V., technological innovations, etc) started off as “unislamic”, but we slowly accepted it. For instance, look at the thobes Muslim men wear.  From my cultural viewpoint, those are dresses. Last I remember, men aren’t supposed to dress like women, but nobody calls out the thobe-wearing community for it.  Saudi culture has influenced our cultural perceptions; relatively speaking, they are not considered effeminate. In fact – men are considered more “Islamic” when they wear it. Why must Arab culture often trump pretty much everybody else’s? Why can’t Muslim culture in America reflect American culture, too?

Furthermore, why is condemning Halloween on par or more important than condemning other adults who are seriously doing wrong – like stealing, murdering, abusing their wives, etc. In other words why don’t adult, Muslim authority figures pick on someone their own size instead of trying to impose convoluted views and negative intentions on innocent kids?  Which brings me to another point (and 1/3 of our knowledge)– ‘Actions are by their intentions.’

Finally, in Islamic history, the Kabah had pure origins.  In time, though, it became desecrated by idolatry, and later was restored to its original purpose.  It would be an egregious error to state that we shouldn’t perform hajj because at one time people performed pagan rituals there or to say it has “pagan origins”.  How do we really know what Halloween initially stemmed from?  The Halloween of today is very far removed from the supposed satanic rituals of yesteryear. Besides, there are some personal and societal benefits of celebrating Halloween.

Trick-or-Treating is an opportunity for everyday Muslims, young and old, to socialize and connect with their neighbors.  Most kids play indoors glued to their iPads, iPods, Wii, Xboxes, etc., often playing solitary, graphic and aggressive video games.  When do kids get to interact with the other kids on a larger scale – again, only through sports?  It is no wonder we appear as Greco-Romans from a bygone era… Trick or treating is an opportunity for kids to actually play outside, particularly for those kids who are not sporty.  Halloween benefits parents, too. I read a blog where one parent shared that it is his only opportunity to meet the other families in the neighborhood. Trick or treating gave him information about what houses to avoid, which kids have bad reputations in their neighborhoods, and which neighbors are friendly.  In the kind of suburban communities some of us live in, you hardly even see your neighbors, let alone interact beyond a greeting.

Furthermore, providing alternative Halloween activities at Islamic schools is snobbish and does nothing to build healthy bonds with the larger non-Muslim community. Islam is not a subculture. It is for mankind, not just for Muslim kids from affluent backgrounds who are privileged to attend private, Islamic schools.  The separate but equal approach didn’t work for African Americans here, and I don’t think it is healthy for us as Muslims, either.

Eventually, like all teenagers in America, kids grow out of trick or treating.  It is simply a fun, American rite of passage (that doesn’t haunt you (no pun intended) like the scars or trauma after playing a game like football).  For now, though, what is scarier – cute, little kids dressed up as barn yard animals, ringing the doorbell and with their innocent, smiling faces saying, “Trick or treat!” – or young, barbaric Muslim men who are storming foreign embassies and killing diplomats?  Yeah, that is what I thought, too.

Bonsor, K, Keener, C.  How Diamonds Work.  Retrieved from:
Father Augustine Thompson, O.P. (2000) Surprise: Halloween’s Not a Pagan Festival

After All. The holiday and its customs are completely Christian, and some are uniquely American. Retrieved from

An-Nawawi, Imam (2010).  An-Nawawi’s Forty Hadith.  E. Ibrahim and D. Johnson-Davies, Trans.  Darya Ganj, New Delhi:  Islamic Book Service.  (Originally published sometime before 676 AH)

The Goatmilk Debates: “Islam is Incompatible with Feminism” – Response by Mohamad Tabbaa

“THE GOATMILK DEBATES” will be an ongoing series featuring two debaters tackling an interesting or controversial question in a unique, intellectually stimulating manner.

Each debater makes their opening argument, followed by an optional rebuttal.

The winner will be decided by the online audience and judged according to the strength of the respective arguments.

The motion: “Islam is Incompatible with Feminism”

For the motion: Mohamad Tabbaa

Against the motionKatrina Daly Thompson

Here is Mohamad Tabbaa with his response:

Islam and Feminism are incompatible – response


Let me begin by apologising. A sincere, heartfelt apology to all. I am most sorry. I apologise from the depth of my heart for being on the wrong side of feminism. I feel as though I have blasphemed. Lord forgive me. I have indeed sinned.

Or so one might assume by reading some of the responses to my original article. It appears as though disagreeing with a feminist opinion is tantamount not only to misogyny, but in some instances to blasphemy itself. The responses I have come across so far have been interesting to say the least. They have ranged from genuine and interesting, to outright absurd (apparently God does actually have a gender: female. Who knew?). Seeing as there was no official response to the debate, I thought it necessary to address some of the questions/concerns which various people have raised, and attempt to provide some clarification and response on my part. I will try to address those which I feel warrant a response, but I will also highlight some of the more absurd claims in order that readers are aware of a range of views within this debate.

However, before proceeding, I wish to make a clarification. Some respondents (without having ever met me) have felt it necessary to attack me personally and make accusations against my personhood, perhaps in an attempt to reduce my credibility in the eyes of the reader. To this end I have been labelled with a number of traits, each as delightful as the next. There is no need for anyone to engage in such accusations, particularly as they know very little about me. Rather, I am most happy to help out in this regard, and will gladly take this task upon myself. Without a doubt, I am a patronising sexist misogynist; I am an arrogant worthless bastard; I am a fundamentalist wahhabist dog; and I am intellectually lazy and a fraud (I am also quite short, in case that helps). I am a male. Continue reading

The Goatmilk Debates: “Islam is Incompatible with Feminism” – Mohamad Tabbaa For the Motion

“THE GOATMILK DEBATES” will be an ongoing series featuring two debaters tackling an interesting or controversial question in a unique, intellectually stimulating manner.

Each debater makes their opening argument, followed by an optional rebuttal.

The winner will be decided by the online audience and judged according to the strength of the respective arguments.

The motion: “Islam is Incompatible with Feminism”

For the motion: Mohamad Tabbaa

Against the motion: Katrina Daly Thompson

“God is not dead; and neither is He a feminist”  by Mohamad Tabbaa 

God has not died, just yet. But there is a real push to kill Him. And it’s gaining popular support. I’m sure we’ve all noticed the modern tendency to ‘reconcile’ Islam with almost everything; democracy; liberalism; homosexuality; heck, even Christianity. And now feminism. So what’s the problem, exactly? Surely any right-minded individual would openly embrace the move to bring Islam into modernity, while only a backward Wahhabist regressive fundamentalist caveman would resist, right?

Well, not exactly.

You see, there are a number of fundamental flaws inherent in many of the arguments put forward to ‘modernise’ Islam. I will highlight some of these flaws — especially as they relate to feminism — and argue that not only are Islam and feminism not compatible, but that our actual attempts at reconciling Islam with modern ideologies is futile and misguided.

Rather than launch into definitions of what Islam and feminism mean, I believe it’s important that we first take a step back. This debate, after all, is not really about Islam and feminism per se; this debate is more to do with epistemology. Epistemology, otherwise known as “the theory of knowledge”, is the study of the creation and basis of knowledge itself.[i] Epistemology concerns itself with questions such as: What are the structures and conditions of knowledge? How is knowledge constructed and justified? Does knowledge lead to truth? What are the limits of knowledge? And does God play a role in this process?[ii]

The question being debated here, namely is Islam compatible with feminism, is one which can only be answered by first exploring the epistemological and methodological assumptions underpinning the call for Islamic reformation, and what these mean in the greater scheme of things.

Feminism, in all its variations, depends very heavily on postmodern theories of knowledge; namely that there is no ‘objective’ or transcendental truth; that all realities are merely constructed, contextual and relative, and therefore subject to change; and that all knowledge is intrinsically biased.[iii] Utilising poststructural methods of deconstruction, postmodernists argue that all knowledge is influenced by power, personal interest and especially language, and that therefore no knowledge can claim to be impartial.[iv] It is upon this basis that feminists (rightfully) critique the dominant liberal discourse as being male-oriented and oppressive towards women.

So, while the core concern of feminism might be women’s equality, rights or humanity, postmodernism (and hence, feminism) itself teaches us that one cannot judge an idea based solely on its ‘abstract’ theory, but must instead deconstruct its underlying assumptions in order to ascertain what that idea is really advocating or producing. For example, renowned feminist scholar Margaret Thornton argues that, despite its proclaimed concern of ensuring equality between males and females, liberalism is inherently biased against women; not because of its ‘abstract’ theory, which is neutral, but purely because of its underlying assumptions – its epistemology – which are male-oriented.[v] Likewise, in order to properly assess both the nature and impact of feminism, one must necessarily look past its purported aims and concerns, and instead investigate its philosophical basis. Continue reading

The Goatmilk Debates: “Islam is Incompatible with Feminism” – Katrina Daly Thompson Against the Motion

“THE GOATMILK DEBATES” will be an ongoing series featuring two debaters tackling an interesting or controversial question in a unique, intellectually stimulating manner.

Each debater makes their opening argument, followed by an optional rebuttal.

The winner will be decided by the online audience and judged according to the strength of the respective arguments.

The motion: “Islam is Incompatible with Feminism”

For the motion: Mohamad Tabbaa

Against the motion: Katrina Daly Thompson

Feminism and Islam are compatible

Katrina Daly Thompson

There are two groups who might argue that feminism and Islam are incompatible: Muslims who don’t understand what feminism is, and feminists who don’t understand that Islam is open to interpretation, including feminist interpretations.  I’ll address each of these groups in turn.

Many people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, don’t understand what feminism is.  They might think it’s a Western idea focused on man-hating, female superiority, or bra burning, but none of that is accurate.  There are three definitions of feminism that inspire me; the first defines feminism as an idea, the second as a movement, and the third as an intellectual approach.

What does feminism mean as an idea? “Feminism,” Cheris Kramerae wrote, “is the radical notion that women are human beings.”[i]  It’s that simple. Feminists argue that human beings should not be discriminated against on the basis of their sex or gender. For Muslims, this should be an easy argument to get behind.  After all, the Qur’an tells us,

“Verily, for all men and women who have surrendered themselves unto God, and all believing men and believing women, and all truly devout men and truly devout women, and all men and women who are true to their word, and all men and women who are patient in adversity, and all men and women who humble themselves [before God], and all men and women who give in charity, and all self-denying men and self-denying women, and all men and women who are mindful of their chastity, and all men and women who remember God unceasingly: for [all of] them has God readied forgiveness of sins and a mighty reward.”[ii]

In other words, the Qur’an teaches that God treats all human beings equally, whether we are men or women, not differentiating among us by sex or gender but rather by the extent to which we’ve surrendered, believe in God, are devout, truthful, patient, humble, generous, modest, and worshipful.  We are all subject to the same rewards from God.  God, we might say, is a feminist.  The Feminist.  Continue reading

“The US should stop Aid to Pakistan”: THE GOATMILK DEBATES

THE GOATMILK DEBATES” will be an ongoing series featuring two debaters tackling an interesting or controversial question in a unique, intellectually stimulating manner. 

Each debater makes their opening argument,  followed by an optional rebuttal.

The winner will be decided by the online audience and judged according to the strength of the respective arguments.

The motion: The US should stop Aid to Pakistan”

For the motion: Saqib Mausoof

Against the motion: Sabahat Ashraf

Saqib Mausoof For the Motion

US should stop military aid to Pakistan. It is seen as a tactical waste by the US lawmakers and blood money by the populist Pakistan media. Some of this aid also bolsters Pakistan’s covert nuclear armament program and extraneous benefits for the top military brass. Very little of this approximately $2.5 bn annual aid trickles down to the Pakistani people. Investing this money at home in the USA for public services and infrastructure upgrades is better use. Eventually, divesting from Pakistan Army will enable US law makers to see Pakistan without the perception of an “ally from hell” but as an independent nation that is not subservient to US interests only.

Since 1948, US have provided $55 bn in Aid to Pakistan and most of it has gone to the Pakistan military. This aid has created an oligarchy which is controlled by various Military foundations. It has further ruined democratic institutions like the judiciary and the parliament. Since early 1950’s, when the Dulles brothers, John as Secretary of State and Allen as head of CIA, snubbed Pakistan’s civilian leadership under then premiere Liaquat Ali Khan and gave Field Marshall Ayub Khan special treatment, Pakistan has served as a “Sipahi” state for American policy makers. The first rectifying treaty on this was the Baghdad pact or CENTO signed between Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, UK and US in 1955.

This relationship was fully intact in 1960 when Gary Powers flew out of Peshawar airbase his ill-fated U-2 spy plane which was subsequently shot down by a Russian SAM missile. It continued with Prime Minster Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto negotiating President Nixon’s secretive visit to China, and probably climaxed under Gen Zia’s “Jihad” which created the Mujahedeen’s as a religious force to fight off the Soviets occupation of Afghanistan. During that time, the heads of the Haqqani clan were called the “moral equivalent of America founding fathers” by President Ronald Reagan. A case can be made that successive American administrations have always supported and preferred a military ruler in Pakistan rather than a civilian leadership.

The first decade of the 21st century under the military leadership of Gen Pervaiz Musharraf had seen an increasing amount of US military aid to Pakistan. The offering of the aid carrot was accompanied by a big stick in a not so subtle threat by the US deputy secretary of State Richard Armitage, who told President Musharraf that Pakistan should be prepared to be bombed “back to the stone age” if they refuse to fight against Al-Qaida and the Taliban. The subsequent agreement between the two governments created a complex aid package that constituted of four buckets, Military assistance, Economic Assistance, USAID projects, and coalition support funds.

Continue reading