Why does celebrating Halloween in Pakistan scare the wits out of Islamists?

You don't want to celebrate Halloween? Don't do it. But do not foist your myopic views of the world upon the rest of us

Image Courtesy: telecompk.net

Samhain was an ancient Celtic harvest festival, celebrated by many pagan cultures, especially in Ireland and other Gaelic lands. It was usually celebrated from sunset on October 31 to sunset on November 1.

With the arrival of Christianity, this ancient custom was incorporated into the new faith. Just like others that became Christmas and Easter, Samhain turned into All Saints Eve or All Hallows Eve, which eventually was shortened to Halloween. Traditionally, customs that were a huge part of the original harvest festival, included guising (pretending to be someone else), going to houses to ask for food and games involving nuts and apples, among many others. It was thought that during this time the boundary between this world and the Otherworld was easily crossed, and fairies and souls of the dear departed were able to cross-over. While people offered food and drink to welcome them, the disguising was also undertaken to confuse the more evil spirits.

All of these still remain a part of the festival, although I am sure most people have forgotten the origins of the festival and its customs. Halloween has basically become a secular holiday even though the Roman Catholic clergy and various Protestant dominations still celebrate it as a feast day.

So as mentioned above, the holiday has become a secular one celebrated in many countries, where people dress up as their favourite (mostly horror) figures and spend the evening having a good time with friends and family. Children go out to ask for candy from their neighbours. It is all about having fun and leaving the real world behind for a night to revel in fantasy.

Of late, the tradition has gradually entered Pakistan and one can see people celebrating it together, mostly to give their fun starved children a night to celebrate. Schools also put up decorations and attempt to have Halloween days.

I say "attempt" because as always there are those who think that Muslim traditions and our own culture will spontaneously combust if we and our children indulge in a little bit of harmless fun.

This year from November 1 onwards, social media was full of people complaining about others celebrating Halloween (mostly people dressed up as witches or vampires) and many astaghfars were said because yet another "evil western custom" had entered our realm and Islam was in danger again.

Pardon my French, but what the heck is wrong with having a little bit of harmless fun, even if it is to celebrate something that is not from your own neck of the woods? It's not like we have a multitude of enjoyable things to do in this country in the first place. And when we do try to have a little bit of fun, some upholder of Islam weighs in with his/her requirement of banning the reason for that fun. We have our Eids and that's amazing, everyone can and does enjoy them, but why does it get your goat when we want to indulge in something different?

Trust me people, Islam and your culture (mostly adopted from Hindu and Arabic traditions) is not under threat if the rest of us want to do something else. Just because you don't understand it doesn't mean that all hell has broken loose and all kinds of disasters will fall upon us the next day.

So just relax. You don't want to celebrate Halloween? Don't do it. But do not foist your myopic views of the world upon the rest of us. We want to dress up as witches and ghouls and vampires. We want our children to do the same so they can pretend to be someone else, amongst all the threats and terrors they have to face every day.

Please do not tell the rest of us how to live our lives based on your idea of religion. Because that is not religious freedom, that is religious privilege and we are not going to soothe your fears by holding ourselves back.  Or to paraphrase Jon Stewart, "We are not going to censor ourselves to comfort your ignorance".

So here's to more years celebrating unnecessary holidays just because we want to and just because we can. Don't be afraid, join us, it's brilliant!

Happy Halloween!

Saima Baig

Saima Baig is a Karachi-based environmental economist, climate change consultant and a freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter

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