Guy Fawkes: To celebrate or not to celebrate?
05 October 2018| 26 Safar 1440| Ustadh Muhammad Faheem
As a youngster growing up in Cape Town, South Africa, the remnants of British colonialism, the influence of our past colonial masters (and forefathers) can always be felt in our national holidays.
For me, no other day highlights this heritage more than the night of the 5th of November, better known simply as ‘Guy Fawkes’.
I still vividly remember the shops all stocking up on fireworks even months before the ‘big night’.
For me personally, it was the story of my ‘coming of age’; the rare night when my strict and overprotective father relaxed the restrictions of ‘no playing outside after dark’ and my siblings and I were allowed to run free after dark with our friends in our neighborhood.
I was only 7 or 8 years old, yet I had my own bag of firecrackers, sparklers and fireworks; and all of my friends and I had been waiting for weeks for this night when we would blow them up in the streets.
Come the night of the 5th of November and the sky was lit up with dazzling displays of colors and patterns for as far as the eye could see. This became the one night which my friends and I would looked forward to for the rest of our pre-teen years.
As time passed and I entered High School, ‘Guy Fawkes’ night took a very dangerous turn on the Cape Flats.
It transitioned to a time where young people dared not fare outside, even avoiding going to school, because of ‘smear gangs’ which were waiting to color anyone they would find with nugget, dyes, paints and a host of other things. As rumors spread of the menacing gangs which had taken over the streets, it was best to stay inside or close to home, in case a hoard of anarchists came down your road and sliced you with blades or dowsed you with dangerous chemicals.
Gangs of youth from the neighborhood started to defend their own ‘territory’, by taking up their own paint, nugget, dyes, chemicals etc. to use on the rival gangs.
Alas, the ‘Guy Fawkes’ which for me as a child was a care-free, safe, fun-filled evening running around the neighborhood with friends; had become notorious in Cape Town as a night of anarchy, mayhem and general lawlessness!
Last week, Mufti Ebrahim Smith of ‘Darul Iftaa’ in the Western Cape issued a fatwa on ‘Al Fiqh al Shaamila’ on Cii Radio, against celebrating ‘Guy Fawkes’ on the 5th of November.
The reason, he stated on the show was because ‘Guy Fawkes’ had religious origins, overtones and connotations.
‘Guy Fawkes Night’ or ‘Bonfire Night’ as it is celebrated in the UK and former British Colonies, has its foundations in the ‘Gunpowder Plot’ of 1605. Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators had attempted to blow up the House of Lords along with the King James the first and his ministers for religious reasons.
The reason for the plot was to attempt to return England to Catholicism from the prevalent Protestantism. Thus, it was called ‘Pope Day’ in the American Colonies and disappeared with the declaration of Independence of the United States. Effigies of the Pope were burnt in anger for what was seen as a Catholic attempt to overthrow Protestant rule at the time.
Besides it’s foundations in religious differences, it also has been claimed to be rooted in the Pagan holiday of Samhain, a Scottish, Gaelic, pagan festival marking the end of the harvest time and the beginning of the so-called ‘dark half’ of the year.
Coincidentally, Halloween and Samhain are much closer linked than just in its chronology (31 October and 5 November), rather it is claimed that Samhain is the actual foundation of Halloween.
The fact that all of these days, whether Guy Fawkes or Bonfire night, Halloween, Samhain or All Souls day somehow fall around the same time of the year, makes it dubious to say the least.
Mufti Ebrahim Smith in his fatwa has eloquently added that it is best for a Muslim to stay away from any Holidays which are rooted in religious or pagan beliefs.
As the Messenger of Allah, (may Allah’s peace and blessing be upon him) said “leave what is dubious for what is not dubious”.