In Riyad, Saudi Arabia Celebrates ‘Carnival of Horror’

by Humaira Nabi

SRINAGAR: Saudi Arabia celebrated Halloween and hundreds of residents took to the streets of the capital city Riyadh in spooky costumes. The festival with pagan roots was banned in the Land of Two Mosques and has already been shunned by most of the Middle East.

A Saudi resident on Halloween 2022, which was named ‘The Weekend Horror’.

The celebrations for the first-ever such event started on October 27 under the plan formulated and approved by Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority. This year’s Halloween celebration was dubbed the “Carnival of Horror”.

Up until recently, celebrating Halloween in Saudi Arabia was a crime that “encouraged the concepts of witchcraft and demons.” The offenders faced imprisonment and a fine. In 2018, the Saudi police had arrested more than 19 ex-pats who were at a Halloween party in Riyadh. The local morality police then claimed they had raided a house and arrested party attendees for loud music, “disorderly conduct”, and “the use of masks and strange costumes”.

“But this year, parts of Riyadh, the Saudi capital, looked like creatures from a haunted house had escaped and taken over the city,” The New York Times reported. “Monsters, witches, bank robbers, and even sultry French maids were everywhere, leaning out of car windows and lounging in cafes.”

Halloween is celebrated in many countries on October 31, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day. It begins the observance of Allhallowtide, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed.

Halloween’s origins are linked to the Samhain festival of Britain and Ireland and would coincide with the return of the herds, the beginning of the new year, and the onset of winter. As the people would fire their hearths, they would the souls of their dead visit their homes. People would set bonfires on hilltops and to frighten away evil spirits, they wore masks and other disguises to avoid being recognized by the ghosts thought to be present. The day was associated with the presence of witches, hobgoblins, fairies, and demons.

On the day people engage themselves in various activities including trick-or-treating (or the related guising and souling), attending Halloween costume parties, carving pumpkins or turnips into jack-o’-lanterns, lighting bonfires, apple bobbing, divination games, playing pranks, visiting haunted attractions, telling scary stories, and watching horror or Halloween-themed films.

However, with Saudi Arabia entering the fray, a debate about whether the Halloween celebration is right in Islam or not reignited. Netizens across the globe expressed their views over social media platforms, and various Hashtags related to the festival trended on Twitter.

“These images were taken in Riyadh. The crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman, has started to allow Halloween Celebrations in Saudi Arabia, in the name of “reformism”,” one Twitter handle wrote while sharing pictures of the event. “This is not reformism or innovation but rather dishonour and degeneracy. We do not accept this.”

Riyadh’s “spine chilling” scenes on Halloween are being seen as part of a series of such initiatives undertaken by Saudi Arabia to “boost economic and tourist activity”, with a particular emphasis on “non-religious tourism”. The entertainment industry has been identified as an area to increase economic growth and present the image of a more “modern” Saudi Arabia.

The pagan festival’s re-emergence is being seen as part of the “reforms” that Saudi crown prince MbS started. The initiatives envisage the reopening of cinema halls, permitting fashion festivals, permitting gala music events, encouraging film-making, and side-lining moral policing. Though the Western media liberally covered the MbS entertainment push, the critique that political repression is up and freedom of speech is denied continues to dominate the reportage.

Interestingly, the birthday of the Prophet of Islam (Mawlid) is celebrated across the world but is forbidden in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

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