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Origin of Mid-Autumn Festival and a Muslim perspective

The History and Origins of China’s Mid-Autumn Festival

There are many stories about the origin of China’s Mid-Autumn Festival. As well as the history below, there are several legends that explain the origin of the festival in a more fanciful way.

The term “Mid-Autumn” first appeared in the book Rites of Zhou (周礼), written in the Warring States Period (475–221 BC). But the term only related to the time and season; the festival didn’t exist at that point.

In the Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD), it was popular to appreciate the moon.

Many poets liked to create poems related to the moon when appreciating it.

There is a legend that Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty visited the Moon Palace in his dream and heard a wonderful song.

In the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1127 AD), the 15th day of the 8th lunar month was established as the “Mid-Autumn Festival”.

From then on, sacrificing to the moon was very popular, and has become a custom ever since.

During the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 AD) and the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912 AD), the Mid-Autumn Festival was as popular as Chinese New Year. People promoted many different activities to celebrate it, such as burning pagodas and performing the fire dragon dance.

Worshiping the moon entailed placing a large table in the middle of the yard under the moon, and putting offerings, such as fruit and snacks, on the table.

Nowadays, many traditional activities are disappearing, but new trends have been generated. Most workers and students regard it as a public holiday to escape work and school. People go out traveling with families or friends, or watch the Mid-Autumn Festival Gala on TV at night.

Stories of 3 Origins — Sacrificing to the Moon, Parties at Night, and Eating Mooncakes

Sacrificing to the Moon — Earliest Origins of Ancient Worship

Moon Worshipping
Moon Worshipping

Ancient Chinese emperors worshiped the harvest moon on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese lunar calendar, as they believed that the practice would bring them a plentiful harvest the following year.


The custom of offering sacrifices to the moon originated from worshiping the moon goddess, and it was recorded that kings offered sacrifices to the moon in fall during the Western Zhou Dynasty (1045–770 BC).

The sacrificial offerings include apples, plums, grapes, and incense, but mooncakes and watermelons (pomelos in the south) are essential. The watermelon’s (or pomelo’s) skin is sometimes sliced and opened up into a lotus shape when offered as a sacrifice.

Appreciating the Moon — Harvest Moon Feasts at Night Established

Appreciating the moon has been a traditional custom since the Tang Dynasty. Not just the rich merchants and officials, but also the common citizens, began appreciating the moon together during that time.

The rich merchants and officials held big parties in their large courts. They drank and appreciated the bright moon. Music and dances were also indispensable.

The common citizens just prayed to the moon for a good harvest.

Eating Mooncakes at Mid-Autumn — It Began 650 Years Ago

Mooncakes are the most important food of the Mid-Autumn Festival in China.
Mooncakes are the most important food of the Mid-Autumn Festival in China.

The tradition of eating mooncakes during the festival began in the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368), a dynasty ruled by the Mongols.

At the end of the Yuan Dynasty, the Han people’s resistance wanted to overthrow the rule of the Mongols, so they planned an uprising together. But they had no way to inform other Han people who wanted to join them of the time of the uprising without being discovered by the Mongols.

The military counselor of the Han people’s resistance army, Liu Bowen, thought out a stratagem related to mooncakes. Liu Bowen asked his soldiers to write “uprising on the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival” on slips of paper, put them in mooncakes, and then sell them to the other Han people.

When the night of the Mid-Autumn Festival came, a huge uprising broke out and the Han people succeeded.

From then on, people ate mooncakes every Mid-Autumn Festival to commemorate the uprising (although this is little-remembered today).

Muslim’s Perspective

Since we have understood clearly that this celebration and the activities surrounding it, are opposing the teachings of Islam, a true Muslim, with all due respect to the non-Muslims, will not commit any form of disobedience, worst when matters of shirk (false belief that negates one’s Islamic Creed) are concerned.

A true Muslim, adhering to the Quranic and Prophetic teachings, holding steadfast to the ways of the righteous predecessors and safeguarding his faith, will not get himself involved in these shirk activities.

Regarding which origin to believe in, surely there is enough doubt over it’s origins, bordering into shirk territory as it includes concepts like god/goddesses. Allahu Alam.

So, as a Muslim who wants to protect his/her emaan and has taqwa, surely he/she wouldn’t want to dwell into this doubtful territory knowing too well the origin could well be about certain rituals.

When it involves only strengthening ties of kinship and it is purely customary and not against Islamic values and teachings, with no relation whatsoever to any ritual act or places or occasion of rites, Wallahu a‘lam (Allah knows best), only then it is permissible.

Explanation from the trustworthy scholars

The Prophet (peace be upon him) made it very clear that in Islam there are two festivals or holidays. These are the Eid festivals. The celebrations and holidays of a people are from among the actions that most distinguish one people from another. He (peace be upon him) said:

Whoever imitates (or resembles) a people is one of them. [1]

In another saying, he (peace be upon him) gave a clear warning to the Muslims in regards to imitating the non-Muslims in their ritualistic practices:

He who imitates a people will be from among them (on the Day of Judgement). [2]

Therefore, it is not allowed for Muslims to participate in the holidays or celebrations of the non-Muslims. If one says my intention is not enjoin in the celebration but just to be courteous, then we need evidence from the Prophet (peace be upon him)’s life whether he or his companions ever did the same when the festivals of the non-Muslims at their time came.

On the contrary, we have this saying from a companion of the Prophet (peace be upon him):

The Prophet (peace be upon him) arrived in Madeenah while people were celebrating two particular festivals, so he asked: “What is (the significance of) these two days?” Some people replied: ‘They are days which we used to celebrate during the pre-Islamic era.’ So the Messenger (peace be upon him) replied: “Allāh has replaced them for you with two days which are better, the day of ‘Eed Al-Fitr and ‘Eed Al-Adh-haa” [3]

There are other evidences and rulings given by scholars of early times, which further brings to our attention the severe danger in being part of a celebration that has roots coming from polytheism, charms and hearsay- all of which is strictly forbidden in Islam.

As Muslims, we are meant to be people who call people to the true and pure way of life. Here is a reminder for us all from Allāh Himself:

You are the best ummah (group of people) singled out for mankind: you enjoin what is right (ma’roof), forbid what is wrong (munkar), and believe in Allāh. [4]

To sum up, as Muslims, when such times come around, there is indeed something we can do and in fact it should be something which we should be doing on a regular basis – making Dua (pray) that Allāh who is Al-Hādī, the One who guides, open the hearts of all those who are astray to accept the way of life which will salvage their current and more importantly their hereafter. May Allāh guide us all.


Source – China Highlights

[1] Sunan Abu Dawud
[2] Sunan Abu Dawud
[3] Sunan Abu Dawud
[4] Al-Qur’ān | 3:110

Written by Adeel Malik

Born in Hong Kong, grew up in Scotland and ethnically Pakistani, Adeel primes himself to be a multicultural individual who is an advent social media user for the purpose of learning and propagating Islam while is also a sports fan. Being an English teacher himself, he envisions a bright future for Muslims which he strongly believes can only be done with education.

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