The month of Rabi Al-Awwal has just started and just like every other year we find ourselves in the midst of the Eid Milad un Nabi aka Mawlid celebrations debate. After a certain point in time, it just becomes a headache. InshaAllah here I’ll try and break it down so that the whole concept is easy for any layman like myself to read and understand. This could get a bit long so fasten your seat belts and pray that Allah shows us the true path.
Before jumping in I would like to share a gem from my teacher, Sheikh Ibrahim Nuhu حفظه الله who says, “Its always better to be safe than sorry especially when it comes to the Deen. What is clear we take from it and what is not we stay far far away from it, no matter what anyone says about it later.”
What is Mawlid?
Mawlid is basically the celebration of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم. Before even getting into it being allowed or not lets have a look at the backbone of the situation. To celebrate a birthday in the first place, you have to know the exact date of birth of the person. Have you ever seen someone celebrate their birthday before or after the actual date? (Celebrating Birthdays = Not Allowed) No, exactly!
It is a commonly held belief that the DoB of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم is the 12th of Rabi Al-Awwal, in the ‘Year of the Elephant’, which is the year that the Abyssinian Emperor Abraha attacked the Kabah with an army of elephants. However, most Muslims are unaware that there has always been great controversy over the precise date of the Prophet’s صلى الله عليه وسلم birth, and it is quite possible that the 12th of Rabi Al-Awwal is not in fact the strongest opinion on the matter.
There is not a single narration in the famous ‘Six Books’ of Hadith that specifies when the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم was born. Rather, the only narration that exists specifies the day he was born, and not the date.
In a long hadith narrated by Abu Qatadah a part of which is, “He was then asked about fasting on Monday, whereupon he said: It was the day on which I was born and on which revelation was sent to me. [Muslim].
No date is mentioned at all. Going through the Seerah one thing that is noticed is that people never used to remember exact days but used to refer to an event by something major that occurred that year. So all that we know is that he was born on a Monday in the Year of The Elephant.
So where does the exact date come in? Ibn Isḥaq, a legend in the field of Seerah, one of the earliest and most authoritative biographers of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم has stated, without any isnad or any reference at all, that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم was born on Monday, the 12th of Rabi Al-Awwal, in the Year of the Elephant. Even though he is considered the first of the biographers, no reference at all is a problem seeing the fact that there was a gap of nearly 200 years between him and the Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم.
Even though the month was accepted by a lot of the scholars the very date was highly debated upon. Coming to Ibn Kathir رحمه الله , a name known to nearly all of us for his monumental works, also lists many opinions in his monumental Al-Bidaya wa-l-Nihāyah regarding the DoB.
1. 2nd Rabi Al-Awwal – This was the preferred opinion of Abu Maʿshar Al-Sindhi رحمه الله, one of the earliest scholars of Seerah.
2. 8th of Rabi Al-Awwal – This was the opinion of the Andalusian scholar Ibn Ḥazm (He also considered 22 as the DoB) and the legendary Imam Malik رحمه الله.
3. 10th of Rabi Al-Awwal – This has been the opinion of Ibn Asakir and Al-Waqidī.
4. 12th of Rabi Al-Awwal – This is the opinion of Ibn Isḥaq
5. 17th of Rabi Al-Awwal – This was the opinion of some Shiʾite scholars, and is rejected by most Sunni authorities.
6. In the month of Ramaḍan, without a specific date, in the ‘Year of the Elephant’. This was the opinion of the famous early historian Al-Zubayr Ibn Al-Bakkar رحمه الله who wrote the first and most authoritative history of Makkah.
As you can see the DoB is widely contested and by some real heavy weights of knowledge. Out of all of these dates, the two dates of the 8th and the 10th were in fact more popular opinions in the first five centuries of Islam but since most of the Seerah books are based on the initial book by Ibn Hisham including the famous “Sealed Nectar”, the opinion of the DoB being 12 was spread widely and hardly anyone knew of any other valid differences of opinion (amongst the common people).
How did Mawlid start?
The very first mention ever made of the mawlid celebrations in any historical work comes in the writings of Jamal Al-Dīn Ibn Al-Ma’mun, who was a part of the Fatimid Caliphate, which was set us as a rival caliphate to the ruling Abbasid Caliphate. They were widely regarded to be heretics and non Muslims due to their beliefs. The celebration was initiated by taking 12 Rabi Al-Awwal as the DoB. It worked in a way where the “Khalifa” would give out food, goodies and a holiday to the public on this day. The Fatimids were desperate to try to legitimize their rule in the eyes of the masses, and one of the ways to do so was to shower them with gifts and various holidays. They not only initiated Mawlid but took part in various Zoroastrian and Christian celebrations including Christmas. It was more of a political move rather than out of love for the Prophet. They started celebrating:
- The Mawlid of the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم
- The Mawlid of Ali رضي الله عنه
- The Mawlid of Fatima رضي الله عنها
- The Mawlid of Hassan and Hussein رضي الله عنهم
- The Mawlid of the present ruler from among their rulers.
When the Fatimid dynasty collapsed, the other mawlids and celebration were forgotten, but the mawlid of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم continued out of popularity. In other words, the mawlid was originally an Ismaili Shia festival.
The Spread of Celebration of Mawlid
The earliest recorded reference in Sunni lands of the mawlid occurs at the beginning of the seventh Islamic century recorded in a history book written by Imad al-Dīn Al-Iṣfahāni entitled Al-Barq Al-Shamī. He mentions of a person by the name, Umar al-Mullah, a venerated Sufi ascetic who initiated it in the Sunni world. The mawlid instituted by Umar al-Mullah involved singing poems in praise of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم , and nothing more than this. Unfortunately, the books of history do not mention the nature or content of these poems.
Muẓẓafar Al-Dīn Kokburi, the ruler of a nearby province soon after took it upon himself to celebrate the mawlid in an extremely lavish manner. It is clear that the relatively toned down mawlid of Umar al-Mullah was now being taken to a different level. From the lavishness of the celebration the news of the mawlid started spreading and increasing in popularity in the Sunni world. Till now the celebration has all been about keeping people happy and hardly about showing “love” for the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. It can be seen that slowly but surely, the practice of celebrating the mawlid spread to other Muslim lands, and as the decades turned to centuries, more and more layers of celebrations were added. Without any divine legislation people could add what they wanted in this celebration and term it Bidah Hasanah.
Now coming to the big question….
Can Mawlid be Celebrated?
As there is a lot of “ambiguity” in the matter we turn to the torchbearers of the Ummah, our scholars.
Before we go any further, lets just go through a quick checklist. There is nothing in the Quran to say that we should celebrate the Mawlid so we have a look at the Sunnah, the Sahaba and the following Great Imams.
The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said, “The best of mankind are my generation, then those who come after them, then those who come after them. Then there will come a people who will not care if their testimony comes before their oath or vice versa (i.e., they will not take such matter seriously).” [Reported by Bukhari, Muslim and Tirmidhi].
It is unanimously agreed upon by all scholars that Prophetصلى الله عليه وسلم never commanded his followers to celebrate his birthday, nor was this practice known to be practiced by the generations after him. Wallahi if there was any khair in celebrating the Mawlid, do you think the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم would have remained silent on this?
The love of the Messenger صلى الله عليه و سلم has to be in in the hearts of all, that is true but in accordance with his teachings. Were not the Sahaba who loved the Prophet the most? Also, there is no report from the Prophet’s own daughter, Fatima رضي الله عنها or from her husband Ali رضي الله عنه of ever celebrating it. If it did have any value then they who clung to the Sunnah like the Fardh would have indulged in it for sure. Then the question to ask is, are we better than them or do we know better than them?
But can it be possible that the Sahaba, the 4 great imams and the people of the best 3 centuries were unaware of it, and it was only those who came later who were aware of its importance? Allah tells us in the Quran:
“… And whatsoever the Messenger gives you, take it, and whatsoever he forbids you, abstain from it…” [Surah Al-Hashr 59:7]
“… This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion…” [Surah Al-Maa’idah 5:3]
Innovating things like the way mawlid is celebrated today could be interpreted as meaning that Allah did not complete the religion for this Ummah, that the Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم failed to convey to this Ummah all that they should do, until those people came along later and innovated in the religion things that Allah had not permitted, claiming that these were things that would bring them closer to Allah. How can they claim to love the Messenger and yet portray that he didn’t complete his message to us?
Abu Dharr رضي الله عنه said: The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم left us (in such a state) that there was not a bird flapping it wings in the air except that he صلى الله عليه وسلم would teach us about it. He (Abu Dharr) said: the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said:
” There is nothing left which would take you closer to Jannah and distance you from the fire except that it has been made clear to you” [Graded as Sahih by Sheikh Al-Albani in Al-Saheehah (1803)]
The Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم has conveyed the Message clearly, and there is no way of reaching Paradise and avoiding Hell that he has not explained to his Ummah.
As there is no legislation for this celebration the people celebrating this could even involve Shirk Al-Akbar, in the form of exaggeration about the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم out of “love” for him. They may even pray to him, calling out for his help and support, claiming that he knows the unseen, and other forms of bidah/kufr which many people indulge in when they celebrate the birthday of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم.
Sheikh Al Islam Ibn Taymiyyah رحمه الله says, ” Because the Eids are legislated laws from amongst the laws, so it is necessary to follow them, and not to innovate in them. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم had many lectures, treaties, and great events that happened on a number of (documented) days such as the Day of Badr, Hunain, al-Khandaq, the Conquest of Makkah, the occurrence of his Hijrah, his entry to Madinah and none of this necessitated that these days be taken as days of Eid. Rather this sort of thing was done by the Christians who took the days in which great events happened to Isa as Eids, or by the Jews. Indeed the Eid is a legislated law, so what Allah legislates is followed, otherwise do not innovate in this religion that which is not part of it.”
The Prophet already told us: “Do not exaggerate about me as the Christians exaggerated about the son of Maryam. I am only a slave, so say, ‘The slave of Allah and His Messenger.’” [Bukhari].
So basically now it is imitating the Christians, because the Christians celebrate the birthday of Isa عليه السلام so we therefore also have to celebrate the birthday of Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم to keep up? Or if we go back to the origins of Mawlid, then we are imitating the Fatimid Kuffar who cursed the Sahaba or the Sufis who propagated it. In any scenario we are trying to imitate the non believers which is very very dangerous.
It was narrated from Abu Saeed al-Khudri رضي الله عنه that the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said: “You will certainly follow the ways of those who came before you hand span by hand span, cubit by cubit, to the extent that if they entered the hole of a lizard, you will enter it too.” We said: “O Messenger of Allah, (do you mean) the Jews and the Christians?” He said: “Who else?” [Bukhari]
Sheikh Al-Faakihani رحمه الله really laid the smack down when he said, “I do not know of any basis for this mawlid in the Quran or Sunnah, and there is no report that any of the scholars of this Ummah, who are examples in matters of religion and adhere to the path of those who came before, did this. Rather it is an innovation which was introduced by those who have nothing better to do, and it is a means for them to have fun and eat a lot.” [LOL]
Acts of worship include festivals. Allah has prescribed two festivals or Eids for us to celebrate, and it is not permissible for us to celebrate any others.
Abu Dawood narrated that Anas رضي الله عنه said, “When the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم came to Madinah, they had two days on which they would play. He said: “What are these two days?” They said: We used to play on these days during the Jaahiliyyah. The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلمsaid, “Verily Allah has replaced them for you with something better than them: the day of (Eid) Al-Adha and the day of (Eid) Al-Fitr.” [Graded Sahih by Sheikh Al-Albani]
If merely celebrating a festival was a matter of custom, and had nothing to do with worship or imitating the disbelievers, then the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم would have left them to their play and entertainment, because there is nothing wrong with playing, or permissible entertainment and fun.
He صلى الله عليه وسلم said: “The best of speech is the Book of Allah, and the best of guidance is the guidance of Muhammad. The most evil of things are those which are newly-invented (in religion), and every innovation is a going astray.” [Muslim].
It was narrated that Abdullah Ibn Umar رضي الله عنه said: The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said: “Whoever imitates a people is one of them.” [Abu Dawood]
Ibn Taymiyah رحمه الله commented on this saying, ” This at the very least indicates that it is Haram to imitate them, although the apparent meaning is that the one who imitates them is a kaafir.” The one who imitates the kuffaar generally feels inferior to them and seeing media portrayal nowadays I wouldn’t be surprised to see why we are trying to fit in and be accepted.
What more do we need to run far far away from this?
Sheikh Al Islam Ibn Taymiyyah رحمه الله wraps it up brilliantly in his work Iqtiḍā Sirāt Al-Mustaqīm: “That the general ruling is that such a celebration is not a part of the religion, but was added by later generations, and hence should be avoided; but it is possible that some groups of people who practice it out of ignorance (not knowing it to be wrong, but should learn, as it is an obligation on them) will be rewarded due to their good intentions. The mawlid of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم should be celebrated every day, by following his Sunnah and doing in our daily lives what he صلى الله عليه وسلم wanted us to do.
And you will find the majority of these (who celebrate the birthday) in ardent desire of these sort of innovations – alongwith what they have of good intention and ijtihaad for which reward is hoped for – but you would find them feeble in following the command of the Messenger, that which they have been commanded to be eager and vigorous in, indeed they are of the position of one who adorns the Mushaf but does not read what is in it or reads what is in it but does not follow it. Or the position of one who decorates the mosques but does not pray in them, or prays in them rarely…”
But to be very fair, we indeed did have scholars such as Imam Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Imam al-Sakhawi, Imam Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti etc who allowed or gave permission for Mawlid within certain boundaries. Imam Ash Sahwkani, also known as Sheikhul Islam of Yemen explains this and says that those like the above mentioned Imams who seek to permit the Mawlid have anomalies in their opinion and their arguments, compared to the vast majority who prohibit it. The majority of the scholars are agreed that there is no Qiyaas in acts of worship. Therefore, acts of worship must be legislated by divine evidence. Hence the majority have prohibited whilst those who permit it have only made the exception to celebrations which only entail Dhikr and sharing of communal food between Muslims.
Sending salawat, poetry and praising the Prophet would be fine, but the way its celebrated in many parts with processions taking to the streets with music blaring from the speakers, parties etc would not only go against the principle of Mawlid but against the Sunnah of the one such people are claiming to love. Why single out just one day to show our love or make dua for a man who is more beloved to us than our own parents?
Ya Ikhwan! If we really love Allah and his Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم then let us not look into matters and routes to success which never existed. Let us cling to the rope of Allah and the Sunnah of his blessed Messenger صلى الله عليه وسلم for that is showcasing ultimate love and brings us to the path of truth and success.
There are those who do this out of sincere love of our Messenger without knowing of its harms and thinking it to be right. Its our duty to explain and clarify the matter to them so that they can channel their efforts on the right ways. We can show our love by fasting on Monday as he said, keeping our ties with kith and kin, learning the Deen, implementing his Sunnah in our daily lives as per what he prescribed. Enough for us is what he left us. We DO NOT need anything else to prove or show our love towards him.
May Allah guide us all to the straight path and fill our hearts with the love of His Deen and the love of his blessed Messenger, Muhammad Ibn Abdullah صلى الله عليه وسلم
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