The subject of celebrating the Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) birthday, or Mawlid has in recent times been misconceived. This paper is insufficient to go into the detail concerning the legality of celebrating Mawlid however even for a brief examination it is vital to consult the ultimate sources – the Qur’an and the Hadith, to provide clarification.
When examined through a simple methodology, a majority opinion should suffice, then there is only one thing to consider; the effect of it on the heart of a believer because, ‘There are thousands of dalils open to interpretation and provide scope for disagreement. But there is only one heart and its argument is one, an argument that clamours for serenity, for Dhikr...’ (A.H Murad).
The Mawlid is important in this respect in that every Muslim harbours in his or her heart profound love and respect for the Messenger (SAW). It is this love that naturally demands expression, which incidentally takes the form of poetry, song and narration of the Sirah. Even if everything in our modern environment challenges our Iman (faith), it is essential that we attach ourselves to the Messenger (SAW) for that is where spiritual nourishment is found.
The concept of celebrating the arrival of the Messenger (SAW) should never call for contention, but sadly it is so. The question is why? Why must this arrival cause arguments when we find that the birth of a baby in any household brings much joy– it is a natural feeling and one that Allah has put in our hearts as a way of thanking Him for his blessings.
As for its permissibility in Shari’ah, the basic principle of jurisprudence, concerning mu’amalat (dealings), applies in that everything is halal (permissible) unless it is declared to be haram (forbidden) by the Qur’an or Sunnah. Thus the burden of proof is on the person arguing that something is haram.
So the question explored is, ‘Where in the light of the Quran and the Hadith is celebrating Mawlid declared to be unlawful or haram?’
Legality of Mawlid according to the Holy Qur’an
Allah states: ‘Say: Because of the (fadl) Blessings of Allah and His (rahma) Mercy you should celebrate (with happiness and pleasure). That is better than what (wealth) they amass.’ (Q.10:58). In this particular verse Allah commands that we rejoice and celebrate His blessing and mercy. But what exactly should we be rejoicing and what does Allah’s fadl and rahma refer to?
According to other verses in the Qur’an and the explanations given by scholars through their tafsir works of this ayah, the fadl and rahma is a direct reference to the Prophet (SAW). In numerous verses of the Qur’an Allah declares that the Prophet (SAW) is Allah’s mercy and a blessing.
Allah states: ‘Indeed Allah conferred a great favour on the believers when he sent among them a Messenger (Muhammad)’ (Q.3:164)
In this verse Allah uses the words fadl and rahma in the same sequence as in the verse of Surah Yunus thus denoting Allah’s fadl and rahma is the Prophet (SAW). It is also stated ‘It is He who has sent among the unlettered ones a Messenger (Muhammad (saw)) from among themselves.’ (Q.62:2).
The first ayah addresses the people who lived in the time of the Prophet (SAW). However Allah does not confine this blessing and mercy to only them but states in the next ayah ‘And (He has sent him, Muhammad also to) others among them who have not yet joined them (but they will come).’ (Q.62:3)
This verse refers to those generations of believers who did not see the Prophet (SAW) physically but are not excluded from this blessing and thus there is no limit on the time period of when to rejoice. After explaining the extent and nature of the Prophet’s (SAW) mercy Allah says ‘That is the Grace of Allah, which He bestows on whom He wills. And Allah is the owner of Mighty Grace.’(Q.62:4)
An important point to note here is from the sentence ‘Allah is the owner of Mighty Grace’. Allah is the Lord of fadl but He Himself is not the fadl which some commentators incorrectly translate as. He is the Lord of the highest blessing, its owner and possessor. For instance if you are an author of a book you are not the book itself.
The Qur’an also singles out the birthday as an important event and worthy of mention. As one example, Allah commands us to send salaam on the day Prophet Yahya (as) was born i.e. his birthday. ‘And send salaam on him the day he was born, and the day he dies and the day he will be raised up to life (again).’ (Q.19:15)
If the celebration of birthdays is an innovation and is prohibited then why would Allah single out the birthday of Prophet Yahya (as)? If Allah is ordering mankind to convey greetings to Prophet Yahya (as) then how can one say it is prohibited to do the same for the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) on his birthday, who is the last and greatest of all Prophets?
Legality of Mawlid according to the Hadith
In a Hadith narrated by Abu Qatada Ansari (rad), Allah's Messenger (SAW) was asked about fasting on Monday, whereupon he said: ‘It is (the day) when I was born and revelation was sent down to me.’ (Muslim, Book 6, No. 2606). It is clear from this Hadith that the Prophet (SAW) fasted on the day of his birth out of gratitude. Fasting is a form of worship, so one can fast or hold gatherings or provide food to the poor, all being acts of worship.
The Prophet (SAW) himself celebrated his birth. In a Hadith narrated by Anas (rad), in the Sunan of Imam Bayhaqi, (v.9 p.300 no. 43), states that the Prophet (SAW) sacrificed some animals and performed an aqiqa for himself after the announcement of his Prophethood.
Imam Suyuti states that this was not an aqiqa done in the traditional sense since his grandfather had already performed it. It is not possible to repeat an act of Shari’ah once it is already done. Imam Suyuti states that the reason for the sacrifice of the animals was an act of thankfulness and a celebration done by the Prophet (SAW) for his birth. Imam Suyuti concludes that it is mustahab (advisable) for us to celebrate the mawlid in ijtima (collectively) since the Prophet (SAW) sacrificed animals and distributed the food and thus we too should have a gathering and distribute food and rejoice in a good manner (‘Husn Maqsid fî `Amal-il mawlid by Imâm Jalâl ad-Dîn Suyûtî, pp. 64-6).
Some critics may argue that since the Prophet’s original aqiqa was done in the period of jahliyyah he wanted to repeat it to ensure its proper performance. However this is not a valid argument because why were other acts not repeated by the Prophet (SAW)? For example why did he not repeat his nikah to Hadrat Khadija (rad) which was originally done prior to Prophethood?
In another hadith it is reported by Abdullah ibn Abbas that the Prophet (SAW) found that the Jews were fasting on the 10th of Muharram. He asked them why this was so. They replied that this was a blessed day since on this day God gave Bani-Israel liberty and independence from Pharaoh. The Prophet (SAW) then said ‘if you are fasting on a day when Musa received success then I am closer to Musa than you. I have a better right over Musa than you. So I will fast on the same day.’ So the Prophet (SAW) ordered his Companions to begin to fast on the day of Ashura. (Muslim, Book 6, Ch. 19 Hadith no. 2518 & 2520).
This Hadith shows that it is permissible to celebrate a blessing of Allah even if it is celebrating an event that took place on a particular day. When the Prophet (SAW) heard the answer of the Jews, he did not say it was impermissible to celebrate such a day. Instead he encouraged Muslims to fast on this day too. From this Hadith one can construe that the day of Ashura was blessed due to Prophet Musa (a.s) then surely the day that the Best of Creation was made rahmatalil alimeen should also be celebrated by us.
Imam Al Suyuti, from Alhawi lil fatawi, wrote a chapter entitled ‘The Good Intention in Commemorating the Mawlid’ in which he said, ‘To commemorate the Mawlid, which is basically gathering people together, reciting parts of the Qu'ran, narrating stories about the Prophet's birth and the signs that accompanied it, then serving food, and afterwards, departing, is one of the good innovations; and the one who practices it gets rewarded, because it involves venerating the status of the Prophet and expressing joy for his honourable birth.’
Further to this Allama Ibn Qayyim al Jawziyyah, a renowned student of Imam Ibn Taymiyya, writes, in Madarij as-Salikin. ‘Listening to a good voice celebrating the birthday of the Prophet (SAW) or celebrating any of the holy days in our history gives peace to the heart, and gives the listener light from the Prophet (SAW) to his heart, and he will drink more from the Muhammadan spring’
Ibn Kathir showing his appreciation of celebrating the Mawlid, mentions in Al Bidayah wan Nihayah the Islamic ruler Malik al-Muzzafar. He writes, ‘During Rabi ul Awwal he used to celebrate Mawlid with great celebration, Moreover, he was benevolent, brave, wise, a scholar, and a just person. Shaykh Abul Khattab wrote a book on Mawlid an Nabi for him and named it At-Tanwir fi Mawlid al Bashir al Nazeer, for which he gave him 1000 dinars. His rule stayed till the Rule of Salahiya and he captured Aka and he remained a man worthy of respect. Al-Sabt mentions that a person attending the gathering of Mawlid held by Muzzafar said: He used to fill the table with 5000 well cooked goats, 10,000 chickens, 100-thousand bowls (of milk) and 30,000 trays of sweets.’ This clearly indicates that the practise of Mawlid was commemorated by those who were authorities in Islam.
From the Muslim point of view, the Prophet (SAW) is the symbol of perfection of both the individual and society. During the Mawlid, when one thinks of the Prophet (SAW) who is to be emulated, it is the image of one who is merciful to those who surround him (SAW) and severe with the false and the unjust. He (SAW) is endowed with virtues of strength and solemnity on the one hand and charity and generosity and ultimately a mercy for the entire creation.
The love of the Prophet (SAW) and celebration of the Mawlid is incumbent upon all Muslims especially upon those who aspire towards his (SAW) way of life. This love is not personal love but rather, the Prophet (SAW) is loved because he symbolises all that is beautiful in God’s creation. His virtues are universal and as such the celebration of his birth is indeed a celebration of humanity.
For further information please refer to Mawlid-un-Nabi (DVD set) by Shaykh-ul-Islam Dr. Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri.