Saturday, Rabi’ul Awwal 13, 1439 AH (December 2nd, 2017)
In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful
Brothers and sisters! Celebrating the birthday of Prophet Muhammad (al-maulid) is actually a very controversial practice in Islam on which Muslims disagree. Misunderstanding over this issue evokes strong emotions and often leads to bitter arguments among the Muslims. As such, we need to place this topic in scholarly perspective and remember to behave kindly and mercifully to our Muslim brothers and sisters.
Prophet’s Birthday (al-maulid) Celebration in History
The month of Rabi’ul-Awwal (the First Spring Season) of the Islamic calendar is well known in the entire Muslim world as Shahr al-Maulid (the Month of Birth) of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him). Although the precise date of his (Prophet) birth is disputed among the historians and scholars, but 12 of Rabi’ul-Awwal is acknowledged in most places as national holiday.
As a matter of fact in Islam there are only two holidays: Eid-ul-Fitr (the first day after the fasting month Ramadan) and Eid-ul-Adha.
Now the question is: Why do the Muslim Ummah make other days during the year as the Islamic holidays? Why the Prophet’s birthday is celebrated and considered as a holiday?
My respected people! Going deeply into the sirah (biography) of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), nobody can trace the tradition of Maulid (the Prophet’s birthday) celebration or other celebrations of very important days in Islamic history. Never the Prophet (Peace be upon him) nor his close Companions or people who followed him and his companions encouraged people to make his birthday as a special day. Nobody knows exactly when the first celebration of the Prophet’s birthday was celebrated or marked as a holiday.
Noted in history that the celebration was found during the reign of Wazir al-Afdlal (487-515 AH/1095-1121 CE) of the Fatimite regime in Egypt. The celebration was held during the day time and attended by government officials and Muslim spiritual leaders in town. The Fatimite Amir as a head of state sat in the balcony of the palace and three speakers in sequence delivered their Maulid speeches. They talked about Prophet Muhammad’s (Peace be upon him) origin, his birthday and his life. At that time, celebration was not only for the Prophet’s birthday but also the birthday of Ali (the Prophet’s cousin), Fatimah (his daughter) and the Amir as the present Imam of Shi’ite Muslim. The influence of the Shi’ite doctrine of the celebration of the Prophet’s birthday (maulid) was very clear and is still eminence in modern Egypt even today. Foreign tourists who visited Cairo several times or anybody who ever stayed there for a long period will note that Husain’s birthday (the Prophet’s grandson) was celebrated more thoroughly and illuminiously than the Prophet’s birthday, in the meantime the majority of Muslims in Egypt today adhere to Ahlus Sunnah’s wal jama’ah Islam.
Ibnu Khalikan’s historical report says that the Ahlus Sunnah version of the Prophet’s birthday celebration was introduced in Egypt by Al-Malik Muzaffar Ad-Din Kukburi in 604 AH/1207 CE. Kukburi was brother of Salahuddin al-Ayyubi (Saladin). These were the days of Crusade where almost 200 years, when waves after waves of crusaders from Europe came to the heart of the Muslim world in the Middle East to fight Muslims in their own countries.
During the crusade a process of acculturation took place. Both Islamic and Christian cultures exchanged views on many things and each tried to put its influence on the other. Christians brought the sciences, technologies and wisdom of the East to Europe, and Muslim imitated some festivals and feasts of the Christians who lived among them. One of these feasts is the tradition to celebrate the birth of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) as Christians celebrated the birthday of Jesus Christ, known as Christmas.
This Christian impact is clearly seen in the use of wax light in Maulid festival, torchlight procession, mass entertainment’s, special cakes and foods on the occasion, etc. A big festival was organised and attended by a huge number of people from Cairo and its vicinities. The Amir as a head of the state and the Sufi orders played a significance role in the festival.
A tower made of wood for the Amir was erected in the courtyard of the palace. People attending the festival were entertained by groups of musicians and singers of various kind. Week after week during the month of Maulid, streets of Cairo were overcrowded by people who celebrated the occasion. On the eve of Maulid, after Maghrib prayer, people under the command of the Amir paraded on the street of Cairo starting from the Citadel proceeding to the Palace. In their hands were torches. On the Maulid Day all citizens assembled in the courtyard of the Palace where a tower made of wood had been erected. Beside the tower stands a pulpit for the speakers who would sermon the audience and narrate the story of the Prophet’s birthday. The Amir was not only able to see the whole audience from the tower but also watched the troops who parade on one corner of the courtyard. Guests of honour were received by the Amir on the tower and were given Jubbah of honour (long dress for man). On the evening the Amir and officers of the state celebrated the Maulid with sufis in their zawiyah (place where the sufis preferably offer their rituals and sufis practices).
From Egypt, the tradition of Maulid was spread to Makkah and the land of Hijaz in Arabia (by the strangers from Egypt). From the Holy City where Muslim peoples of different nationals assembled during the hajj season each year, the tradition was spread to North Africa, Morocco and Andalusia (Spain). To the north it was spread to Syria, Iraq, Turkey and the Balkan peninsula, and to the south, to Yemen and Hadramaut, and to the east, to South-East Asia, Indonesia and to the whole of Africa.
Brothers and sisters! Today, without knowing its origin, the Maulid celebration and commemoration has become part of religious and cultural life of many Muslims. Even in some rural areas, the Maulid celebration is identical with parties to commemorate a child’s birthday, the day of child’s circumcision, marriage, etc.
Brothers and sisters! Even the great scholar of Islam, Imam As-Suyuti, although he supports celebrating the Prophet birthday (maulid), admits that it was a practice that was instituted several centuries after the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and his companions.
Imam As-Suyuti said:
“The first to institute celebrating the birthday was the ruler of Irbil, the king Muzhaffar Abu Sa’id Kukbari Ibn Zain al-Din Ibn Baktagin, one of the great and noble rulers who left behind many good works.” [See Husn Al-Maqsad fi Amal Al-Mawlid of Imam As-Suyuti]
The Arguments of Those who Celebrate the Maulid
Those who think that this birthday (Maulid) should be continued produce specious arguments which are flimsier than a spider’s web. These specious arguments may be Inshaa Allah dealt with as follows:
1. Their claim that this is veneration of the Prophet (Peace be upon him):
Our response to that is that the way to venerate him is to obey him, do as he commanded and avoid that which he forbade, and to love him; he is not to be venerated through innovations, myths and sins. Celebrating his birthday is of this blameworthy type because it is a sin. The people who venerated the Prophet (Peace be upon him) the most were the Sahabah, his Companions, as Urwah Ibn Mas’ud said to Quraish:
“O people, by Allah I have visited kings. I went to Caesar, Chosroes and the Negus, but by Allah I never saw a king whose companions venerated him as much as the companions of Muhammad venerated Muhammad (Peace be upon him). By Allah, whenever he spat it never fell on the ground, it fell into the hand of one of his companions, then they wiped their faces and skins with it. If he instructed them to do something, they would hasten to do as he commanded. When he did ablution (wudu), they would almost fight over his water. When he spoke they would lower their voices in his presence; and they did not stare at him out of respect for him.” [Al-Bukhari].
Yet despite this level of veneration, they never took the day of his birth as an Eid (festival). If that had been prescribed in Islam they would not have neglected to do that.
2. Using as evidence the fact that many people in many countries do this:
Our response to that is that evidence consists of that which is proven from the Prophet (Peace be upon him), and what is proven from the Prophet is that innovations are forbidden in general, and this is an innovation. What people do, if it goes against the evidence, does not prove anything, even if many of them do it. Allah the Most High said:
“And if you obey most of those on the earth, they will mislead you far away from Allah’s path.” [Quran, 6:116]
Nevertheless, in every age, praise be to Allah, there have always been those who denounce this bid’ah and state clearly that it is false. Those who persist in following it after the truth had been explained to them have no proof.
Among those who denounced the celebration of this occasion was Shaykhul-Islam Ibn Taymiyah, in his blessed book Iqtida’ as-Sirat al-Mustaqim; Imam ash-Shatibi in his Book al-I’tisam; Ibn al-Haj in his Book al-Madkhal; Shaykh Taj al-Din Ali Ibn Umar al-Lakhami who wrote an entire book denouncing it; Shaykh Muhammad Bashir al-Sahsawani al-Hindi in his Book Siyanah al-Insan; al-Sayyid Muhammad Rashid Rida wrote a separate essay on this topic; Shaykh Muhammad Ibn Ibrahim alush-Shaykh wrote a separate essay on it; Shaykh Abdul-Aziz Ibn Baz, Shaykh Al-Albani, Shaykh Al-Uthaimin, Shaykh Fauzan, Shaykh Rabi’, Shaykh Muqbil, Shaykh Abubakr Mahmud Gumi and others who are still writing and denouncing this bid’ah every year, at the time when this bid’ah is being done. Mind you, don’t try to tell me that the Saudi scholars and leaders supports or celebrates Prophet birthday (maulid)! It’s a lie and among the fake news going round in the social media!!
3. They say that by celebrating the maulid they are keeping the memory of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) alive:
Our answer to that is that the memory of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) is constantly kept alive by the Muslim, such as when his name is mentioned in the Adhan and Iqamah and in Khutbahs, and every time the Muslim recites the Shahadatain after doing Wudu (ablution) and in the prayers, and every time he sends blessings (Salati) upon the Prophet (Peace be upon him), in his prayers and when he is mentioned, and every time the Muslim does a wajib (obligatory) or mustahab (recommended) action that was prescribed by the Messenger (Peace be upon him). In all of these ways (the Muslim) remembers him and the reward equivalent to the reward of the one who does that action goes back to the Prophet (Peace be upon him). Thus the Muslim constantly keeps the memory of the Messenger (Peace be upon him) alive and has a connection with him night and day throughout his life through that which Allah has prescribed, not only on the day of the maulid and things which are bid’ah and go against the Shari’ah and the Sunnah, for that wallahi puts one at a distance from the Messenger (Peace be upon him), and the Messenger (Peace be upon him) will disown him because of that.
The Messenger (Peace be upon him) has no need of this innovated celebration, because Allah has already bestowed veneration and respect upon him, as He says:
” … and raised high your fame … “ [Quran, 94:4]
For Allah is not mentioned in the Adhan, Iqamah or Khutbah except that the Messenger (Peace be upon him) is mentioned after Him; this is sufficient veneration, love and renewal of his memory, and sufficient encouragement to follow him.
Allah did not refer to the birth of the Messenger (Peace be upon him) in the Quran, rather He referred to his Mission, and says:
“Indeed, Allah conferred a great favour on the believers when He sent among them a Messenger (Muhammad) from among themselves.” [Quran, 3:124]
“He it is Who sent among the unlettered ones a Messenger (Muhammad) from among themselves.” [Quran, 64:2]
4. They may say that the celebration of the Prophet’s birthday was introduced by a knowledgeable and just king who intended thereby to draw closer to Allah. Our response to that is that bid’ah is not acceptable, no matter who does it. A good intention does not justify a bad deed and even if a person died as a knowledgeable and righteous person, this does not mean that he was infallible.
5. They say that celebrating the mawlid comes under the heading of bid’ah hasanah (“good innovation”) because it is based on giving thanks to Allah for the birth of Prophet (Peace be upon him)!
Our response to that is that there is nothing good in innovation (in religion). The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:
“Whoever innovates anything in this matter of ours (i.e., Islam), that is not part of it will have it rejected.” [Narrated by al-Bukhari]
And he said:
“Every innovation is a going astray.” [Narrated by Ahmad]
The ruling on innovations is that they are all misguidance, but this specious argument suggests that not every bid’ah is a going astray, rather there are good innovations.
Al-Hafiz Ibn Rajab said in Sharh al-Arba’in:
“The words of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) ‘every innovation is a going astray’ is a concise but comprehensive comment which includes everything; it is one of the most important principles of religion. It is like his words ‘Whoever innovates anything in this matter of ours (i.e., Islam), that is not part of it will have it rejected.’ Whoever innovates anything and attributes it to Islam when it has no basis in the religion, this is a going astray and is nothing to do with Islam, whether that has to do with matters of belief or outward and inward words and deeds.” [Jami’ al-Ulum wal-Hikam, page 233]
Brothers and sisters! These people have no proof that there is any such thing as a “good innovation” apart from the words of Umar concerning Tarawih prayers, “What a good innovation this is.” [Sahih al-Bukhari, Mu’allaqan; al-Fath 4/294]
They also said that things were innovated which were not denounced by the Salaf (Pious predecessors), such as compiling the Quran into one volume and writing and compiling the Hadith.
Our response to that is that these matters had a basis in Islam, so they were not newly-invented. Umar said: “What a good bid’ah” meaning innovation in the linguistic sense, not in the Shar’i sense. Whatever has a basis in Islam, if it is described as an innovation, is an innovation in the linguistic sense, not in the Shar’i sense, because innovation in the Shar’i sense means that which has no basis in Islam.
And compiling the Quran into one book has a basis in Islam, because the Prophet (Peace be upon him) had commanded that the Quran be written down, but it was scattered, so the Sahabah compiled it in one volume so as so protect and preserve it. The Prophet (Peace be upon him), led his companions in praying Tarawih for a while, then he stopped doing that, lest that become obligatory on them. The Sahabah continued to pray it separately during the life of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and after his death, until Umar Ibn al-Khattab gathered them behind one Imam as they used to pray behind the Prophet (Peace be upon him). This was not an innovation introduced into the religion.
Writing down the Hadith also has a basis in Islam. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) ordered that some Ahadith (plural of Hadith) should be written down for some of his companions when they asked him for that. In general terms writing it down during his lifetime was not allowed, for fear that the Quran might be mixed with things that were not part of it. When the Prophet (Peace be upon him) died, this fear was no longer a factor, because the Quran had been completed and arranged in order before he died. The Muslims compiled the Sunnah after that in order to preserve it and keep it from being lost.
We may also say to them: why was this act of thanksgiving (the maulid), as they call it, not done by the best generations, the Sahabah, Tabi’in and followers of the Tabi’in, who loved the Prophet (Peace be upon him) most and who were most keen to do good and give thanks? Are those who introduced the innovation of the mawlid more rightly-guided than them? Do they give more thanks to Allah? Definitely not!
6. They may say that celebrating the birthday of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) is indicative of their love for him; this is one way of showing that, and showing love of the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, is prescribed in Islam!
Our answer to that is that undoubtedly loving the Prophet (Peace be upon him) is obligatory for every Muslim; he should love him more than he loves himself, his child, his father and all the people – may my father and mother be sacrificed for him – but that does not mean that we should introduce innovations for doing so that have not been prescribed for us. Loving him dictates that we should obey him and follow him, for that is one of the greatest manifestations of love, as it is said:
“If your love is sincere then obey him; for the lover obeys the one whom he loves.”
Loving the Prophet (Peace be upon him) implies keeping his Sunnah alive, adhering firmly to it, and avoiding words and deeds that go against it. Undoubtedly everything that goes against his Sunnah is a reprehensible innovation and a manifest act of disobedience. That includes celebrating his birthday and other kinds of bid’ah. A good intention does not mean that it is permissible to introduce innovations into the religion. Islam is based on two things, purity of intention (Ikhlas) and following (the Prophet). Allah says:
“Yes, but whoever submits his face (himself) to Allah (i.e. follows Allah’s religion of Islamic Monotheism) and he is a Muhsin (a doer of good) then his reward is with his Lord (Allah), on such shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.” [Quran, 2:112]
Submitting one’s face to Allah means being sincere towards Allah, and doing good means following the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) and implementing the Sunnah.
7. Another of their specious arguments is when they say that by celebrating the Prophet’s birthday (maulid) and reading the biography of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) on this occasion, they are encouraging people to follow his example! We say to them that reading the biography of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and following his example are required of the Muslim all the time, all year long and throughout his life. But singling out a specific day for that with no evidence for doing so is an innovation, and every innovation is a going astray. Bid’ah does not bear any fruit but evil and it leads to a person distancing himself from the Prophet (Peace be upon him).
Brothers and sisters! Wallahi, without any doubt, celebrating the birthday of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) whatever form it takes, is a reprehensible innovation. The Muslims should put a stop to this and other kinds of bid’ah, and occupy themselves with reviving and adhering to the Sunnah. They should not be deceived by those who promote and defend this bid’ah, for these types of people are more interested in keeping innovations alive than in reviving the Sunnah; they may not even care about the Sunnah at all. Whoever is like this, it is not permissible to imitate him or follow his example, even if the majority of people are like this. Rather we should follow the example of those who follow the path of the Sunnah, among the righteous Salaf (predecessors) and their followers, even if they are few. Truth is not measured by the men who speak it, rather men are measured by the truth.
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said:
“Whoever among you lives (for a long time) will see many differences. I urge you to follow my Sunnah and the way of the rightly-guided Caliphs who come after me. Hold on to it firmly. Beware of newly-invented matters (in the religion), for every innovation is a going astray.” [Narrated by Ahmad and at-Tirmidhi]
So the Prophet (Peace be upon him) explained to us in this Hadith what we should do when there are differences of opinion, just as he explained that everything that goes against his Sunnah, be it words or deeds, is a bid’ah, and every bid’ah is a going astray.
If we see that there is no basis for celebrating the birthday of the Prophet (Peace be upon him), whether in the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) or in the way of the rightly-guided Caliphs, then it is one of the newly-invented matters, one of the bid’ah which lead people astray. This principle is what is implied by this Hadith and is what is indicated by the verse:
“O you who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger (Muhammad), and those of you who are in authority (our leaders). (And) if you differ in anything amongst yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger, if you believe in Allah and in the Last Day. That is better and more suitable for final determination.” [Quran, 4:59]
Referring to Allah means referring to His Book (the Quran), and referring to the Messenger (Peace be upon him) means referring to his Sunnah after he has passed away. The Quran and Sunnah are the reference point in cases of dispute. Where in the Quran or Sunnah does it indicate that it is prescribed in Islam to celebrate the Prophet’s birthday (maulid)? Whoever does that or thinks that it is good must repent to Allah from this and from other kinds of bid’ah. This is the attitude of the true servant of Allah and the sincere Muslim who is seeking the truth. But whoever is too stubborn and arrogant after proof has been established, then his reckoning will be with his Lord (Allah).
Was Imam Ibn Taymiyyah really for the Maulid?
Brothers and Sister! Some people claim that Ibn Taymiyyah was for the Maulid (not against it) and as ‘evidence’ they produce the following paragraph from his words:
“And similarly what some people innovate by analogy with the Christians who celebrate the birth of Isa (Jesus), or out of love for the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and to exalt him, and may Allah reward them for this love and effort, not on the fact that it is an innovation…” [Taken from “Majmu’ Al-Fatawa”, Vol. 23 page163, and “Iqtida’ As-Sirat Al-Mustaqim”, page 294-295, Section entitled, “The innovated festivals of time and place.”]
From the above words is seems as if this great Imam, Mujahid and Scholar of Islam, was for the maulid and saw it as something legitimate and rewardable.
However, this is a false interpretation of his words. Here is what Ibn Taymiyyah actually said along with a better translation of the text:
“ﻭ ﻛﺬﻟﻚ ﻣﺎ ﻳﺤﺪﺛﻪ ﺑﻌﺾ ﺍﻟﻨﺎﺱ ﺇﻣﺎ ﻣﻀﺎﻫﺎﺓ ﻟﻨﺼﺎﺭﻯ ﻓﻲ ﻣﻴﻼﺩ ﻋﻴﺴﻰ ﻋﻠﻴﻪ ﺍﻟﺴﻼﻡ ﻭ ﺇﻣﺎ ﻣﺤﺒﺔ ﻟﻠﻨﺒﻲ ﺻﻠﻰ ﺍﻟﻠﻪ ﻋﻠﻴﻪ ﻭ ﺳﻠﻢ ﻭ ﺗﻌﻈﻴﻤﺎ ﻟﻪ ﻭ ﺍﻟﻠﻪ ﻗﺪ ﻳﺸﻴﺒﻬﻢ ﻋﻠﻰ ﻫﺬﻩ ﺍﻟﻤﺤﺒﺔ ﻭ ﺍﻻﺟﺘﻬﺎﺩ ﻻ ﻋﻠﻰ ﺍﻟﺒﺪﻉ.”
“And like that, what some people have innovated, be it out of analogy to the Christians in the birth of Isa (Jesus) or be it out of love for the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and honour for him and Allah, they may be rewarded for this love and ijtihad, not for the innovation.”
So it is clear that Imam Ibn Taymiyyah classed it an innovation, and saw no reward for the deed.
For more information please refer to the Book, The Erroneous and Invalid In Muhammad Hisham Kabbani’s Maulid, By Shaykh Abu Khalil, Dar Al-Kitab Wal-Hikmah publishing. Page 30-32.
Again Imam Ibn Taymiyyah said regarding the celebration of the Prophet’s birthday (maulid):
“Indeed, what they do is like the Christians who have taken the various days of Isa (Jesus), upon him be peace, as celebrations, as well as the Jews. The celebrations in Islam are legislated by Allah to be followed and nothing should be invented in the religion that does not belong to it. Such is the case of what some people have invented, either in imitation of the Christians who celebrate Jesus’s birthday or out of love for the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and exalting his status. Allah might reward them for their love and their reasoning (ijtihad) but not for the innovation (bid’ah) of which they take the birthday of the Prophet as a celebration.” [Iqtida’ As-Sirat Al-Mustaqim 1/294]
Brothers and sisters! To conclude, I think the celebration of the Prophet’s birthday is a matter of legitimate scholarly disagreement. Both sides invoke established principles in Islam, although they disagree about which principle should take precedence in this case. Yet, followers and preachers on either side sometimes go to extremes in denouncing others or including baseless practices on this day, both of which harm the unity and harmony of the Muslim community.
We should remember to behave with each other with gentleness, fairness, and humility, and to remain united in our love of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and Islam even if we strongly disagree on some issues.
Allah the Most High said:
“Hold firmly to the rope of Allah all-together and do not become divided.” [Quran, 3:103]
We ask Allah to unite our hearts in the love of Allah and His Messenger and in following the Prophetic teachings in the best manner. Ameen.
Allah knows best.
And all praise is due to Allah, Lord of the worlds. May the peace, blessings and salutations of Allah be upon our Noble Messenger, Muhammad, and upon his family, his Companions and his true followers.
May the peace and blessings of Allah be upon you all.
Imam Murtadha Muhammad Gusau, from Okene, Kogi State, Nigeria. The Imam can be reached through: email@example.com or +2348038289761.