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Observing Prophet’s Birthday: Objections Refuted By Shaikh Ahmad Kutty

In a recent article that appeared in a reputable Indian news weekly called Prabodhanam (published from Calicut, Kerala, India, dated February 14), one of our esteemed brothers has raised objections to my answer on commemorating the Prophet’s birthday. My answer was published on onislam.net and appeared in Prabodhanam (dated January 24, as translated into Malayalam by one of my dear friends, Br. Muneer Muhammad Rafeeq). I am writing this piece to clarify the issues raised by the writer. Before proceeding, however, I would like to make a preliminary remark:

While dealing with issues that are contentious among scholars, we may do well to remember the statement of Imam Ash-Shafi`i:

"My view on this issue, I believe, is correct, but it may also be possibly wrong; the view of my opponent, I believe, is wrong, while it could also be possibly right."

One could cite similar words from other imams such as Abu Hanifah and others.

Imam Ash-Shafi`i’s words would go a long way in bringing some spirit of tolerance and sophistication in our scholarly discussions. It would also spare us from seeing issues as simply black and white, thus making us blind to discern the nuisances. Finally, it would restrain us from waving the magic band of Bid`ah in condemning everything we disagree with.

The main issue at stake here is whether commemorating the Mawlid or the birthday of the Prophet is a reprehensible innovation or not. So, let me begin by defining the word Bid`ah.

 Here, once again, I would cite Imam Ash-Shafi`i as my mentor. He says:

"Bid`ah can be divided into two types: the praise worthy and the blameworthy.  Any innovation, that is in direct contradiction with the teachings of the Book, the Sunnah and tradition and consensus, is pure deviation, and hence reprehensible. On the other hand, any good practice that is not contrary to them cannot be considered as blameworthy."

Imam `Izz al-Din ibn Abd al-Salam has expounded on this further in his Qawa`id:

"Bid`ah can be classified into  Wajibah (obligatory), Muharramah (forbidden), Mustahabbah (recommended), Makruhah (undesirable), and Mubahah (permissible)…The way to evaluate each one of them is by using the guiding principles (Qawa`id) of Shari`ah: Thus, if any of them falls under the category of the obligatory, it shall be deemed as obligatory; if it falls under the category of the forbidden it is forbidden; likewise, those that fall under the recommended are recommended, under the undesirable are undesirable, and under the permissible are permissible."

He then goes on to give examples of each of the above categories of Bid`ah; and he lists the following under the category of the recommended:

"Setting up boundary posts (to guard the territory of Islam), schools, and performing any of the virtuous deeds that were not found during the early (pious) generations such as Taraweeh prayers, discourse on the subtle points of Tasawwuf, scholarly dialogues, holding special occasions or conferences to expound on such issues, as long as they are done with good intention of pleasing Allah."

 Imam Ibn Hajar, referred to as Amir al-mu’minin in Hadith sciences, while commenting on the issue of calling Adhan before Jumu’ah states:

"Any practice that did not exist during the Prophet may be called a Bid`ah or innovation; however, an innovation can be deemed as either good or bad."

Muslims over the centuries have made numerous good innovations in this sense. Some of these include the following: the Adhan of Jumu’ah, as Ibn Hajar has indicated; praying Tahajjud in Jama’ah in the Haram; offering collective Du`aas during the Qunut and Khatm of the Qur'an in Taraweeh; add to these, the innovations of the pious Caliph `Umar. All of these, I need not state, have been accepted by the community without any qualms.

Our writer has cited favorably Imam Ibn Hajar; however, he may have been unaware of Ibn Hajar’s view on celebrating the Mawlid. I will quote him directly:

"Celebrating Mawlid is an innovation in the sense that there is no mention of it during the first three generations; nevertheless, there are many benefits, as well as evils, associated with this practice. If, therefore, one were to be keen on making use of its benefits  while shunning the evils associated with it, it would be deemed as a good innovation; otherwise, we cannot consider it as such."

Ibn Hajar adds:

"I have found a sound basis for considering the commemoration of the Mawlid as a good practice. I am referring here to the authentic report by Al-Bukhari and Muslim: When the Prophet arrived in Madinah, he saw the Jews fasting the tenth of Muharram; when he asked them about it, they said: ‘It is the day that Allah drowned Pharaoh and saved Musa; so we are fasting in order to thank Allah for it"… We can infer from this that we are allowed to express gratitude to Allah for a blessing that Allah has bestowed on us or a favor, or averting a calamity; it can be celebrated every year. And thanking Allah can be by offering prostrations, fasting, acts of charity, reciting the Qur’an. Can there be a greater blessing than that of the arrival of the Prophet of mercy?...

However while celebrating this event one should limit it to giving thanks to Allah by reciting the Qur’an, feeding the poor, offering charity, and singing the praises of the Prophet and such actions that would inspire the hearts to do good works and remember the next world."

Ibn Hajar is only one of the many eminent scholars and jurists of the past and present who consider the observance of the Prophet’s birthday during Rabi’ul Awwal a good practice. Their names are too many to mention here: They include: Ibn Kathir, the author of the well known work on Tafsir, Al-Hafiz Al-`Iraqi (the famous scholar of Hadith and the teacher of Imam Ibn Hajar),  Ash-Sakhawi, Abu Shaamah, Ibn Hajar Al-Haythami, Ibn Al-Jawzi, Subki, Suyuti, Showkani, Ibn `Abideen; and among the modern scholars are  Ibn `Ashur, Hasanayn Makhluf, Sa`id Hawwa,  `Atiyyah Saqr, Qaradawi, Ibn Bayyah among others.

The scholars mentioned above have cited a number of points to support their conclusions; I would like to mention a few:

1. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was asked about fasting on Monday; he said that it was the day he was born and the day he received the revelation. This is an authentic Hadith by Muslim on the authority of Abu Qatadah. The question arises: Why did the Prophet mention his birth in this context?  Wasn’t he more anxious than anyone of us to save us from reprehensible innovations?

2. Allah tells us to remember and remind ourselves of the great days of Allah and His great favors,  and celebrate His blessings with great joy. Isn’t the arrival of the Prophet of mercy worthy of remembrance and celebration?

3. While narrating the story of prophet Yahya, peace be upon him, Allah says:

{[God's] peace was upon him on the day when he was born, and on the day of his death, and will be [upon him] on the day when he shall be raised to life [again].} (Maryam 19: 15);

And Allah narrates the words of Prophet `Isa, peace be upon him:

{… peace was upon me on the day when I was born, and [will be upon me] on the day of my death, and on the day when I shall be raised to life [again]!} (Maryam 19: 33).

How can we then consider it wrong to say that the day of the birth of the Prophet of mercy is also a memorable day for us to remember?

4. The Prophet’s arrival in Madinah as well as his return from Tabuk was commemorated. The writer missed the point when he took my words on the Hijrah incident. The fact that the Prophet’s arrival in Madinah was commemorated with great joy is a fact well documented. No one has denied this. Anas, the famous companion of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) refers to it as one of the two momentous events in the history of Madinah. It was commemorated with great joy and fanfare.

He says:

"On that day, I was running with the children, who were saying: ‘Muhammad has arrived’. I looked but I saw no one; then the announcement was made that the Prophet has arrived…they were welcomed by around five hundred people of Ansar…and the people of Madinah came out, including the young girls on tops of the houses looking …and we never saw a spectacle comparable to it… The girls from Bani al-Najjar came out singing and beating the drums: ‘We are girls from Bani al-Najar; what an honorable guest is Muhammad to welcome!’"

The writer is right in saying that the particular report of singing Tala` al-Badr ( as referred to in my answer) has been described by Hadith critics as Mu’dal (and therefore weak) as they are of the view it happened on the occasion of his return from the expedition of Tabuk.  However, they never doubted the commemoration of the arrival of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) in Madinah.

The same is true for the writer’s remark about `Umar’s choice of Hijrah to mark the Islamic Calendar. No one, including Ibn Hajar, whom he has cited has ever said that anyone of them dismissed the day of the birth of the Prophet because of lesser insignificance; rather, they preferred to reckon the calendar by  Hijrah only because  it was the decisive event well known to everyone ushering in a new glorious chapter for Islam.

It is true that some scholars such as Imam Ibn Taymiyyah, Shatibi and a few others have objected to the commemoration of the Prophet’s birthday.  However, Ibn Taymiyyah has also given benefit to the good intentions of those who commemorate the Mawlid when he said, "Allah might reward them for their best intentions."

Let me conclude this article by citing the words of the eminent scholar Shaikh Qaradawi:

 

"There are among Muslims those who consider any commemoration of the memorable events of Islam, including the events such as Hijrah, Israa’, birthday of the Prophet, …or any of the important events in the history of the Prophet as a reprehensible Bid`ah and source of deviation…this view is not correct… we can only denounce them as such if these commemorations are associated with corruptions and obscenities, as it is happening in some countries during the celebration of Prophet’s birth or the days of saints…

If, therefore, we were to use these occasions to remind ourselves and the people of the Seearah and the life of the great Prophet and his eternal message, how can it be considered a reprehensible innovation and deviation?

While commemorating these memorable events, we are simply remembering the great blessings of Allah… since remembering the blessings of Allah is already sanctioned (in the Qur’an),  how can we say that commemorating the events (such as the birth of the Prophet, etc.) and reminding Muslims of the important lessons, be considered a reprehensible innovation?"

I pray to Allah to grant us rectitude in words and actions and fill our hearts with love of His Messenger so that we can be raised up among his company on the day of Resurrection.

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