Celebrating the birth of our beloved Prophet ﷺ has been a custom of Muslim communities ever since the time of the Companions. To celebrate and commemorate his birth is to ultimately show thanks and gratitude to God for sending him ﷺ to us as a mercy. There is much to be thankful and happy for on this blessed occasion and over the ages it has served as a source of great spiritual outpouring from scholars and sages to the average pious Muslim. It has been the cause of much love and exquisite poetry as well as the inspiration of hundreds, if not thousands, of books on the subject of the Prophet of mercyﷺ.
The occasion of the birth of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ has also been the subject of attack by a deviant few who have allowed themselves to succumb to false calls of piety ultimately reducing the arena of scholarship to that which is known only by a direct literalism that confines knowledge and understanding. Our tradition is built on the textual authenticity of the Qur’an, the word of God, as well as the corpus of Hadith literature. These serve as the primary sources of Islam and there is no dispute in them. Whatever they command is for us to act upon swiftly and whatever they forbid is for us to avoid. However, both consensus (ijmā’) and analogy (qiyās) are part of our tradition and have guided the scholars in understanding and interpreting the primary sources. Those who reject this methodology ultimately reduce their understanding of our tradition to certain eras and certain scholars, failing to see how these eras and scholars fit within the context of the tradition. In other words, they fail to see how others have critiqued them over the ages. To reject the methodology of the tradition is to err greatly and fall into heterodoxy.
Unfortunately, we live in age when we have lost touch with orthodoxy and our tradition and we have allowed these deviant few to spread their false and contorted understanding well beyond their numbers. This has caused much confusion within our global community and specifically it has cast doubt on the issue of celebrating the birth of our beloved Prophet ﷺ. My purpose here is to provide some insight into this matter by citing the text-proofs of our scholars regarding the permissibility and purpose of celebrating the birth of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ.
Sunni Scholars and their Opinions on Celebrating the Mawlid
Ibn Hajar al-‘Asqalani (d. 852/1449):
Ibn Hajar was a Shafi‘i jurist and a hadith master (hafiḍ) and received the title of Commander of the Faithful in hadith. He is most famous for his extensive commentary of Sahih Bukhari “Fatḥ al-Bāri fi Sharḥ Sahih al-Bukhārī”.
Ibn Hajar’s proof-text is found in the story when the Messenger of God ﷺ found the Jews of Madina fasting on the day of ‘Ashura’. Upon inquiring as to why they fasted, he was told that the Jews fasted in gratitude for the safe passing of the Jews and Moses from Pharaoh. The Messenger of God ﷺ responded: “we have more of a right to Moses” and fasted. Ibn Hajar said that this text demonstrates that one can fast as a source of gratitude for an event and extends this to celebrate and show thanks for the birth of the Prophet ﷺwho should cause even more gratitude from Muslims.
Imam Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti (d. 911/1505):
Suyuti was a Shafi‘I mujtahid Imam and also a hadith master (hafiḍ). He was a scholar of the highest caliber and authored over six hundred works.
Suyuti cites the text narrated in the collection of Bayhaqi that the Prophet ﷺ did a sacrifice for newborns (‘aqiqa) for himself even though it was well documented that his grandfather did this for him while he was an infant and the sacrifice for newborns need not be repeated. This shows that the Prophet ﷺ celebrated or commemorated his own birth.
Ibn Taymiya (d. 728/1328):
Ibn Taymiya is the well-known Hanbali scholar from Damascus. He authored many works and was imprisoned as a result of some of his writings in theology (‘aqida), which were considered to have some heterodox points by other orthodox scholars. Despite this controversy that exists up until today, his writings in jurisprudence are widely read.
Ibn Taymiya is often been hailed as the champion of the pure sunna by those who have considered practices such as the mawlid forbidden. Contrary to this, Ibn Taymiya himself held the permissibility of the mawlid and even said that those who engage in it with good practices will be rewarded for it. One should be careful in consulting the legal opinions of the Ibn Taymiya since some additions, notably those published in some of the Gulf countries, have censored these sections.
1. The Prophet ﷺ was asked about fasting on Mondays and he replied that he was born on a Monday and he fasted for that reason.
2. The most famous text dealing with celebrating the birth of the Prophet ﷺ is that Abu Lahab, the uncle of the Prophet ﷺ was seen in a dream by al-Abbas ibn ‘Abd al-Mutalab. Abu Lahab was asked about his state and he said “I am in the fire of hell except that every Monday I am given a small portion of water as a result of freeing my slave girl Thuwayba out of happiness on hearing of the birth of the Prophet ﷺ”. This hadith is found in Bukhari in the Book of Marriage.
This Hadith is graded rigorously authentic (saḥīḥ) even though it is a ḥadīth-mursal meaning in its chain a companion is missing. The aḥādīth-mursala have been accepted absolutely by the Hanafi, Maliki, and Hanbali schools of jurisprudence and they have been accepted with certain conditions in the Shafi‘i school. However, this discussion of the authority (ḥujja) of the ḥadīth-mursal only applies if the text is being used to establish a ruling (ḥukm). In this case the text is being used to establish the great rank and station of the Prophet ﷺ since the love of him, even by a disbeliever, benefits. This is the conclusion that Ibn Hajjar draws after a lengthy discussion of this hadith in his commentary on Bukhari.
Based on this text al-Hafiḍ Shams al-Din ibn Muhammad Nasir al-Dimishqi said:
If this is a kafir whose damnation has been proclaimed
With “Perish the hands.”(Quran XI) in the hell fire for eternity
It has been transmitted to us that on Mondays always
His punishment is made lighter for his joy with Ahmad
What does one think, then, of the slave whose whole life
Is made joyful by Ahmad and he dies as a monotheist?
This glimpse into our tradition should make it clear that the ways the scholars looked at celebrating the birth of the Prophet ﷺ is something that is firmly rooted in textual proof and therefore well established.
Innovation and the Mawlid
Despite these texts and scholarly opinions, there are those who have claimed that celebrating the birth of the Prophet ﷺ is an innovation (bid‘a). This, more than anything, has caused negative opinions, especially in the pat few decades, towards the mawlid.
Innovation for Muslims is a serious matter since the Prophet ﷺ is reported to have said, “Every innovation is misguidance and every misguidance is in the hell fire”. However, scholars mentioned that this text refers to innovation that is forbidden and is not to be applied to all newly invented matters. These scholars demonstrate that innovation is a neutral word meaning that something can be a good innovation and something can be a bad innovation. Accordingly, they state that innovation takes the five rulings in Shari‘a meaning that an innovation can either be: necessary (wājib), prohibited (ḥarām), recommended (mandūb), permissible (mubāḥ), or reprehensible (makrūh). Why is this demarcation necessary? Because everything that is not found literally and verbatim during the time of the Prophet ﷺ is an innovation, such as the compilation of the Qur’an into a musḥaf, the building of schools and hospitals, the studying of Arabic, etc. The scholars accordingly gave the above explanation to show that what is meant by the Prophet’s statement that every innovation is misguidance etc, is that prohibited innovation is not welcome in our tradition. This understanding of bid‘a is what is found in the works of al-‘Izz ibn Abd al-Salam and other great scholars of our tradition.
As for the mawlid itself, it should be clear from the above examples that the scholars consider it a good innovation as long as what occurs during the gathering is permissible by Shari’a. One should do their best to emulate the Prophet ﷺ and make the gathering one of knowledge and invocation.
The Purpose of the Mawlid
Lastly, it is important to take a step back and realize why one should celebrate the birth of the Prophet ﷺ. Without his birth there would be no mercy and no guidance in this world. We would not have a living example of peace and love to follow; we would have no example of a refined human being. The Prophet ﷺ represents for us the connection between humanity and Reality. By following his way we are promised to reach our ultimate goal. By sending prayers and salutations on our beloved ﷺ we are protected from calamity and connect ourselves to that which is timeless and ultimately real.