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 ﷺ. 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 ﷺ 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 ﷺ 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 ﷺ 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. Also, he did not fast the date of the month he was born. 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 ﷺ 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 ﷺ
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 date of birth.
1. 2nd Rabi Al-Awwal – This was the preferred opinion of Abu Maʿshar Al-Sindhi, one of the earliest scholars of Seerah. This was also the opinion of Imams Ibn Sa'd, Ibn Kathir, and Ibn Abdil Barr.
2. 8th of Rabi Al-Awwal – This was the opinion of the Andalusian scholar Ibn Ḥazm (He also considered 22 as the DoB), Ibn Hajar al-Haytami, and the legendary Imam Malik.
3. 10th of Rabi Al-Awwal – This has been the opinion of Imams Ibn Asakir and Al-Waqidī.
4. 11th of Rabi Al-Awwal - Mentioned by Imam Ibn al-Jawzi
5. 12th of Rabi Al-Awwal – This is the opinion of Imams Ibn Isḥaq, Ibn Hibban, Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Sayyd al-Nas.
6. 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.
Some even opined 9th and 13th of Rabi al-Awwal.
Imam al-Nawawi said: “There is an agreement that he was born on Monday in the month of Rabi ’al-Awwal. There is a difference of opinion whether this day was the 2nd, 8th, 10th or 12th day of the month – and these ore the four most well-known opinions concerning this." [Tahdhib Seeratun-Nabawiyyah, 20]
As you can see the date of birth 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). If this was a legit celebration, the Messenger of Allah would have informed us about it and the sahaba would have practiced it every year. On the flip side, we know for sure that Prophet left this world on Monday morning, the twelfth of Rabi‘ al-Awwal, in the eleventh year of al-Hijrah. He was sixty-three years and four days old when he died.
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 in Egypt, 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 date of birth. 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 ﷺ. 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 ﷺ continued out of popularity. In other words, the mawlid was originally an Ismaili Shia festival. For over 600 years, the Muslims did not indulge in this practice till it was introduced by the misguided Shia sect.
Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Tarefe said, "The day the Prophet ﷺ was born was a great day and the day he was sent as a prophet was an even greater day, because on that day the words of Allah came down from the heavens thereby honoring the Prophet with prophethood, yet he did not specify that day for us because it is not subject to any specific act."
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. He was further assisted by Ibn Dahiya who wrote the first ever book on mawlid. The mawlid instituted by Umar al-Mullah involved singing poems in praise of the Prophet ﷺ , and nothing more than this. Unfortunately, the books of history do not mention the nature or content of these poems.
Who is Ibn Dahiya? Imam Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani wrote, "He was a follower of the Zahiri madhab and often slandered the jurists of Islam and the pious predecessors of the former times. He had a filthy tongue. He was a foolish man, ignorant, excessively proud, possessed little insight in the affairs of religion and was negligent’ [Lisaan al-Mizan, 4/296]
al-Muzzafar Al-Din Abu Saeed Kawkaburi, 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 ﷺ. 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.
Al-Hafidh Ibn Kathir said in al-Bidayah wa’l-Nihayah (13/137), in his biography of Abu Sa’id Kawkaburi: “He used to observe the Mawlid in Rabi’ al-Awwal and hold a huge celebration on that occasion … some of those who were present at the feast of al-Muzaffar on some occasions of the Mawlid said that he used to offer in the feast five thousand grilled heads of sheep, ten thousand chickens and one hundred thousand large dishes, and thirty trays of sweets … he would let the Sufis sing from Dhuhr until Fajr, and he himself would dance with them.”
The chain of this celebrations origination can be traced from al-Muzaffar Kawkaburi from Umar al-Mullah from the extreme Shias (Batini Ismaili) from the Christian celebration of the birth of Prophet Isa.
Even in later days, we see the celebration of Mawlid being propagated by the likes of Napolean. Sheikh Saalih al Munajjid writes, "During the French occupation of Egypt, Napoleon ordered that people should celebrate the Mawlid, and he donated to this project himself and attended it personally, because it entails opposing Islamic legislation and included mixing between men and women, and is a form of following desires and committing prohibitions. (Taareekh Al-Jabarti 306/2) He established it on the grounds of corrupting people’s faith, and some of those who celebrate the Mawlid are mercenaries who are there in order to make money out of this celebration, while others are common people who imitate others and seek to fulfill their religious emotions even if it is through an innovation."
In later times, the celebration of Mawlid as a procession began in undivided-India (prior to independence) in Lahore, Pakistan on 5th July 1933 (12th Rabi al-Awwal 1353). Reports state, "In Lahore the first Eid-e-Miladun Nabi procession/ was taken out for the first time on 5th July 1933. For this purpose, permission was taken from the Britishers (Newspaper: Kohistan 22 July 1964). The Mawlid procession was taken out by the Muslims by citing the reason that Hindus and Sikhs take out procession of their leaders, so even they should be able to do the same. (Newspaper: Kohistan 22 July 1964).
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 ﷺ 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).” [Bukhari, Muslim and Tirmidhi].
It is unanimously agreed upon by all scholars that Prophet ﷺ 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 ﷺ would have remained silent on this?
Narrated Salman al-Farsi: It was said to Salman: Your Prophet teaches you everything, even about excrement. He replied: Yes. He has forbidden us to face the qiblah at the time of easing or urinating, and cleansing with right hand, and cleansing with less than three stones, or cleansing with dung or bone. [Abu Dawud]
Just imagine. The Prophet ﷺ has told us how to even clean ourselves and you think he wouldn’t have told us about how to get closer to Allah by doing specific dhikr or reciting certain portions or surahs of the Quran repeatedly or in group unison. Another point to note in this hadith is how the person was actually trying to mock Salman al-Farisi and put him down for following the Sunnah. But the love and pride that Salman had for the Sunnah shone. He not only acknowledged that but went ahead to add even more things for the man to listen to. These were the sahaba of the Messenger of Allah ﷺ. The Prophet ﷺ taught us from the largest of things to the smallest leaving nothing out from his ﷺ's message. Be it Hajj that we're supposed to do just once in a lifetime or the adab of toilet used on a daily basis, he ﷺ taught it all. Wonder why he ﷺ never told us about Mawlid?
Abdullah Ibn Mas'ud said, "Wallah! You have started a dark innovation or do you exceed in knowledge from the Companions of Prophet peace be upon him?" [al-Mu'jam al-Kabeer at-Tabrani 9/126]
Abdullah Ibn ‘Abbas said, "May you be deprived of your mother, do you teach me Sunnah?" [Muslim]
Imam at-Tirmidhi commented, "Ibn Umar narrated from Prophet peace be upon him and he knows his narration more (then others) [Tirmidhi] Where are the narrations of the Mawlid or even a hint or indication of it from any of the 3 Abdullahs?
The love of the Messenger ﷺ 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:
وَمَآ ءَاتَىٰكُمُ ٱلرَّسُولُ فَخُذُوهُ وَمَا نَهَىٰكُمْ عَنْهُ فَٱنتَهُوا۟ ۚ وَٱتَّقُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ ۖ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ شَدِيدُ ٱلْعِقَابِ
“… And whatsoever the Messenger gives you, take it, and whatsoever he forbids you, abstain from it…” [Surah Al-Hashr, 7]
ٱلْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ وَأَتْمَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتِى وَرَضِيتُ لَكُمُ ٱلْإِسْلَمَ دِينًۭا
“… 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-Ma’idah, 3]
What is Bidah? Imam ash-Shatibi states, "Linguistically Bidah (innovation) means ‘a newly invented matter As per the Shariah, it is defined as, “A newly invented way [beliefs or action] in the religion, in imitation of the Shariah (prescribed Law), by which nearness to Allah is sought, (but) not being supported by any authentic proof – neither in its foundations, nor in the manner in which it is performed). [al-I’tisaam]
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 ﷺ 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 said: The Prophet ﷺ 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 ﷺ 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”
The Messenger ﷺ has conveyed the Message clearly, and there is no way of reaching Paradise and avoiding Hell that he has not explained to his Ummah.
Imam al-Awza’i said, “Knowledge is what comes from the companions of Muhammad and that which does not come from a single one of them is not knowledge.”[Jami’ Bayanil Ilm]
Why are we using the sahaba as the benchmark? This is because the revelation came down while they were present, they understood the context of the revelation and they had the purest of hearts. Allāh chose them to be companions of the of the Prophet ﷺ their understanding is given precedence over others.
وَمَن يُشَاقِقِ ٱلرَّسُولَ مِنۢ بَعْدِ مَا تَبَيَّنَ لَهُ ٱلْهُدَىٰ وَيَتَّبِعْ غَيْرَ سَبِيلِ ٱلْمُؤْمِنِينَ نُوَلِّهِۦ مَا تَوَلَّىٰ وَنُصْلِهِۦ جَهَنَّمَ ۖ وَسَآءَتْ مَصِيرًا
And whoever opposes the Messenger after guidance has become clear to him and follows other than the way of the believers - We will give him what he has taken and drive him into Hell, and evil it is as a destination. [Surah al-Nisa, 115] Scholars of tafsir state that believers here refers to the sahaba.
وَٱلسَّبِقُونَ ٱلْأَوَّلُونَ مِنَ ٱلْمُهَجِرِينَ وَٱلْأَنصَارِ وَٱلَّذِينَ ٱتَّبَعُوهُم بِإِحْسَنٍۢ رَّضِىَ ٱللَّهُ عَنْهُمْ وَرَضُوا۟ عَنْهُ وَأَعَدَّ لَهُمْ جَنَّتٍۢ تَجْرِى تَحْتَهَا ٱلْأَنْهَرُ خَلِدِينَ فِيهَآ أَبَدًۭا ۚ ذَلِكَ ٱلْفَوْزُ ٱلْعَظِيمُ
And the first forerunners (in the faith) among the Muhajireen and the Ansar and those who followed them with good conduct - Allah is pleased with them and they are pleased with Him, and He has prepared for them gardens beneath which rivers flow, wherein they will abide forever. That is the great attainment. [Surah al-Tawbah, 100]
Abdullah Ibn Masud said: Follow and do not innovate, for indeed you have been sufficed. [Kitab Az-Zuhd, Waki']
Imam al-Awzai said, “Make yourself patient upon the Sunnah, and stop where the people stopped. And believe what they believed, and avoid that which they avoided. And follow the path of your Righteous Predecessors, because what was sufficient for them is sufficient for you.” [Sharh Uṣul I'tiqad]
Imam Ibn Abdul Hadi said, “And it is not permissible to innovate a newinterpretation of an ayah or a hadith which the salaf did not hold, know of or convey to the Ummah. Otherwise, this implies that they were ignorant of the truth in this(matter), and went astray regarding it, and that the one in opposition (to them) from a later generation was (somehow) guided to it (i.e. the truth).” [Aṣ-Sarim al-Munkir]
Imam Malik Ibn Anas (d.179H) said, “Whosoever introduces into Islam an innovation, and holds it to be something good, has indeed alleged that Muhammad has betrayed the message. Read the saying of Allah – the Most Blessed, the Most High,
الْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ وَأَتْمَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتِي وَرَضِيتُ لَكُمُ الإِسْلاَمَ دِينًا
This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed My Favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islâm as your religion. [Surah al-Ma’idah, 3]
So that which was not part of the Religion at that time, cannot be part of the Religion today. And the last part of this Ummah cannot be rectified, except by that which rectified its first part.” [ash-Shifa’ (2/676)]
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 ﷺ 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 ﷺ.
Sheikhull Islam Ibn Taymiyyah 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 ﷺ 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 ﷺ 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 ﷺ 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 that the Prophet ﷺ 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]
Likewise in the Indian subcontinent. Our Sheikh, Maqsood ul Hasan Faizi حفظه الله said, "People should be ashamed of the things that are being done in the name of Mawlid even if they call it Bida'h Hasanah. They are indulging in the very things the Prophet ﷺ came to forbade. Today we see that during Holi, Hindus say they will play with Red colour for Muslims on Mawlid play it with the green color. What Islam and whose Shariat is this from? You claim to follow RasulAllah but are doing Bida'h Kabeera, not Bida'h Hasanah. Did the Prophet ﷺ fast on Monday, the day of his birth just because of his birth? No. He did so because he told us that on Mondays and Thursdays deeds are presented to Allah and he would like that his deeds be presented to Allah when he was in a state of fasting. Also, is fasting making something Eid? Rather it is contradictory for one does not fast during Eid. The Prophet ﷺ informed us that Friday was an Eid for us and prohibited fasting solely on that day. Rather this daleel of fasting on Monday is against those who celebrate mawlid."
The Sheikh further advised, "Singing nasheeds, doing baseless actions and else, will not fulfill the rights of the Prophet ﷺ upon us. It's going to take way much more than this mediocrity. Are we fulfilling and acting on the message the Prophet ﷺ brought for us."
Can people see the Prophet during Mawlid as is claimed by man charlatans? Imam Ibn Hajar said, "This is very odd. If we interpret it as it appears to be, then these people would be Sahaabah, and there could be Sahaabah until the Day of Resurrection. But this may be refuted by the fact that many people see him when they are asleep but no one says that that they saw him when they were awake, so there is an inconsistency." [Fath al-Bari, 12/385]
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.
Imam Abu Dawud narrated that Anas said, “When the Messenger of Allah ﷺ 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.”
If merely celebrating a festival was a matter of custom, and had nothing to do with worship or imitating the disbelievers, then the Prophet ﷺ would have left them to their play and entertainment, because there is nothing wrong with playing, or permissible entertainment and fun.
He ﷺ 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 said: The Prophet ﷺ said: “Whoever imitates a people is one of them.” [Abu Dawud]
Imam Ibn Taymiyah 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 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 ﷺ 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…”
Imam Saeed ibn al-Musayyib once saw a man praying more than two (Sunnah) rak’at after the beginning of Fajr, making bows and prostrations abundantly in it, so he forbade him. The man said, “O Abu Muhammad, is Allah going to punish me for praying?” the Imam replied: “No, but He will punish you for opposing the Sunnah."
Likewise, on the authority of Nafi` who narrated: "That a man used to meet Ibn Umar, and greet him by saying: “As-Salamu Alayka WaRaḥmatullāhi Wa Barakātuhu Wa Maġfiratuhu Wa Mu`āfātuh.” He (i.e. Nāfi`) said: “And he would do this often. So Ibn Umar said to him: ‘And upon you one hundred times. And if you doit again, I will treat you harshly.’” [Al-Jami` Li-Shu'ab al-Iman]
A person can have the best of intentions when setting out to do a good deed. But in matters of the religion, if it is not backed by the Quran and Sunnah, then it is rendered null and void. A person is sinning for innovating and not learning about the basics of their religion. Ex: You cannot say I am feeling very fresh and have an Iman high today, so I am going to pray 8 rak’at for Dhuhr instead of the legislated 4. This would be a severe innovation and a person will get sins for doing so. This shows us that just because something feels good or even looks good in some cases, doesn’t mean that it is permissible as per the Shariah.
A thing can be bid’ah and still have benefits of some sort. But that benefit does not make the action permissible despite that benefit. It might even give someone an Iman boost, but it is a mirage and in reality it is a trap of Shaitan.
Imam Ibn Rajab says, “This is similar to the state of those who were whistling and clapping around the House (Kabah), as well as those who worshipped Allah by listening to music, dancing, etc. These are from the innovation which were not ordained in their entirety by Allah and his Prophet by which to worship Allah.
Al-Imam al-Shatibi mentions that if certain actions are taken as ibadah where in reality they are not, this will lead to bid'ah. There is a hadith which tells the story of three men who only wanted to do 'good deeds' all the time - one said he will not get married, the second one said he will pray all night and not sleep, and the third said he will fast every day. When the Prophet heard this, he said that he was the most pious and righteous amongst the people and yet he did not do the things the way the men wanted to do them. This shows that the actions that the three men thought were ibadah would have resulted in bid'ah as they weren't practiced by the Prophet.
Imam Shatibi said regarding Mawlid, "Bid’ah (innovation) refers to something that is newly invented in matters of religion that appears similar to that which is prescribed, by which people intend to go to extremes in worshipping Allaah, may He be glorified. That includes adhering to certain forms of worship, such as reciting dhikr in a group, in unison, or taking the day of the Prophet’s birth as Eid, and so on.That also includes adhering to certain acts of worship at certain times, for which there is no evidence in the Shariah, such as always fasting on the fifteenth of Sha’ban and spending that night in prayer. [al-I’tisaam (1/37-39)]
Imam Ibn Al-Haaj al-Maliki wrote, "Even if none of the aforementioned evil or haram actions take place, it is still in and of itself a bid’ah (innovation) because of the same intention only. This is because that is making an increase in the religion and also it is was not from the conduct of the pious predecessors (As-Salaf). It has not reached us that a single one of them ever celebrated it nor intended to do so. Thus following in the footsteps of the Salaf is paramount, rather it is obligatory.”
“And some of them are cautious to avoid that – i.e., listening to haraam things – and they do the Mawlid by reading al-Bukhaari and so on instead of that. Even though reading hadeeth in and of itself is one of the greatest acts of worship that bring one closer to Allah, and there is great blessing and much good in it, that only applies on condition that it be done in an appropriate, Islamically acceptable manner, not with the intention of the Mawlid. Do you not see that prayer is one of the greatest means of drawing closer to Allah, may He be exalted, but nevertheless if a person does it at a time other than the time prescribed for it, it is blameworthy and contrary to Islam. If this applies to the prayer, then what you think about other deeds?” [Al-Madkhal 2/312]
Why is the Shariah so strict about innovations as compared to the sins?
Imam Sufyan al-Thawri used to say,
البدعة أحب إلى إبليس من المعصية؛ لأن البدعة لا يتاب منها، والمعصية يتاب منها،
Bidah is more beloved to satan than sin. Because there is repentance from sin but there is no repentance from Bidah. [Sharah as-Sunnah 1/216]
Both are impermissible and are of varying degrees.Innovations generally harm the religion as a whole and the person innovating whereas the sins usually harm the person themself only. The sinner is disrespecting the Shariah whereas the innovator is bringing something that is in competition with the Shariah.
Imam Ibn al-Qayyim mentions that an innovator thinks that what they are doing is actually good when in reality it is an evil innovation. As for the sinner, he realises that what he is doing is wrong and may still persist in it. When it comes to repentance, the innovator won’t know that he has to repent because he thinks what he is doing is correct. As for the sinner, it is hoped that he will eventually rectify his ways and repent to Allah.
The people of deviance misunderstand and make things as a part of the Shariah that cannot be there and remove things from the Shariah that which cannot be removed. Imagine a glass full of water. More water cannot enter it until that which is already inside spills out. Likewise, innovation cannot enter unless something from the Sunnah is removed. There is only one seat; if Bida'h occupies it, then the Sunnah vacates it.
There is no reward for any action that is not done for the sake of Allah. Similarly, any act which is not done in accordance with the Word of Allah and the Sunnah of His Messenger is rendered null and void.
For an action to be Accepted by Allah, it requires 2 ingredients:
1. It is done with Ikhlas. True sincerity for the sake of Allah
2. It is done as per the instruction and methodology taught by the Prophet ﷺ.
If even one is missing, the action is rejected. Imagine doing Hajj with utmost sincerity, but in Ramadan. What will happen to it? It will be utterly rejected.
We are not fulfilling the obligations upon us, yet we are running to search for the recommended actions which at times are in reality, innovations. Allah describes such deeds as a mirage. People think it is good, but when the Day of Results comes, they'll find that they've not achieved anything.
We see a very strong hadith in this regard. Anas ibn Malik reported: The Prophet said, “Some of my companions will come to me at the fountain in the Hereafter, until I recognize them. They will be taken away from me, then I will say: My companions! It will be said: You do not know what they innovated after you.” [Bukhari]
The Flip Side
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 ﷺ 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?
Even though we mentioned that Imam Ibn Hajar allowed Mawlid, it is only fair if we look at his other fatawa on the matter to understand what exactly he meant when he allowed aspects of Mawlid.
He said: "People innovated dhikr and sending blessings on Prophet peace be upon him before the time of Jummah for the purpose of calling people for Jumuah. This is done in some places and not in other places and the best is to follow the practice of the pious predecessors. [Fath al-Bari 3/45]
He said explaining his stance on Mawlid, "As for the origin of the practice of commemorating the Prophet’s birth, it is an innovation that has not been conveyed to us from any of the pious early Muslims of the first three centuries, despite which it has included both features that are praiseworthy and features that are not. If one takes care to include in such a commemoration only things that are praiseworthy and avoids those that are otherwise, it is a praiseworthy innovation, while if one does not, it is not." [al-Hawi lil Fatawi, Suyuti]
Allamah Siddique Hasan Khan wrote with regards to the difference of opinion of later scholars regarding Mawlid. He said, "Those who say its allowed are much lesser than those who say its not allowed, and they (those who say its allowed) say only making food and providing it (to the poor) and things related to his (peace be upon him) birth should be mentioned (in Mawlid). And we (Siddique Hasan) have already mentioned that now this mawlid is means of disliked (munkar) things. And there is no one who said mawlid is allowed in this way. So, the method of mawlid which is practiced now a days is prohibited with the agreement. [Fatawa Siddique Hasan Khan, 661]
Sheikh Dr. Hassan al Kettani al Maliki, "The exact date of birth of the best of creation ﷺ cannot be established with certainty. It is an innovation to single out the 12th of Rabi al-Awwal for any celebration or turn it into an Eid. It is also contrary to the guidance of the Prophet ﷺ to narrate certain exaggerations and fairy tales contained in certain books of mawlid, using musical instruments, free mixing etc. At the same time, we are people of remembrance. During Ramadan, we remember the battle of Badr, the opening of Makkah and the virtues of our heroes without worry. Therefore, it is a good thing to narrate reliable events of the seerah or the qualities (shama'il) of the Prophet ﷺ during this month. We live in times when people are not connected to the life and character of our beloved prophet ﷺ, and when enemies are on a mission to attack our deen by attacking him. However, this should not be limited to a particular day or month only. Rather, reading and living the seerah should be a daily aim in our life"
Dear students of knowledge sitting in the West. Please don't talk about the permissibility of Mawlid in absolute terms when you have zero understanding of the reality of Mawlid on the ground, especially in the subcontinent. Not every warning is sponsored Haram police. Yes, we know of some scholars that allowed a certain method of celebrating Mawlid. What is happening today is far off from that by miles. Mawlid in the subcontinent is a ripoff of Hindu and Shia festivals and much shirk is propagated and practiced. If not for the name, you wouldn't even know we are referring to the same celebration.
Ya Ikhwan! If we really love Allah and his Messenger ﷺ 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 ﷺ 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 ﷺ without knowing of its harms and thinking it to be right. It's 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.
If it is said that we are at fault for not loving the Messenger of Allah ﷺ enough to celebrate the Mawlid, then we are with the likes of As-Siddiq, Al-Faruq, Abu Turab and Dhun Nurain who lived and ruled for nearly 3 decades after the Prophet ﷺ and yet, they didn't celebrate this day in any manner. If that is the case and a person would still wish to oppose these flag-bearers of the Sunnah, then we wish to be raised with those whom we follow and emulate. Who would you like to be raised with?
We part with an advice from Imam Ahmad who said:
رحم الله عبدًا قالَ بالحق، واتبع الأثر، وتمسك بالسُّنة، واقتدى بالصالحين
"May Allah have mercy on the worshipper who speaks with the truth, adheres to the transmitted reports of guidance, holds firmly on to the Sunnah, and closely follows the way of the righteous Muslims." [Tabaqat al-Hanabillah]
Imam Ahmad said, “And let him not be of those who invent new matters into the Deen, for whenever such a thing emerges from such a man, he seeks to find a proof for what he is doing. So he induces himself to do the impossible, searching for a proof for what he has brought out, whether valid or baseless in order to beautify his innovation and his invention. And worse than that, is that he fabricates it, attributing it to some written text that has been conveyed about it. So he desires to beautify that with truth and falsehood.” [Al-Ibanah]
Our Sheikh Ibrahim Nuhu حفظه الله advised, “Whenever you come across scholars differentiating between something being Halal or Haram then stay away from it and that is good for you. Your leaving it won't be questioned but your doing it could be questioned if it turns out to be wrong. But if the scholars differentiate on something being mustahab or wajib then do it to the best of your ability for you will always win.
When asked about opinions of different scholars and people, Sheikh Ibrahim Nuhu beautifully summarized the whole issue by saying:
كَلاَمُ العُلَمَاءِ يُسْتَدَلُّ لَهُ
وَلاَ يٌسْتَدَلُّ بِهِ
Statements of scholars are not evidence themselves - Rather they are supported by evidence.
Know that Shaitan opens doors gradually. If we avoid the path that leads to the Haram then we are safe in avoiding the Haram as well. Block all such paths and be patient instead of taking a chance and suffering in the future and in the hereafter as well.”
Imam Malik famously said, “Every person’s sayings may be accepted or rejected except for his (pointing towards the grave of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ)”
Whenever you come across anything, make it a habit to ask and find out if:
- Did Allah legislate it?
- Did the Messenger of Allah teach it?
- Did the Sahaba of Allah’s Messenger do it?
- Did the Students of the Sahaba do it?
- Did the 4 Imams of Ahlus Sunnah do it?
- What is the origin of this action?
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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