Celebrating the birthday of the Prophet (prayers and peace of Allah be upon him)
We celebrate the birthday of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). On this day, we read a lot of salutations on him and engage in a lot of prayers to Allah. We try to show our love for our Prophet (peace be upon him). How come you say we cannot do it?
Answered by Sheikh `Abd al-Wahhâb al-Turayrî, former professor at al-Imâm University in Riyadh
Among the innovations that have become widespread in Muslim societies is the celebration of the birthday of the Prophet (peace be upon him). This celebration is observed in the month of Rabî` al-Awwal. Since it has become such a widespread problem in these days, I see it as necessary to address this issue here.
A basic principle of this religion is to worship Allah strictly in accordance with the manner that He stipulates to us in the Qur’ân and Sunnah. This is why the scholars say that acts of worship are restricted to what is defined by the sacred texts. A person should not try to attain nearness to Allah by means that he concocts in his mind or takes from other human beings, no matter who they are. Such acts are unlawful innovations and they are rejected no matter how noble the intentions might be of the person doing them.
For this reason Ibn Mas`ûd observed: “How many people intend good but never actually attain it.” He made this statement to a group of people who were glorifying Allah in various ways and keeping track of their efforts using pebbles. He forbade them from doing so and they said to him: “We only intend good.” So Ibn Mas`ûd said to them what he said.
There is another established principle that scholars of Islam are well aware of. It is the principle of referring all disputes back to the Qur’ân and Sunnah. What we find therein we must act upon. What we do not find in these two sources we should not adopt as a means to worship Allah.
Allah says: “If you differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Messenger, if you do believe in Allah and the Last Day. That is best, and most suitable for final determination.” [Sûrah al-Nisâ’: 59]
He also says: “Whatever the Messenger gives you, then take it, and whatever he prohibits you, abstain from it.” [Sûrah al-Hashr: 7]
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Whoever works a deed that is not part of our affair will have that deed rejected.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (8/156) and Sahîh Muslim (3/1343-1344)]
He also said: “Whoever introduces something new into this affair of ours that is not of it will have it rejected.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (3/167) and Sahîh Muslim (3/1343)]
This principle is well established and understood by the scholars of Islam. From here, we can return to the topic of celebrating the birthday of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
We find that some later scholars viewed the practice favorably while others condemned it and declared it an unlawful innovation in matters of religion. Here we have a dispute. Therefore, we must follow our principle of referring our disputes back to Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him).
When we do so, we find no indication of this practice in the Qur’ân nor in the Sunnah. There is no indication that the Prophet (peace be upon him) ever celebrated his birthday or encouraged anyone else to do so.
There is no evidence that anyone celebrated his birthday during the sixty-three years of his life. His Companions had the most ardent love possible for him. They revered him more than anyone else. They also had a better appreciation of what Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him) wanted from them and went to the greatest lengths to defend their Prophet and their faith. They were keen on emulating the Prophet (peace be upon him) in every matter, great or small. They faithfully preserved every detail of his life for posterity. They even mentioned how his beard moved when he commenced his prayers. There is no way they would have failed to mention the observance of his birthday if it had even once taken place.
When we look at the preferred centuries that followed his death, we see that no one celebrated his birthday, not even his most beloved Companions. It was not observed by any of his family members, or by the Rightly Guided Caliphs, namely Abû Bakr, `Umar, Uthmân, and Alî. It was an unknown practice for the first three centuries of Islam.
Observing this day is prohibited in Islamic Law, since it has not been legislated by Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him). Therefore, it cannot be something beloved to Allah and cannot be used as a means of attaining nearness to Him. It is clearly an innovated practice, completely unknown to the best generations of Muslims who ever lived.
It is an historical fact that the earliest generations of Muslims did not celebrate the Prophet’s birthday. This is not called into question by anyone, even those who advocate celebrating it.
The Prophet’s birthday was first celebrated by the Fatimid rulers of Egypt in the fourth century of Islam. The Fatimids were a deviant sect of Ismâ`îlî Shiites. They were adherents to the idea of hidden doctrines and were known for their heresies and open unbelief, not to mention a host of other religious innovations. They were definitely not a group of people to take as role models.
Moreover, we should keep in mind that Allah has perfected His religion for us and completed His favor. Allah says: “This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.” [Sûrah al-Mâ’idah: 3]
Introducing a new practice like this birthday observation is tantamount to second-guessing Allah. It implies that the religion has not been perfected and completed by Allah and people had to come later on with supplementary practices. This is a denial of the direct word of the Qur’ân.
Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “There has never been a Messenger before me except that it was his duty to teach his people what was best for them.” [Sahîh Muslim (3/1372-1373)]
There can be no doubt that our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), being the final and most noble of all the Prophets, carried out this duty to the greatest degree. It follows that if celebrating his birthday was a good practice for us, then he would have initiated it and encouraged it. How is it then that not a single statement has been conveyed to us from the Prophet (peace be upon him) on this matter? There clearly can be no good in this practice and it most definitely cannot be a means of worshipping Allah.
A good question to ask those who wish to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet (peace be upon him) is this: On which day do you propose to celebrate it? There is no agreement as to when his birthday actually was. Some biographers have place it in Ramadân. Others said it was on the 8th of Rabî’ al-Awwal. Still others have suggested the 12th. These are but a few of the suggestions that have been advanced. So how can you possibly hope to observe it? Or are you suggesting that his birth took place more than once?
The uncertainty surrounding the date of his birth is a sure sign that its observance is not part of our religion, for if it was, the Muslims would have taken care to know precisely when it took place.
Assuming it took place some time in the month of Rabî` al-Awwal, well so did his death. It does not appear that anyone is seriously suggesting that we should mourn in this month on account of his death, though it is no less appropriate that we do so than celebrating his birth.
This is clear to anyone who cares to look at the matter closely and objectively. However, blind following of tradition has confused the issue for many people. The celebration of the Prophet’s birthday has brought with it a number of ill consequences that help to show just how far removed from the truth it is.
Among these consequences is that some people believe that celebrating the birthday of the Prophet (peace be upon him) is a means of worshipping Allah. We have already clarified the principle that all acts of worship must be established by the Qur’ân and Sunnah.
A number of things go on at these celebrations that violate Islamic beliefs. Among the most serious of these are the exaggerated words of praise that are offered by some people to the Prophet (peace be upon him). Many of these praises elevate the Prophet (peace be upon him) to the level of Godhood.
Take, for instance, the following words of praise penned by al-Bûsîrî: "O Most Noble of Creation! I seek refuge with none other than you when general calamity befalls us."
This is serious. Where is mention of the Lord of the heavens and the Earth? Where is mention of the Beneficent, the Merciful? How can we seek refuge with no one besides the Prophet (peace be upon him) in our distress when we should be seeking it with no one other than Allah?
In another place, he writes about the Prophet (peace be upon him): "From your magnanimity is the milk of the Earth and from your knowledge is the tablet and the pen of decree."
We must have no doubt that these attributes are the exclusive domain of Allah. Applying them to the Prophet (peace be upon him) is blatant polytheism, a sin that Allah tells us He will not forgive.
Moral decency also has a tendency to break down during these celebrations. Men mix with women and dance with them all night long. Licentious people take full advantage of the permissive atmosphere that these festivities offer.
Another negative consequence of these celebrations is the fact that some people condemn those who do not participate, sometimes to the extent of declaring those people unbelievers. This is clearly from Satan who has made the hearts of those people so enamored of deviance and innovations that they would take matters to this extent. First, they initiate an innovative practice in their religion. Then they make it their practice. Ultimately, they declare as unbelievers anyone who refuses to participate in it with them.
Some of the people who advocate these celebrations claim to have evidence to support them. Some of their evidence comes from authentic texts which they take out of context or misinterpret. Other evidence is simply weak and unauthentic.
Some of them quote the verse: “Say: In the bounty of Allah and His mercy let them rejoice”. [Sûrah Yûnus: 58]
They advance the argument with this verse that rejoicing in the Prophet (peace be upon him) is commanded by Allah, since Allah commanded us to rejoice in His mercy and the Prophet (peace be upon him) is the greatest manifestation of this mercy. For this latter claim they cite: “We sent you not but as a mercy to all humanity.” [Sûrah al-Anbiyâ’: 107]
In response, we argue that none of the early scholars ever had such an understanding of this verse. If this interpretation was sound, they would have mentioned it. Such an unfounded interpretation, therefore, must be rejected. Actually, the bounty and mercy mentioned to in the verse refer to Islam and the Sunnah. This was the gist of the interpretations provided by the earliest scholars as is elucidated by Ibn al-Qayyim in his work Ijtimâ` al-Juyûsh al-Islâmiyyah `alâ Ghazw al-Mu`attilah wal-Jahmiyyah.
As for the second verse mentioned in their argument, it pertains to the sending of the Prophet (peace be upon him) with the Message and not to his birth. The events were forty years apart. Every text that describes the Prophet (peace be upon him) with the attribute of mercy refers to him after he received the Message. There is no text that describes his birth as a mercy. Therefore, the above argument collapses.
Some of them argue that the Prophet (peace be upon him) performed an `aqîqah ceremony for himself. Al-Suyûtî is one of the people who advances this argument in support of observing his birthday.
The difficulty with this argument is that the hadîth in question, which is to be found in Sunan al-Bayhaqî, is unauthentic and rejected by the scholars of hadîth. When Mâlik was asked about it, he said: “Did you see the Companions who did not have an `aqîqah ceremony performed for them in the time of ignorance perform such ceremonies for themselves after accepting Islam? This is abjectly false!”
The hadîth contains `Abd Allah b. Muharrir, who is a weak narrator, in its chain of transmission. `Abd al-Razzâq mentions this hadîth in his Musannaf, then comments: “The only reason they abandoned Ibn al-Muharrir is on account of this hadîth.” When someone mentioned this hadîth to Ahmad, he renounced it and called `Abd Allah b. Muharrir a weak narrator. [Masâ’il Abî Dâwûd]
Al-Bayhaqî - the one who collected this hadîth - had this to say: “`Abd Allah b. Muharrir relates a false hadîth about the Prophet (peace be upon him) performing an `aqîqah for himself.” Then al-Bayhaqî narrates the hadîth and says: “`Abd al-Razzâq says that the only reason they abandoned `Abd Allah b. al-Muharrir is on account of this hadîth. It has been related with other chains of transmission from Qatâdah and Anas, but those transmissions also do not amount to anything.” [Sunan al-Bayhaqî (9/300)]
Al-Nawawî also declared this hadîth to be false. This is sufficient to show its unsuitability as evidence for celebrating the Prophet’s birthday.
All the other arguments offered by those who advocate such celebrations are equally baseless. They are as Allah describes: “They follow nothing but conjecture and what their own souls desire, even though there has already come to them guidance from their Lord!” [Sûrah al-Najm: 23]
The advocates of these celebrations are merely chasing after ambiguities, a practice Allah attributes to people of deviation.
It should now be clear to us that such celebrations are innovations that are not sanctioned by Allah. In fact, they resemble the behavior of the Christians who concoct numerous celebrations and festivals for themselves. This is an indication of a paucity of knowledge and a lack of true religious conviction.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) told us that we would eventually imitate them when he said: “You will follow the ways of who came before you more and more until, if one of them were to enter into a lizard hole, you would go in after him.” [Musnad Ahmad (2/511) and Sahîh al-Bukhârî (8/151)]
We pray to Allah to bless us and all the Muslims with guidance and success.
Source: Islam Today