Celebrating the birth of the Prophet Muhammad
The birth of the Messenger of God was an outpouring of Divine Mercy in respect to human history. The Qur’an describes the presence of the Prophet as a “mercy to mankind.” This mercy is not limited as it encompasses personal growth, self-purification, knowledge, guidance to the straight path, and offering people a felicitous spiritual and material life. This mercy is also not limited to a specific historical circumstance; rather it stretches throughout the entirety of history, “Along with others of them who have not yet joined them. He is the Mighty, the Wise.”1
Celebrating the birth of the Messenger of God is amongst the best actions and the best acts of drawing near to God as it is an expression of happiness and love for the Prophet and love of the Prophet is from the fundamentals of faith. It is narrated that he said in a rigorously authentic hadith, “By the One in whose hands is my soul, none of you truly posses faith until I am more beloved to them than his parents and children.”2, and he also said, “None of you truly believe until I am more beloved to him than his parents, children, and all people.”3
Ibn Rajab has written:
Love of the Prophet is from the fundamentals of faith, and it is equivalent to loving God, as the two are associated. God has also warned those who place love of anything else that is natural to love such as kin, wealth, and homeland by saying, “Say: If your fathers, and your sons, and your brethren, and your wives, and your tribe, and the wealth you have acquired, and merchandise for which you fear that there will no sale, and dwellings you desire are dearer to you than God and His messenger and striving in His way, then wait until God brings His command to pass. God guides not wrongdoing folk.” And when ‘Umar said to the Prophet “you are more beloved to me than anything else except my self.” The Prophet responded, “‘Umar until I am more beloved than even your self.” ‘Umar then said “By God you are more beloved to me than myself.” The Prophet said, “It is now ‘Umar.”
Celebrating the birth of the Prophet is a form of celebrating him and is an act that is absolutely established according to the Shari‘a as it is an act you rely on so as not to fall into error. God has made known to the world the rank of His Prophet so he made known to the entire existence his name, his prophetic commission, his spiritual rank, and his place with Him. Therefore the universe is in constant happiness and absolute bliss as a result of the light of God, His relief, His proof, and His blessing to the world.
Our pious ancestors since the fourth and fifth Islamic centuries have celebrated the birth of our beloved by enlivening the eve of his birth by various pious acts such as feeding the poor, reciting Qur’an, invoking, singing religious odes, especially odes in praise of him. This has been documented by many of the historians such as al-Hafidh Ibn Jawzi, Hafidh Ibn Kathir, Hafidh Ibn Dahiyya al-Andalusi, Hafidh Ibn Hajar, and the last of the Hufadh Imam al-Suyuti may God be pleased with them all.
Many of the scholars and jurists have composed treatises describing the religiosity of celebrating the birth of the Prophet and discussing the text proofs for this in such a manner that anyone who is intelligent and of sound mind cannot deny what our pious ancestors have engaged in. Ibn al-Hajj, in his Madkhal, enumerated the uniqueness of this celebration as well as mentioned that which would give joy to any believer’s heart if reading it, especially knowing that Ibn Hajj wrote this book in order to criticize reprehensible innovation that had no foundation in the Shari‘a.
Imam Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti wrote in his book Husn al-Maqsid fi ‘Amal al-Mawlid after being asked about the ruling of celebrating the birth of the Prophet during the month of Rabi al-Awwal:
My answer is that the basis of celebrating the birth of the Prophet is people coming together, reciting Qur’an, and reciting sound traditions concerning the beginnings of the Prophet and what occurred during his birth from Quranic verses. Then they eat food that has been prepared and when they finish they leave without doing anything else. This is a praiseworthy innovation which the person doing it is rewarded for as it is a form of magnifying the rank of the Prophet and a form of expressing happiness and joy at his noble birth.
Al-Suyuti also responded to those who say, “we have no knowledge of the basis of this act from the Qur’an or Sunna” by responding that the “lack of knowledge of something does not mean its non-existence.” Al-Suyuti goes on further to highlight the opinion of Ibn Hajar who found a basis for it from the Sunna, and al-Suyuti himself found another basis for it in the Sunna as well making it clear that reprehensible innovations are ones that cannot be placed under legal proofs and therefore praised. If, however, praise is found for them, then they cease to be reprehensible innovations.
al-Bayhaqi has narrated on the authority of Imam al-Shafi’I who said, “newly invented matters are of two kinds: one, something that contradicts the Qur’an, Sunna, tradition, or scholarly consensus. This is the reprehensible innovation. The second is a newly invented matter of goodness of which there is no doubt amongst anyone. This is a newly invented matter that is not reprehensible. ‘Umar ibn Khattab said concerning the night prayers of Ramadan, ‘what a great innovation this is!’ meaning that it is a newly invented matter that was not in existence before and in its new existence there is no negation of that which has come before.”4
al-Suyuti said in light of Imam al-Shafi’s quote above that “celebrating the birth of the Messenger of God has no contradiction to the Quran, Sunna, traditions, or scholarly consensus and is therefore not a reprehensible innovation as is clear from al-Shafi’s statement. Rather this act is amongst the pious acts that were not present during the early generations. Likewise feeding people from food that is free of any crime is from amongst the pious acts. It is therefore from the innovations that are recommended as has been stated by the prince of the scholars al-Izz ibn Abdul Salam.”5
The basis for the gathering of celebrating the birth of the Messenger of God is a recommended act of drawing near to God as his birth is the greatest blessing upon us and the Sharia has commanded us to express thanks to God for His blessings upon us. This is what Ibn al-Hajj has opined in his book al-Madkhal where it is stated “in this month God has blessed us with the greatest of the first and the last, therefore it is proper that there be an increase in good works, acts of devotion, and thanksgiving for what God has given us.”6
The proof-text used by Ibn Hajar is the hadith found in the two Sahih collections stating that when the Messenger of God came to Madina he found the Jews fasting ashura’ so he asked about this and they said, “this is the day that God caused pharaoh to drown and saved Moses so we fast this day out of thanks to God.” Ibn Hajar said, “one can benefit from this text the permissibility of thanking God for something in a certain day as a way of bringing more blessing or preventing harm. This sort of thanks can be reoccurring on the same day every year. Thanks toward God can be expressed in the different ways of acts of worship such as prostration, fasting, charity, and Quranic recitation. And what could be a greater blessing than the manifestation of this Messenger of mercy in this specific day?”
Ibn Hajar further discusses the forms of celebration that can occur on this specific day by saying, “we should limit ourselves to those things which are known to be a sign of thanksgiving to God such as recitation of the Qur’an, feeding the poor, singing odes in praise of the Messenger of God which cause the heart to move towards good works in preparation for the Last Day, and whatever is permissible as a way of showing thanksgiving there is nothing wrong with adding it to this day.”
Al-Suyuti has quoted the Imam of Quranic recitation al-Hafidh Shams al-Din ibn al-Jazari from his book ‘Urf al-T‘arif bi al-Mawlid al-Sharif the following: “It is rigorously authenticated that Abu Lahab’s punishment in the hellfire is reduced every Monday due to his freeing Thuwayba (his slave girl) as a sign of thanksgiving for the birth of the Messenger of God. If this is Abu Lahab the disbeliever whom the Qur’an has damned and his punishment is allowed to be lessened as a result of his happiness for the birth of the Messenger of God, then what is the state of the believer from the followers of the prophet who is happy with his birth and spends all he can in expressing this love? Indeed his reward would be to be admitted to paradise by God.”
Al-Hafidh Shams al-Din al-Dimishqi has composed some lines of poetry regarding this issue in his book Mawrid al-Sadi fi Mawlid al-Hadi:
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 servant whose whole life
Is made joyful by Ahmad and he dies as a monotheist?7
One can also use as a proof-text that statement of God “and remind them of the days of God”8 as there is no doubt that the birth of the Messenger of God is from the days of God. Therefore celebrating it is nothing but a form of obeying this command, and whatever is likewise cannot be considered a reprehensible innovation, rather it is a good sunna even if it be something not found during the time of the Messenger of God.
We celebrate the birth of the Messenger of God because we love him, and how can we not love him as all of creation knows and loves him such as the tree stump which is an inanimate object, but it loved the Messenger of God and was attached to him and longed to be with him to the point that it cried extensively out of longing. This story has been narrated by diffuse congruence and its veracity is unquestioned. Many of the companions reported that, “he (the prophet) used to deliver his sermons standing leaning on the stump of a palm tree which was standing straight. If his sermon was long he would place his blessed hand on that stump. When the number of people praying increased, the companions built him a pulpit. When he left his blessed room one Friday going to the pulpit and he passed the stump he used to use for his sermons, the tree stump cried out a great cry and it moaned a great moan until the entire mosque was shaken and the tree stump split and it did not let up until the Messenger of God descended from the pulpit, went to it, and wiped his hands over it until he hugged it and brought it close to his chest and it quieted. He then allowed it to make a choice: either it could be planted in paradise and drink from the waters of paradise, or it could be planted in this world, and the tree stump chose paradise and the Messenger of God said ‘so be it God willing, so be it God willing, so be it God willing.’ And the tree stump seized and the Messenger of God said ‘by the One in whose hand is my soul if I did not attend to it, it would have cried and moaned until the coming of the Hour longing for the Messenger of God.’”9
From all that has preceded from the words of the great scholars such as Ibn Hajar, Ibn Jawzi, al-Suyuti, and others it is clear that this has been the situation of the greater Muslim community since the 5th Hijri century. We can see that celebrating the birth of the Messenger of God is an encouraged act in congruence with the opinions of the scholars, and that this celebration should be by reciting Qur’an, invocations, feeding the poor. Doubt concerning the celebration of the birth of the Messenger of God should not be taken from those who dance lewdly and do other things. Nor is the contention of those who have gone astray by denying this scholarly consensus as this celebration is not too much for the Prophet of Mercy the beloved of God the Lord of all the worlds. We conclude by the words of Imam al-Busiri’s poem al-Burda:
He is the one whose meaning and form were perfected,
And then the Originator of souls chose him as the beloved.
Incomparable, his beauty has no peer-
The essence of beauty itself is in his nature
Leave aside what the Christians have claimed for their Prophet-
Then praise him as you like, but do so wisely
Ascribe to his essence what you wish of honor,
Attribute to his exalted status what you will of greatness!