This month is the most significant month in Islamic history, because it was during this month that humanity was blessed with the birth of the Holy Prophet Muhammad Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam.
Prior to the birth of Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam, the Arabian Peninsula and so-called civilised nations of Persia and Rome were drowned in the darkness of ignorance, superstition, oppression and unrest.
The Holy Prophet Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam arrived with the Eternal Truth of Tawhid (Oneness of Allah) – the only faith which provides a firm basis for the real concepts of knowledge, equity and peace. It was this faith which delivered humanity from ignorance and superstition and spread the light of knowledge all over the world.
The birth of the Holy Prophet Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam, was thus the most significant and remarkable event in human history. If it were allowed in the Shari’ah to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, his birth would have deserved it more than that of any other personality.
The nature of Islamic teachings is such that its main stress is directed towards practicalities – and not aimed at formalities. This is why, unlike Judaism, Christianity (Catholicism), and Hinduism, there are very few festivals in Islam. The only two festivals which are condoned according to the Shari’ah are Eid-ul Adha and Eid-ul Fitr. These two Eid celebrations do not correspond to the birthdays of any of the prominent personalities in Islamic history, nor can the origin of these festivals in any way be attributed to any particular event in the history of Islam.
Both Eid festivals have been prescribed solely for the purpose of paying gratitude to Allah Ta’ala. During the Eid-ul Fitr celebration we pay our gratitude to Allah for the successful completion of the month of Ramadhaan, and during the Eid-ul Adha celebration we pay gratitude to Allah for the successful completion of Hajj.
The manner in which we are allowed to celebrate these two days of Eid have also been prescribed to us and it differs vastly from un-Islamic festivals. There are no formal street processions, illumination of homes and Musjids, or any other outward symbols of expressing our happiness. On the contrary, only a formal prayer congregation and mutual, informal visits amongst one another provides us with true happiness.
Islam has not prescribed any festival or celebration on the birthday of any person, regardless of how great and significant the personality may be. The Prophets of Allah ‘Alayhimus Salaam have the highest status amongst all human beings, yet the Holy Prophet Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam and his noble Companions never celebrated the birthday or anniversary of a single one of them. Even the birthday of the Holy Prophet Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam – which was by far the happiest day for the whole of mankind – was never celebrated by himself or by his blessed Companions.
The Companions of the Holy Prophet Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam survived him by an entire century, yet despite their unparalleled and profound love for Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam, they never celebrated his birthday or the anniversary of his demise. Instead they devoted their lives to promoting the cause of Islam, brought his teachings into practice, conveyed his message to the four corners of the world and established Islamic order in every aspect of life.
The commemoration of birthdays has never been prescribed by any religion which is attributed to Divine Revelation. Birthday celebrations were originally a custom amongst the Pagans and idolaters. Even Christmas – the famous feast commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ – finds no mention in the Bible, or any other early Christian writings whatsoever [refer to Key to the Treasures of Jannah, page 537 - 539 for more information regarding the origin of Christmas].
During his lifetime, the Holy Prophet Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam never celebrated the birthdays of his beloved wife Sayyidah Khadijah Radhiyallahu Anha, his most beloved uncle Sayyiduna Hamzah Radhiyallahu Anhu or any of his other Companions who were martyred in Jihad or passed away before him, nor did he commemorate the date of their demise in any way. The Holy Prophet Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam also never advised his any of his followers to celebrate his birthday in Rabi-Al-Awwal.
The reason why Muslims abstain from birthday and anniversary celebrations is because our attention is diverted from the true teachings of Islam which prescribes the observation of a few formal activities only. Initially these celebrations may begin with the best of intentions and a true desire to pay homage to a pious personality. However, experience shows that the celebration ultimately becomes ‘polluted’ with an element of merrymaking and rejoicing and is generally confused with secular (un-Islamic) festivals. Inevitably these secular (un-Islamic) activities creep in and it becomes sinful. [Refer to page 539 and 540 for an example of how Christmas was turned into functions of public merriment.]
Being fully aware of human psychology, Islam has never prescribed nor encouraged the observance of birthdays and anniversaries and when such celebrations are observed as part of the religion of Islam, they are totally forbidden!
During the final Hajj of the Holy Prophet Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam he declared: “Today I have completed (the teachings of) your religion.” This means that all the teachings of Islam which were communicated through the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam have been perfected and completed. No one is allowed to add anything to it and to call it ‘part of the teachings’. Such additions are termed by the Holy Prophet Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam as bid’ah or innovation.
Thus, the celebration on the 12th of Rabi-Al-Awwal as a religious feast (to commemorate the birth of Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam) is not based on any evidence or proved by any verse of the Holy Qur’an or by any of the teachings of the Holy Prophet Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam which have been recorded in his Sunnah (Ahadith).
No evidence or example of its observance as a festival can be traced in any or the early centuries of the history of Islam. It is only centuries after the demise of the Holy Prophet Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam that Maulood or Milad functions came into existence.
Therefore, it is not only an innovation with no basis in Islamic teachings, but the accuracy of the 12th as being the birthday of Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam is also disputed. In the traditions many different dates have been mentioned and the majority of the authentic scholars are more inclined to believe that the 9th was the actual birth date of Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam. The fact that the date cannot be ascertained for certain is even more proof that the observance of a festival on a specific date is not part of the religion. Had it been, the exact date would have been preserved with accuracy and it would have been undisputed.
The life of the Holy Prophet Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam is, no doubt, the most important source of guidance to every single Muslim, and every Muslim is obligated to learn about and study the events of his life and to follow the practical example set by him in every aspect of life. The narration of his biography (the Seerah) is a pious act which invokes Divine Blessings. However, the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah have not prescribed any particular time or date or method for this act. This pious act should be performed at any time, during any month of the Islamic calendar. The Shari’ah has not stipulated the month of Rabi-Al-Awwal as a special month for such congregations.
It is therefore an innovation (Bid’ah) to restrict Seerah meetings to the month of Rabi-Al-Awwal or to the 12th of Rabi-Al-Awwal. It is also Bid’ah to believe that the meetings which are held during this month are more worthy of reward that those held at any other time of the year. In fact, the Companions of the Holy Prophet Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam used to commemorate his life throughout the year – not only through studying and conveying his message to others, but also by following his way of life and acting upon his teachings in every aspect of their lives. This is exactly how a Muslim is required to commemorate the life of Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam.
This does not mean that we should avoid any Seerah meetings during this month (out of fear of Bid’ah). It simply means that it should not be restricted to this month, nor should it be in the form of a festival with prescribed rituals, lighting of Musjids, songs and merrymaking. Such meetings should at all times conform to the Shari’ah and be free of anything which has been forbidden by the Shari’ah.
Especially in Western countries, it is often noticed that men and women freely mix during these Seerah gatherings. They do not abide by the laws of purdah (hijaab) which have been prescribed by the Shari’ah. How can such gatherings bring any reward when the teachings of the one who is being commemorated are openly being violated?
In some of these gatherings Naats (poems) in memory of the Holy Prophet Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam are being recited in front of a male audience (while Shari’ah commands a woman to observe purdah of her voice). Sometimes musical instruments are also incorporated (thinking that it would enhance the beauty of the song). These things are totally prohibited by the Shari’ah. It is thus clear that Shari’ah prohibits the attendance of such gatherings. It is not only a violation of the laws of the Shari’ah, but it amounts to disgracing the Seerah of the Holy Prophet Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam.
Processions, the construction of artificial ‘tombs’ of the Holy Prophet Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam and the illumination of buildings and roads are all against the Shari’ah. These practices are all based on imitation of other religions. No example of such activities can be found in the early history of Islam.
What is really important with regard to the Holy Prophet Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam is that we should, first and foremost, follow his teachings. Secondly, we should make his Seerah available to every Muslim and preserve it in the hearts of every Muslim from childhood. We should educate our family members and advise them to follow his example in every aspect of their lives and to consider it as the most glorious example of human conduct that this universe has ever witnessed. This should be done with utmost reverence and we should not restrict this only to formal gatherings, but we should live it and show it through example by following the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam.
This cannot be done through street processions or the illumination of roads and Musjid walls. It requires constant and consistent effort and a meaningful program of education and training.
[From Keys to the Treasures of Jannah]