We trotted out an old classic this past weekend in our home – The Message, directed by Moustapha Akkad in 1977, and gathered mine and my sister-in-law’s children for a viewing. Being that it’s the month of Rabi’Awwal, which is considered to be the birth-month of the Prophet Muhammad (saw), my sister-in-law thought it would be a good way to reintroduce our kids to his message and his struggles in bringing Islam to the world.
I remembered watching this film as a child myself, and how much of an impact it had on me. Alhamdulillah, the kids seemed to feel the same impact as they watched how much the Prophet and his companions, the first Muslims, struggled for Islam and Allah (swt). It paved way for many good bedtime discussions between me and my kids and has renewed my intentions to tell them more stories about the Prophet Muhammad (saw*) and talk to them about his character and the way he lived his life as an example for good things we should be doing in our lives.
On the 12th of Rabi’Awwal, which is thought to be his actual birthday (and, according to different calendars fell either on Monday or Tuesday), we didn’t attend Mawlid functions or do any particular seerah (sharing knowledge about the Prophet Muhammad (saw) beyond my usual quick bedtime discussions with the kids. And that troubled some in my family.
Like many families, we also go through debate every year about celebrating or not celebrating the Mawlid. Where my parents and in-laws grew up in India, the Mawlid was done up big (as it still is), with seerah programs, lights strung throughout the city and big huge speeches given in his honor. Here, the questions boil down to this – shouldn’t we remember and honor the Prophet Muhammad (saw) all the time? Why only on the 12th of Rabi’Awwal or during this particular month? The Prophet and his companions didn’t celebrate his birthday, so why should we make an occasion of it? Whereas the opposing argument is why is it wrong to remember and honor him? Sure, we should do so all the time, but if we make an extra effort to sing the praises of a Prophet we feel was “the best of men,” how are we doing something wrong?
My uncle, Shaykh Fakhruddin Owaisi Al-Madani, who is a senior lecturer in Islamic Studies at the International Peace College in South Africa and who did his master’s dissertation on the issue of Mawlid and bid’ah (that which is an innovation in Islam), wrote this Q&A on the Mawlid:
To commemorate the Mawlid, which is basically gathering people together, reciting parts of the Quran, narrating stories about the Prophet’s birth and the signs that accompanied it, then serving food, and afterwards, departing, is one of the good innovations; and the one who practices it gets rewarded, because it involves venerating the status of the Prophet and expressing joy at his honorable birth. However, while commemorating the Mawlid cannot be considered Haram, it also must not be considered Fard. It must be understood that it is simply a beneficial practice that is nevertheless not obligatory. Note, too, that while commemorating the Mawlid itself is only Mubah, many of the actions done in it are Mustahabb (Recommended) such as recitation of Salawat, coming together of Muslims, discussing the life of the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), feeding the hungry etc.
People will undoubtedly be rewarded for these actions. Wa Llahu A’lam.
Q2: Is commemorating the Mawlid un-Nabi a bid ah (an innovation)?
A2: Bid’ah refers to beliefs and practices that appeared after the era of the Holy Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). Broadly speaking, bid’ahs are acceptable or unacceptable depending upon whether or not they fall under the general principles and spirit of the Qur’an and Sunnah.
Given this they will be classified according to the five Shari’ah rulings mentioned above. Therefore, some bi’dahs may be obligatory such as writing books on the din and the gathering of the Qur’an and hadith into book form. Some may be recommended such as the translation of the Quran, the congregational Tarawih prayer and the second adhan for Jumu’ah. Some Bid’ahs may simply permitted such as performing Eid Salah in Mosques, qira’ah programs, Quranic competitions and the commemoration of Mawlid as noted earlier. Depending upon the intention and results, such permitted bid’ahs may even become recommended.
The purpose of the Mawlid is to break the inevitable turning of the Sunnah into a routine by reestablishing the withered connections between the heart of the believer and the Belovedﷺ. It’s a time when the Seerah (biography) is read, the Shama’il (description) is explained, and poems praising the Belovedﷺ are chanted. Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) was living the Sunnah, but it was the presence of the Belovedﷺ that made him feel more love for him than his own self. That second look Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) took upon the Belovedﷺ when he confirmed his immense love for him was a Mawlid. The jumping of Companions during battles in front of the Belovedﷺ to protect him from flying arrows was a Mawlid. The taking of the Beloved’sﷺ place in bed by Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) to save him from Quraysh’s plot to kill him was a Mawlid. The migration of Bilal ibn Rabah (may Allah be pleased with him) from Medina after the passing of the Belovedﷺ because he was overwhelmed by the loss was a Mawlid. His flowing tears and inability to call the Adhan when he was asked after his return years later was a Mawlid. The yearning of Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) as he constantly said, “O how I miss the Messenger of God” was a Mawlid.
It’s an innovation of the worst kind if the Mawlid is celebrated only once a year. The Mawlid must be celebrated as often as possible. There’s a reason why we don’t know the exact date of the Beloved’sﷺ birth. It’s not about the date. It’s about the person. When the Mawlid celebrations turn into a single fixed time of the year that Muslims get together in order for them to “remember” the Beloved ﷺ and “learn” about him, they miss the whole point. This is clearly manifested in the countdowns and excitement over the day. Instead of celebrating the birth, person, and mercy that is the Belovedﷺ, it becomes a celebration of 12th of Rabi Al Awwal, a specific date that has never been agreed upon. This is not to say that we can’t increase our dedication to learning about the Belovedﷺ and revivification of his Sunnah during this blessed month. Although we can’t confirm the specific date with certainty, the majority of scholars do agree that Rabi Al-Awwal was the month in which the Belovedﷺ was born. But we must not lose sight of what the purpose of the Mawlid is.
Decide what you want. There are sourced opinions on all aspects of the Mawlid — to commemorate it or not. I just want to make sure my kids (and I) pray five times a day, fast in Ramadan, give in charity and follow the other pillars of our faith. I want to make sure they grow up to be compassionate, good Muslims and good human beings, ever grateful to Allah. I want them to stand up for and help look out for their big brother and fight for an inclusive world where our differences are the norm, where we live together by supporting each other and lifting each other up. I want them know that Allah has their back, even when it feels like they’ve been forsaken; that He knows what they do not.
And I want them to love the Prophet Muhammad (saw) and learn from his struggles and emulate his ways.
It’s a tall order, I know. But I think it’s doable, right?
*sallallahu alayhi wa sallam – Peace be unto him