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That Mawlud Thing (And Other Issues)

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Mawlud celebration
Mawlud celebration

IT has to be supremely ironic that Creation’s most significant event is recognised as being one of the most controversial issues in Islam today.


This event was the birth, the mawlud, of Adam (as) when a God-fearing jinn called Iblis suddenly  became resentful. Space does not allow me to dwell on Creation, but suffice it to say that the cursed Satan was the first to condemn mawlud.


His pride told him that Adam, carrying the torch of Muhammad (s), was a muddy mass of inferior deoxyribonucleic acid.

I’m certainly not connecting any dots, but mention the word ‘mawlud’ today and squadrons of literalists will storm indignantly over the horizon. Mawlud – now understood as the commemoration of Prophet Muhammad’s (s) noble  birth – is seen at worst as polytheism, and at best as bida’h, an undesirable innovation.

‘The Prophet (s) never celebrated his birthday during his life-time,” these rationalist-materialists will exhort you, forgetting that the premise of their argument – what the Prophet (s) did not do – holds about as much water as a sieve in terms of Sacred Law and custom.


For if all the things the Prophet (s) had not done during his life had to be the guiding principle of Islam, then Islam would have been petrified in rock by the seventh century.


And if this tatty dogma had to be the guiding light of the Sunnah, the way of the Prophet (s), then our friends would have to step out of their Nikes, strip off their Calvin Klein y-fronts, peel off their Woolworths’ socks and vests, and take off their Edgars trousers and golf shirts.


You see, the beloved Prophet (s) wore none of these garments during his lifetime. Even the kurtah would have to fly. And nor for that matter did our blessed Prophet (s) eat ice-cream on the beach during his life-time. Technically eating ice-cream at the beach is a bida’h.


Of course, this literalist obsession with innovation arises out of a massive misunderstanding of the Prophetic Tradition, one which states that the one who introduces to Islam what is not of Islam, is rejected by his Lord.


Of course, tampering with the tenets of the daily prayer is not of Islam, but wearing modest clothes – even if the Prophet (s) never wore them – is. So what about ice-cream and the beach? Are they part of Islam?


Well, yes, they are. And so are kurtahs, socks, shoes and even y-fronts. This is because the asl, the foundational principle of Allah’s Creation is its permissibility – not its prohibition. This is because Allah, the Highest, has created everything in His Sight.


And this is why Imam Izz ud-Din as-Salam, the great seventh century savant, classified bida’h into five divisions, with three of them being expressly permissible categories.


Permissibility is the very grace of Allah, the permission for the universe to exist as it does. Indeed, the question of ijtihad – reasoning by the best scholars – has to be one of the greatest mercies of Islam, a dynamic unfolding Deen that fits comfortably into any era.


Ijtihad doesn’t mean that everybody is going to agree all the time, but it does mean that humankind – gifted with reason – will be able to seek the guidance of Qur’an and Prophetic Tradition to reach informed opinion.


Furthermore, the great Shafi’ite scholar, Imam Nawawi, states in his Forty Hadith that the reward of an action depends upon its intention. Good intentionality, then, is the basis of sound action.


That, very simply, is the principle of the mawlud, a gathering of people to venerate the nativity of Prophet Muhammad (s) – something he did during his life-time when he expressly told his Companions he fasted on Mondays to honour his own birth.


And if that isn’t enough for the materialist cynics who usually treat the beloved Prophet (s) like a post-man, we are shown that the Prophet (s) marked anniversaries. For why did he also fast on ‘Ashura and visit the martyrs graves at Uhud annually?


The Prophet’s belief was that if others celebrated anniversaries relevant to Islam, our celebrations had to be better. “Musa akhi,” the Prophet had said on hearing about the Jewish ‘Ashura celebration of the Israelites escaping Egypt, “Moses is my brother, and I have more right over Moses.”


Naturally, those who try to reduce the issue of the mawlud to one of Shari’ah are hugely misguided. The mawlud cannot be dragged into the halls of Sacred Law to determine its permissibility, or otherwise. 


The mawlud is merely a public gathering (a bida’h hasanah, a sound innovation) motivated by its intention of bringing believers together.  Public gatherings, per se, don’t contravene the Shari’ah. Public gatherings advancing good cause uphold the Shari’ah – but they are not Shari’ah.


The point is that the mawlud is not wajib. It’s not law. It’s not compulsory. It also doesn’t have to take place on 12 Rabbi ul-Awwal – the date of the Prophet’s (s) birth – and can be performed at any time of the year.


Historically, the mawlud misanthropes have always trotted out the tired chestnut that the mawlud was instituted by the Shi’ah Fatimids in the ninth century. This statement is left mischievously, and annoyingly, open-ended with an unsavoury inference of impropriety.


The truth is that the mawlud originated in Makkah, the city of the Prophet’s (s) birth, over 1, 200 years ago.  The seventh century historian, Abul ‘Abbas al-‘Azafi, noted that on the beloved Prophet’s mawlud no activities were undertaken except by the inhabitants of Makkah visiting his birthplace.


The ‘Abbasid dynasty also honoured the house in the eighth century, a full one-hundred years before the Fatimids held their gatherings in Cairo. This was when the wife of Caliph Harun al-Rashid converted it into a mosque so pilgrims could visit it.


Other scholars and travellers who observed first-hand that the mawlud was an openly approved public custom in Makkah were Al-Azraqi, Al-Naqqash, Ibn Jubair and Ibn Battuta.


But what got us going in Cape Town this year on the mawlud were the utterances of a person whom I will only call the ‘learned Shaikh’ and the animated responses of a person whom I will only call our ‘learned legal friend’.


The learned Shaikh, already familiar with dispute on the question of shrines in 2001, got into hot water for sharply criticising the ‘extravagance’ of Gatesville mosque’s mawlud.  That he did from within the halls of the institution thoroughly rankled its caretakers.


Of course, the word ‘extravagance’ is a loaded one. Not unlike bida’h it has good and bad connotations. For was it not the Prophet (s) who said about the ‘Eids that Muslims should bath, perfume themselves, don their finest clothes and proceed to the mosque. Is that extravagance?


Or his exhortations for people to enjoy the wedding feast? Extravagance again?


There are two salient points here. Firstly, the well-intentioned (and sometimes recommended) public extravagance of Islam has traditionally never excluded the poor. A public event is de-facto a communal sadaqah, a public charity.


Secondly, if we were to excoriate ‘extravagance’ from Islam we would have to demolish the madrasah of Bukhara, the arabesque domes of Isfahan, the Taj Mahal in India, the Alhambra in Spain, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and even the Haram in Madinah.


Finally, given the above, perhaps the greatest challenge for those who have misgivings about the mawlud is for them to stop their harping on petty points, or as some even do, consigning their fellow Muslims to hellfire. There is a blessing here, it’s called freedom of choice. If you don’t like the mawlud, why force others to dislike it too?




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  1. Great Story, hey I found this post while surfing the web for random downloads. Thanks for sharing I’ll post a comment about this on my blog about this too.

  2. Jazakallah Ghayran for this insightful piece. I think you have summarised very nicely what we have been trying to bring across all along.

    Let’s see what the response will be from those who consider themselves AUTHORITIES in Islam.

    In fact my dua is that ALLAH guide them to the right path Inshallah.

  3. we learnt tremendously from reading your latest posting.

    in the area where we reside,namely cravenby,the husami mosque goes to ridiculous lengths to stage a mawlud celebration(not commemoration,as it should be referred to.

    around the pillars of the mosque,they adorn it with wrap around images of the haram,masjidun nabawi,masjidul aqsa,thereafter two others and then husami mosque.

    now there is where we draw the line,as a new revert attending this gathering for the first time would deduce that husami mosque is the 6th most revered mosque in the muslim world.

  4. Its interesting to note that as an Ummah, we have consensus of 90% of matters and differ on only 10%, but we seem to spend 90% of our time on squabbling about the 10%! I say the anti-mawlood brigade have always been there. LETS continue to celebrate the birth of Allah’s greatest creation for we do it out of love. By us celebrating, we do not add an iota to the prophet’s greatness. In fact, we are the recipients of immeasurable spiritual blessings by doing so!

  5. i would agree with alot of what you are saying.

    but your writing brings up interesting questions.

    we all know that islam exhorts modesty and spending money on the poor. would celebrating and being extragavant if putting on perfume and good clothes for eid be right or wrong? the point is that was told to us to do, by the prophet, but would we be as safe doing it on anything else not stipulated, especially if people think theres reward for it? if there isnt, would we be quetioned for it? this would apply not only to mawlud, but to anything we do as well.

    also by nature, having a function where one serves people attending the function like a mawlud, would necessarily exclude the poor, not by not doing an equal amount for them, but because the money is spent on the people attending, which could have been diverted.

    finally, the question of choice is very tricky. first of all , forget us in cape town and anywhere else , does islam allow freedom of choice? most scholars would say yes, but thats actually wrapped in too many conditions for it to be real freedom of choice.

    apparently umar cut down a tree, to stop people worshipping it. even though some were not, and maybe receiving shade from it, he did it to save everyone. from this , and other events, we know islam has an attitude of save everyone.

    if mawlud is wrong, for example, would it not be incumbent on those who think so, knowledgable or not to stop others from doing it?

    is this not the attitude of enjoin good and forbid evil?

    more importantly, if it is questionable, would anyone really want to take a chance that it could be wrong?

    My attitude is that I believe every person alive should have the right to do as they please, as long as they harm no one. i also do not like people condemning others to punishment . I also believe that nothing can really be done exactly as the prophet did it, and because of this we need to look at the spirit of what he did, and follow this. an event , regulary practiced is good, so i dont believe talking about him, once a month or year, and using a moment of respect given by people, whether legitimate or not, should be thrown away. its part of the process of some people hidaya, and i believe some good can possibly come from it.

    We certainly have bigger issues to solve, and more importantly i believe that tolerance and understanding are the hallmarks of being a muslim, and i believe this is perhaps one of the most essential things taught to us by the prophet.

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