These are the days of Rabi al-Awwal, and it is specifically on the 12th of this month during which people commemorate the Prophet’s (sall Allahu alayhi wasallam) birthday, known as the Mawlid. Other Muslims, such as myself, consider this celebration to be an un-Islamic innovation. Several years ago I was invited by my local mosque to deliver the Friday sermon. I was given a list of recommended topics to select from and then subsequently prepare a khutba on. I selected the topic of the innovation of the Mawlid and delivered a fiery sermon against this celebration, denouncing it in very strong words, while urging the congregation to adhere instead to the Prophet’s Sunna. Immediately after the worship was concluded there was an uproar in the mosque. From that day I realized how steeped so many of our people are in innovated celebrations like the Mawlid, which they are unwilling to relinquish despite knowing full well there is no basis for such things in Islam. The fact of the matter is that those who do commemorate the Mawlid do so under the pretext that it is a religious event. Undoubtedly, there must be millions of uneducated Muslims out there who truly believe that this tradition is part and parcel of Islam and are simply unaware of its real status. Tracing the history of this particular celebration, it becomes known that it was invented by the so-called Fatimid dynasty that ruled much of the Muslim world from Egypt. The so-called Fatimid dynasty was associated with the misguided Ismaili subsect of Imamiya Shiism, but ironically it is the Sunni world in which the Mawlid is celebrated with the greatest of fervor, with the notable exception of Saudi Arabia. The Barelwis and other denominations influenced by folk expressions of Islam celebrate the Mawlid, while Salafis and Deobandis regard it as an innovation. As has already preceded, my own position mirrors that of the Salafis and Deobandis, i.e., if the Mawlid is an Islamic celebration was was it not legislated by Allah in the Quran or through the Prophet in his Sunna? Why was it never observed by the Sahaba or the Salaf? Some may argue that the Mawlid is merely a popular expression of the Muslims’ love of the Prophet (sall Allahu alayhi wasallam) and their joy on the occassion of his birth. Again, the implication is that the Prophet’s most devoted followers, the Sahaba, lacked this sentiment as they never observed any kind of celebration in the name of the Mawlid. This celebration appeared centuries after the Prophet (sall Allahu alayhi wasallam) had died, it was invented by the esotericist Ismaili Shiite dynasty. Prophet Muhammad (sall Allahu alayhi wasallam) said:
مَنْ أَحْدَثَ فِي أَمْرِنَا هَذَا مَا لَيْسَ فِيهِ فَهُوَ رَدٌّ
“Whoever innovates into this, our affair, that which is not from it, then it is rejected.”
“This our affair” means the Din, the Religion of Islam. Consequently, the Prophet (sall Allahu alayhi wasallam) did not condemn innovation or progress that is made in worldly affairs that are separate from matters of Religion. It is only innovation in Religion that has been severely condemned because Allah Most High has declared that Islam is complete and perfect:
الْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ وَأَتْمَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتِي وَرَضِيتُ لَكُمُ الْإِسْلَامَ دِينًا
Today have I have perfected for you your Religion, and completed My favor upon you and am pleased with Islam for you as Religion.
In light of this, the Prophet (sall Allahu alayhi wasallam) said:
وَشَرَّ الأُمُورِ مُحْدَثَاتُهَا وَكُلَّ مُحْدَثَةٍ بِدْعَةٌ وَكُلَّ بِدْعَةٍ ضَلاَلَةٌ وَكُلَّ ضَلاَلَةٍ فِي النَّارِ
“The worst of the affairs are the newly-invented. Every newly-invented is an innovation, and every innovation is misguidance, and every misguidance is in the Hellfire.”
Indeed, the Mawlid is a textbook case of the kind of religious innovation that has been reproved by Islam. Religious innovation that is contrary to the Prophet’s Sunna is the root of the sectarianism and deviation from the truth in the Muslim world. But although the Mawlid is an innovation, and the practice of innovations is even more dangerous than the committing of ordinary sins, it is not the kind of innovation that expels the doer from the circle of Islam. Therefore, be balanced in your rebuking of the Mawlid and those who practice it out of ignorance, making sure not to excommunicate them from Islam merely on account of this matter. The innovation of the Mawlid is to single out the 12th of Rabi al-Awwal to celebrate the Prophet’s birthday. True love for the Prophet (sall Allahu alayhi wasallam) must be expressed in a manner that coincides with the behavior of the Sahaba (radi Allahu anhum). They would sing poems in praise of the Prophet (sall Allahu alayhi wasallam) but never singled out the 12th of Rabi ul-Awwal for that. Nor did they take out processions on the street, waving banners and holding up placards and the like as is commonly done by the innovators in our time. The Prophet (sall Allahu alayhi wasallam) cautioned us that we as a nation would emulate the Jews and Christians to such an extent that if one of them had entered the hole of a lizard, someone from this nation would follow him in that foolish action. Worldwide, Christians celebrate Christmas, the 25th of December, to commemorate the birth of Christ. This despite the fact that the 25th of December is not his date of birth, but was transformed into a Christian celebration when previously it was a pagan Roman festival to mark the winter solstice. Neither the promised Messiah nor his disciples and original followers ever celebrated Christmas. Even today there are some Christian churches which reject Christmas, notably, the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The so-called “traditionalist” Sunni Muslims who celebrate the Mawlid are no different in this regard from the “traditionalist” Roman Catholic Church which is the most ardent in celebrating and promoting the pagan festival known as Christmas. One of the most prominent Barelwi gurus, Tahir ul-Padri, is arguably the first major religious figure in the Muslim world who openly and shamelessly participates in Christmas celebrations with the Christian community. I should make clear here that while there is a growing tendency of irreligious, liberal and secular Muslims who not only greet and congradulate Christians on the occassion of Christmas, but actually participate in the festivities themselves, such a travesty must be avoided with as much care as possible by true God-fearing Muslims. We cannot compromise on the Oneness of Allah or the purity of our beliefs and religious practice in the slightest.