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by Mufti Taqi Usmani
[This is a condensed version of the article written by the author in his book, The Islamic Months.]

Original Islamic Resources

In original Islamic resources, also we cannot find any instruction about the celebration of birthdays or death anniversaries. Many Companions of the Holy Prophet, , passed away during his life-time. His beloved wife Sayyidah Khadijah, , passed away in Makkah. His beloved uncle Sayyidna Hamzah, was brutally slaughtered during the battle of Uhud. But the Holy Prophet, , never observed their birthday or their death anniversaries, nor did he ever advise his followers to celebrate his own birthday in Rabi’ul-Awwal.

What is Wrong with These Celebrations

The reason for abstinence from such celebrations is that they divert the attention of people from the real teachings of Islam towards the observance of some formal activities only. Initially, these celebrations may begin with utmost piety and with a bonafide intention to pay homage to a pious person. Yet, the experience shows that the celebration is ultimately mixed up with an element of merrymaking and rejoicing and is generally confused with secular festivals and the secular, and often sinful, activities creep into it gradually.

The Transformation of Christmas

The example of Christmas will again be relevant. This Christian feast was originally innovated to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ and, of course, to remember his teachings. But once the occasion had been recognized as a feast, all the secular elements of public festivals crept in. The following quotation from the Encyclopedia Britannica is worth attention: “For several centuries Christmas was solely a church anniversary observed by religious services. But as Christianity spread among the people of pagan lands, many of the practices of the winter solstice were blended with those of Christianity because of the liberal ruling of Gregory I, the great, and the cooperation of the missionaries. Thus, Christmas became both religious and secular in its celebration, at times reverent, at others gay.”

Then, what kind of activities have been adopted to celebrate Christmas is mentioned in the next paragraphs of which the following quote is more pertinent here: “Merrymaking came to have a share in Christmas observance through popular enthusiasm even while emphasis was on the religious phase.... In the wholly decked great halls of the feudal lords, whose hospitality extended to all their friends, tenants and household, was sailing, feasting, singing and games, dancing, masquerading and mummers presenting pantomimes and masques were all part of the festivities.” (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1953 v. 5, p. 643)

This is enough to show as to how an apparently innocent feast of reverence was converted into a secular festival where the merrymaking and seeking enjoyment by whatever means took preference over all the religious and spiritual activities.

Being fully aware of this human psychology, Islam has never prescribed, nor encouraged the observance of birthdays and anniversaries, and when such celebrations are observed as a part of the religion, they are totally forbidden.

The Religion is Complete

The Holy Qur’an has clearly pronounced on the occasion of the last Hajj of the Holy Prophet, : “Today, I have completed the teachings of your religion.” [Al-Maida 5:3] It means that all the teachings of Islam were communicated to the Muslims through the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet, . No one is allowed after it to add any thing to them as a part of religion. What was not a part of religion during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet, , can never become part of it. Such additions are termed by the Holy Prophet, , as Bid’ah or innovation.

Thus, the observance of the 12th of Rabi’ul-Awwal as a religious feast is not warranted by any verse of the Holy Qur’an or by any teaching of the Holy Prophet, . Had it been a part of the religion it would have been clearly ordered or practiced by the Holy Prophet, , and his blessed companions or, at least, by their immediate pupils. But no example of the celebration of the occasion can be traced out in the early centuries of the Islamic history. It was after many centuries [Note: According to Maulana Yusuf Ludhinavi it was in the year 604 A.H.] that some monarchs started observing the 12th of Rabi’ul-Awwal as the birthday of the Holy Prophet, , without a sound religious basis, and the congregations in the name of Maulood or Milad were held where the history of the birth of the Holy Prophet, , used to be narrated.

Disagreement About the Date

The observance of the 12th of this month as the birthday of the Holy Prophet, , is not only an innovation having no basis in the Islamic teachings, but the accuracy of this date as the real birthday of the Holy Prophet, , is also very much doubted. There are different dates suggested in different traditions, and the majority of the authentic scholars is inclined to hold that the Holy Prophet, , was born on the 9th of Rabi’ul-Awwal. This difference of opinion is another evidence to prove that the observance of the birthday is not a part of the religion, otherwise its exact date would have been preserved with accuracy.

The life of the Holy Prophet, , is, no doubt, the most important source of guidance for all the Muslims, and every Muslim is under an obligation to learn and study the events of his life, and to follow the practical example set by him in every sphere of life. The narration of his pious biography (the Seerah) in itself is a pious act, which invites the divine blessings, but the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah have not prescribed a particular time or method for it. This pious act should be performed in all the months and at all the times. The month of Rabi’ul-Awwal has not been designated by the Shariah as a special season for holding such congregations to commemorate the birth or life of the Holy Prophet, . It is thus an innovation (Bid’ah) to restrict the Seerah meetings to the month of Rabi’ul Awwal only, or to believe that the meetings held in this month are worthy of more reward than the meetings held on any other date during the year. In fact, the Companions of the Holy Prophet, , used to commemorate the life of the Holy Prophet, , throughout the year, not only by studying and conveying his message to others, but also by following his way of life and acting upon his teachings in each and every branch of their activities, and this is exactly what a Muslim is required and supposed to do.

By this we do not mean that the Seerah meetings should not be held in the month of Rabi’ul-Awwal. The point is only that they should not be restricted to it, nor should it be believed that the Shariah has laid any kind of emphasis on holding such meetings in this particular month.

Another point that should always be kept in mind while holding such meetings is that they must be in complete conformity with the rules of Shariah. A Muslim is supposed to abide by the rules of Shariah in all his activities. But at least the meetings held in the memory of the Holy Prophet, , should be free from all the acts forbidden by the Shariah.

Contemporary Seerah Meetings and Shariah

It is often observed, especially in the Western countries, that the people hold the Seerah meetings where men and women sit together without observing the rules of hijab prescribed by the Shariah. The teachings of the Holy Prophet, , are obviously against such mixed gatherings. How can a Seerah meeting bring fruits where such fundamental teachings of the Shariah are openly violated?

In some meetings the Na’ts (poems) in the memory of the Holy Prophet, , are recited by the women before the male audience, sometimes with music, which is totally against the instructions of the Holy Prophet, . It is clearly prohibited by the Shariah to hold such meetings or to participate in them, because it is not only a violation of the Shariah rules, but it is an affront to the sanctity of the Seerah of the Holy Prophet, .

All other activities, often practiced on the twelfth of Rabi’ul-Awwal, like holding processions, constructing the mock tombs of the Holy Prophet, , and illumination of the buildings and the roads are not warranted by any rule of the Shariah. Rather they are based on conscious or unconscious imitation of certain other religions. No example of such activities can be traced out from the earlier Islamic history.

Real Message of Seerah

What is really important with regard to the Holy Prophet, , is, first, to follow his teachings, and second to make his pious Seerah available to every Muslim, to preserve it in the hearts of the Muslims from the very childhood, to educate the family members to run their lives according to it and to hold it as the most glorious example of the human conduct the universe has ever witnessed — and all this with utmost love and reverence, not manifested by some formal activities only, but also through actual behavior of following the Sunnah. This cannot be done by merely holding processions and illuminating the walls. This requires constant and consistent efforts and a meaningful program of education and training.


Published: July 2000


Last modified 08/12/05 09:25 AM - Iqra - ISSN #1062-2756