The Holy Last Messenger, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam was
born on the twelfth of Rabi al Awwal in the year of the Elephant (Surah Fil). The
description of this blessed event has been recorded in many sirahs', conveying
clearly that here was indeed a child chosen by Allah, the Most High, to fulfill a great
mission. There were many miracles surrounding his birth and it was a night of great Salaam.
The birth of the Blessed Nabi, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam, as in all historical occurrences, is remembered by commemoration. If there is no one to preserve the memory of an event, a person, place or thing, its remembrance will soon pass from the collective minds of the people. With the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. by the Romans, the true followers of Isa, the son of Maryam, alaihi salaam, (those that survived) scattered in all directions. Over time, the collective memory of the birth, life and mission of Hazrat Isa, alaihi sallam became lost. Today, in the gospels in the Bible and those gospels which were not included, there are clear differences concerning the telling of events in Jesus' life. It is only in the Holy Qur'an that the confusion and discrepancies surrounding Hadrat Isa's life and mission have been cleared up. So also in the lives of other of the anbiyah (prophets) did the Holy Qur'an make known the truth, concerning their lives, of what was previously lost or distorted through the passage of time and forgetfulness of the people.
Unfortunately, The Muslims of later generations won't have another Qur'an or another Messenger to remind us of the birth and life of the Seal of the Anbiyya, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam. Such a tremendous task and that of the preservation of the entire aspect of Din ul Islam was left to the Sahaba Ikram, and the generation which followed them (tabi-een) and the generation which followed them (taba tabi-een) and all those pious Muslims which followed the first three generations deemed the best by the Holy Last Messenger, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam.
Much scholarly work was done in the early period including tafsir (science of Qur'anic commentary, compiling the sirah (Life of the Holy Last Messenger[sas] which was the beginning of Islamic history), recording of ahadith, codification of the laws of Islam (Shariah) and many other sciences. In the beginning of Islamic history, the birth of Rasulullah (sas) is a significant part. As for the practice of commemorating his birth, the hadith master Ahmad ibn Hajar Asqalani said:
"As for the origin of the practice, it is an innovation (bid'a) that has not been conveyed to us from any of the pious early Muslims of the first three centuries, despite which it has included both features that are praiseworthy and features that are not. If one takes care to include in such a commemoration only things that are praiseworthy and avoids those that are otherwise, it is a praiseworthy innovation, while if one does not, it is not".
The primary argument against the practice of commemorating the
Mawlid is that it is bid'a (innovation) and thus unacceptable. The hadith quoted
to support this view is: "Beware of matters newly begun, for every matter
newly begun is innovation, every innovation is misguidance, and every misguidance is in
hell." The reference to "every" in the hadith does not, according
to the scholars, refer to every situation without qualification, for there are similar
expressions of generalization in the Qur'an and Sunnah that are not all-inclusive in their
meaning. Ahmad ibn Naqib al Misri, in his book, The Reliance of the Traveler (translated
by Noah Ha Mim Keller), provides us with some examples of such generalizations:
"...And that a man can have nothing, except what he strives for" HQ 53:39, despite the evidence that a Muslim benefits from the spiritual works of others, from his fellow Muslims, the prayers of angels for him as well as his goodly son, the funeral prayer over him, charity given by others in his name, and the supplications of believers for him.
"Verily you and what you worship apart from Allah are the fuel of hell" HQ 21:98, "what you worship" being a general expression while there is no doubt that Isa ibn Maryam, his mother and the angels, may Allah be pleased with all of them, were all worshipped apart from Allah, but are not what is meant by this verse.
"But when they forgot what they had been reminded of, We opened unto them the doors of everything." HQ 6:44, though the doors of Mercy were not opened unto them.
To clearly understand the meaning of bid'ah, one must also understand the meaning of its opposite, sunnah. The word sunnah in Islamic terminology has three applications. The term, when defining the difference between textual sources of Islam, i.e. Qur'an and Sunnah, was coined by hadith scholars to differentiate between the Qur'an and the Hadiths, both of which eminated from the Holy Last Messenger (sas) but must be kept separate for obvious reasons. The term sunnah is also a technical expression used by legal scholars when defining the difference between obligatory acts (fard, wajib) and recommended acts (sunnah). Both of these usages are different in application from each other, came into use at a later date and are not what is meant in its original meaning.
The Holy Last Messenger said: "He who inaugurates a good sunna in Islam earns the reward of it and of all who perform it after him without diminishing their own rewards in the slightest. And he who introduces a bad sunna is guilty of the sin of it and of all who perform it after him without diminishing their own sins in the slightest." [Muslim]
In this hadith, by sunnah is meant 'way' or custom'. By good
sunna is meant the Way of the Nabi, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam, in giving guidance,
accepting, and rejecting: this is the sunnah. By bad sunnah is meant that which is against
the Way of the Nabi, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam, in giving guidance, accepting
and rejecting. The term good sunnah and bad sunnah means good way and bad way and does not
mean anything else. Thus the original meaning of the sunnah of the Holy Last Messenger is
his way of acting, ordering, accepting and rejecting, and the way of his rightly guided
Khalifas who followed his way of acting, ordering, accepting and rejecting. Thus,
practices which are newly begun must be examined in the light of the Sunnah of the Prophet
(sas) and in his way of acceptance or rejection. They may not be rejected simply because
they did not exist in the first century of Islam.
There are many instances in which the companions initiated new acts connected with worship that the Holy Last Messenger had never done nor ordered to be done. These were acts that the Companions did out of their own conviction, based on their own reasoning and were found acceptable to the Blessed Nabi in accordance with Allah ta'ala's words: "And do good, that haply you may succeed" HQ 22:77, and the hadith of the Prophet (sas): "He who inaugurates a good sunna in Islam earns the reward of it without diminishing their own rewards in the slightest."
The above hadith initially concerned charity but its application is general according to the interpretive principles of ijtihad (legal reasoning by qualified scholars) established by ijma (consensus). That is, the primary texts (Qur'an and Hadith), the foundation of the Sacred Law, must be viewed and understood in its full meaning and not just its immediate historical context. Some examples of good sunnahs' brought by sahaba, may Allah ta'ala be pleased with all of them, yet not ordered or performed by the Holy Last Messenger, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam, are listed below:
Bukhari and Muslim relate from Abu Hurayra, may Allah be pleased with them, that at the dawn prayer the Holy Last Messenger, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam, said to Bilal, may Allah be pleased with him, "Bilal, tell me which of your acts in Islam you are most hopeful about, for I have heard the footfall of your sandals in Paradise," and he replied, "I have done nothing I am more hopeful about than the fact that I do not perform ablution at any time of the night or day without praying with that ablution whatever has been destined for me to pray."
Ibn Hajar Asqalani says in Fath al-Bari that "the hadith shows it is permissible to use personal reasoning (ijtihad) in choosing times for acts of worship, for Bilal reached the conclusions he mentioned by his own inference, and the Blessed Nabi, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam, confirmed him therein."
Similar to this is the hadith in Bukhari about Khubayb, may Allah be pleased with him (who asked to pray two rak'as before being executed by idolators in Mecca), who was the first to establish the sunna of two rak'as for those who are steadfast in going to their death. These hadiths are explicit evidence that Bilal and Khubayb used their own personal reasoning (ijtihad) in choosing the times of acts of worship, without any previous command or precedent from the Holy Last Messenger, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam, other than the general demand to perform the prayer.
Bukhari and Muslim relate that Rifa'a ibn Rafi' said, "When we were praying behind the Prophet, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam, and he raised his head from bowing and said, Allah hears whoever praises Him,' a man behind him said, 'Our Lord, Yours is the praise, abundantly, wholesomely, and blessedly therein.' When he rose to leave, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) asked who said it, and when the man replied that it was he, the Prophet, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam, said, I saw thirty-odd angels each striving to be the one to write it.'"
Ibn Hajar says in Fath al-Bari that the hadith "indicates the permissibility of initiating new expressions of zikr in the prayer other than the ones related through hadith texts, as long as they do not contradict those conveyed by the hadith [since the above words were a mere enhancement and addendum to the known, sunnah zikr]."
Bukhari relates from A'isha, may Allah be pleased with her, that "the Holy Last Messenger, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam, dispatched a man at the head of a military expedition who recited the Qur'an for his companions at prayer, finishing each recital with al-Ikhlas (Qur'an 112). When they returned, they mentioned this to the Blessed Nabi, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam, who told them, Ask him why he does this,' and when they asked him, the man replied, 'Because it describes the All-Merciful, and I love to recite it.' The Holy Last Messenger, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam, said to them, Tell him Allah loves him.'"
Although each of the above actions were not performed by the
Messenger of Allah, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam, nor ordered by him to do so,
they clearly show the Prophet's Sunnah or way in judging actions brought before him,
accepting those deemed good in accordance with the Sacred Law and rejecting what was not.
This way was continued by the Khulafa e Rashidun and the Companions in judging,
accepting or rejecting new matters in the light of the Sacred Law. This allowed
flexibility in personal judgement involving matters of ibadah as long as it was in the
framework of deen and did not deviate from what was ordered.
Therefore, the scholars of law established the rule that if a new matter is attested to by law as being good, it is acknowledged as good and if a new matter is attested to by law as being bad, it is acknowledged as bad. The scholars sometimes referred to these good actions as bid'a hasanat since it is technically an innovation but in legal terms, it is an inferrable sunnah. If a matter is attested to by law as being bad, then it is rejected as a bad innovation (bid'a).
The Holy Last Messenger, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam said, "Beware of matters newly begun, for every matter newly begun is innovation, every innovation is misguidance, and every misguidance is in hell."
The Shafi scholar Muhammad Jurdani said by "Beware of matters newly begun..." is meant, Distance yourselves and be wary of matters newly innovated that did not previously exist,' i.e. things invented in Islam that contravene the Sacred Law.
"...for every matter newly begun is innovation, every
innovation is misguidance, and every misguidance is in hell", is meant that everyone
who is misguided, whether through himself or by following another is in hell, the hadith
referring to matters that are not good innovations with a basis in Sacred Law.
The great Shafi scholar Imam Izz ibn Abd al Salam said that innovations fall under five headings of the Sacred Law: obligatory, unlawful, recommended, offensive, and permissible.
1. Obligatory - Such as recording the Qur'an and laws of Islam in writing when it was feared that something might be lost from them; recording the hadith, including its classification to preserve the sayings of the Holy Last Messenger from being lost and also to distinguish that which is authentic from that which is false or spurious.
2. Unlawful - Such as un-Islamic taxes on the people; giving positions of authority in Sacred Law to those unfit; devoting time to learning heretical beliefs that contravene the tenets of faith.
3. Recommended - Such as building hostels and schools of Sacred Law; recording the research of Islamic schools of legal thought; writing books on beneficial subjects; commemorating the mawlid (birth) of the Holy Last Messenger, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam, and wearing one's best and rejoicing at it.
4. Offensive - Such as embellishing masjids, decorating the Qur'an, having a backup man in salat, repeating the Allahu Akbar of the imam when the latter's voice is clearly audible to those praying behind him.
5. Permissible - Such as sifting flour, using spoons, and having more enjoyable food, drink, and housing.
The classifications of bid'a given by Imam Izz ibn Abd al Salam,
were confirmed by Imam Nawawi, Ibn Hajar Asqalani, and the vast majority of Islamic
scholars of the time and its principles were applied in the changing times and the people
who lived in them. Thus the only form of bid'a which is misguidance is that which
contradicts or adds to or takes away from the tenets of faith. Such innovators were the
Mu'tazilites, Qadarites, Murji'ites etc. Their innovations were harmful to the Deen and
were devoid of benefit.
As to actions, they must be viewed in the light of the Blessed Nabi's Sunnah, or way of judging, and accepting or rejecting. The classifications of Izz ibn Abd as Salam has been a handy aid for Islamic scholars in determining the value of any new act. Much more can be said on this subject but it is beyond the present scope of this work.
Salaams are upon the anbiyya on the days of their birth.
Allah ta'ala says in Holy Qur'an, concerning Hazrat Yahya, alaihi salaam: "And Peace be upon him the day he was born..." HQ 19:15.
Concerning Hazrat Isa, the son of Maryam, alaihi salaam: (Isa said) "And Peace is on me the day when I was born..." HQ 19:33.
In these ayats, Allah Ta'ala makes clear that the birthdays of
nabis, alaihim salaam, are special, marked by the peace that Allah Ta'ala sends down upon
them at that time. Although the Holy Qur'an only mentions Hadrat Isa and Hadrat Yahya as
having Salaam upon them the day they were born, the obvious inference is that Salaam
is upon all the anbiyya the day they were born. That the times when Allah Ta'ala's Salaam
being sent down is a special time is indicated in the Sura al Qadr. For Allah,
the Most High has said that the Layla tul Qadr (Night of Power) is better than a
thousand months and on that night, Salaam is sent down until the morning. Thus, the time
of the birth of a nabi is special by reason of the Salaam of Allah being sent down.
An unbeliever receives Mercy from Allah because he celebrated the Mawlid of the Holy Last Messenger, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam.
It is related in the Sahih of al Bukhari, in the book of Nikah, that Abu Lahab, upon hearing of the birth of the Nabi, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam, freed his handmaid who brought him the news. Because of this act, his punishment in Jahannum is lessened every Monday (the day on which the Holy Last Messenger was born).
The Messenger of Allah, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam, commemorated significant days of religious importance other than the eids.
It is related in the sahihs of the two sheikhs (Bukhari and Muslim, Rahmatullah alaihim), that when the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam, came to Medina, he found the Jews fasting on the tenth of Muharram. Upon inquiring why they did so, he was told that it was in commemoration of the day in which Allah Ta'ala drowned the Pharaoh and delivered the Bani Isra'il from Egypt so they fasted on that day in thanks to Allah, Ta'ala. Upon hearing this, the Messenger of Allah, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam, said: "We have more right to Musa, alaihi salaam, than you". Thereafter, he used to fast that day and the day before it.
From the above hadith is taken the validity of remembering a day in which Allah, the Most High opened the doors of his Mercy or saved the people from calamity. Such rememberance, repeated on the anniversary of the event, can be shown by some form of ibadah, i.e. salat, fasting, charity.
The Messenger of Allah, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam, commemorated his own mawlid.
In Sahih Muslim, in the Book of Fasting, Abu Qatada (ra) narrated that the Holy Last Messenger, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam, was asked about the fast of Monday, and he answered: "That is the day that I was born and that is the day I received the prophecy."
In the 107th ayat of Surah al anbiyya, Allah Ta'ala says: "We did not send you except as a Mercy to all the worlds."
No doubt, the greatest manifestation of Allah's Mercy is his sending the Blessed Nabi to all mankind, the Rahmatil Aalamin, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam.
In the 58th ayat of Surah al Yunus, Allah, the Most High says: "Say:
Of the favor and Mercy of Allah, let them rejoice!". Why should we not
rejoice at the greatest Mercy Allah, the Most High, has bestowed on mankind?
The activities done in commemoration of the mawlid should be, primarily those actions which have a basis in Islam, such as nawafil prayer, fasting, charity, reciting the Holy Qur'an, reading from the Sirahs (narrations of the birth and life of the Holy Last Messenger), reciting salawat on the Nabi, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam, reciting poetry or singing in praise of him, or any good deed which may be in addition to the above but connected with the rememberance of this blessed day.
Ya Nabi, Salaamu alaika, Ya Rasul, Salaamu alaika, Ya Habib, Salaamu alaika, Salawaa tullahu alaika. Salaam be upon you the day you were born, Salaam be upon you the day you made wisal, and Salaam be upon you the day you are Raised.
17 July 1997.
[Currently, he is the technical advisor for the Islamic Post and member of Muslims of the Americas Inc. He was trained in combat photography and photo journalism and had experiences in the Vietnam and Afghanistan war.]