The Problem With the Prophet's Birthday

Mawlid portal1

Every year Muslims need to go through the usual battle about celebrating the Prophet's birthday. Two sides that claim love of the Prophet explaining why the other group is wrong. Sometimes there’s civility, but too often one will not let go until the other taps out in submission.

Humans are very interesting. There’s not a single culture, contemporary or historical, except that they engaged in this odd practice of marking anniversaries to commemorate significant events. What is it about us that makes us so nostalgic to the past that we want to set aside special days to remember what happened on those days in history? That’s not even the odd part. It’s understandable that we would mark happy occasions in order for us to relive those special moments. But what’s the deal with remembering tragedies? We deliberately mark our calendars to set aside days to be miserable using nothing but our memories of sad events – memories that are often distorted and quite unreliable and in many cases never even directly experienced. If it’s about learning lessons from history, there must surely be another way to do so without combining it with misery. And what’s the deal with setting days to celebrate our relationships as if throughout the whole year we’re unaware of our parents and/or spouses’ presence in our lives, and we need to be reminded of that through commercials that a chocolate box with a gift and a nice Hallmark card will make them forget about us taking them for granted all year long.

Every year Muslims need to go through the usual battle in the Bidah octagon. The Mawlid. Two sides that claim love of the Prophet peace be upon him dedicating their time and energy explaining why the other group is wrong. Sometimes there’s civility, where each side will grant the other that their position is held out of love of the Prophet ﷺ. But too often we have speakers on this subject that will not let go until someone taps out in submission.

Judgment upon a matter is a branch from the tree of conceptualization. Everything in Islamic jurisprudence, Fiqh, revolves around this principle. Get the conceptualization wrong and it’s your first class ticket to irrelevance city along with your ruling.

The problem about the Mawlid is the idea that it’s a “religious practice” in a sense that a new ritual is added to Islam. No two Muslims, regardless of what stream of Islam they drink from, will disagree that the Mawlid as a “religious ritual” is an innovation that is unacceptable in Islam. The Beloved ﷺ didn’t do it. The Companions didn’t do it. The Successors and Successors of the Successors didn’t do it either. These are the best three generations whom the Belovedﷺ said about were the best of generations. If we’re to be successful we must emulate them and walk in their footsteps. Case closed. And this is why the Mawlid IS a religious obligation.

Humans have a tendency to turn repeatable events into routine: a set of customary and often mechanically performed procedures or activities. We start performing tasks in a personal way, but sooner or later we switch into an impersonal mode. We can’t help it. That’s just how our brains work, and it’s a good thing that they do it this way. Imagine having to think about the sequence of leg movements you have to perform every time you go down a set of stairs. In fact, if you do so now you’ll actually find great difficulty and might trip. The brain performs repeatable actions best by automatizing their commands. The problem is that it doesn’t distinguish between meaningful and meaningless tasks. Consciously trying to think about your legs going down the stairs might be harmful, but you most certainly have to be conscious of your repeatable actions in prayer if you don’t want it rolled up and your face slapped with it after your Salam.

The Sunnah of the Belovedﷺ is something that every Muslim aspires to fulfill in all his or her actions. “Say: If you love God then follow me and God will love you.”1 One must follow in the footsteps of the Belovedﷺ to earn the love of God. The highest station one can achieve with God is to be one of His beloved servants. This cannot be achieved through impersonal adherence to routinized acts. The Sunnah is filled with meaning, and one cannot experience this unless they’re actively engaged with their heart and mind when living it. This consciousness can only be attained when one’s heart is connected to the Belovedﷺ.

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.

The Mawlid is a time to rekindle the love. In a world where we’ve become more like programmed robots, the Mawlid is a chance to be humans as we reconnect our hearts to the ultimate human. The Mawlid is not a religious ritual. It’s the life force that turns routine motions into what we all want to be on – the Sunnah of the Belovedﷺ.

1. Surah Al-Imran, 3:33.