Mawlid: Is it Bid’ah? Sallu alan Nabi!
Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem
What is Bid’ah?
This is something that has been at the forefront of debates in modern Muslim society, particularly the youth who are indoctrinated through a click of a YouTube video or have never learned from a proper Islamic source, such as trustworthy scholars. To start off we should start defining what a Bid’ah is and how many types of Bid’ah are there.
Imam Nawawi said in his Tahdib al-Asma’a wa’l Lugat ‘In the parlance of Sharia, bid’ah means those [new] things that were not present in the time of Rasulullah. Bidah is broadly classified as either good, or ugly.’ So Bid’ah is not restricted to things that are merely disliked. This was derived from the authentic Hadith narrated by Muslim:
مَنْ سَنَّ فِي الإِسْلاَمِ سُنَّةً حَسَنَةً فَعُمِلَ بِهَا بَعْدَهُ كُتِبَ لَهُ مِثْلُ أَجْرِ مَنْ عَمِلَ بِهَا وَلاَ يَنْقُصُ مِنْ أُجُورِهِمْ شَىْءٌ وَمَنْ سَنَّ فِي الإِسْلاَمِ سُنَّةً سَيِّئَةً فَعُمِلَ بِهَا بَعْدَهُ كُتِبَ عَلَيْهِ مِثْلُ وِزْرِ مَنْ عَمِلَ بِهَا وَلاَ يَنْقُصُ مِنْ أَوْزَارِهِمْ شَىْءٌ
‘The one who innovates a good innovation in Islam has its reward and a reward similar to those who follow him in it–until the Day of Judgment–without lessening their reward. The one who innovates an innovation of misguidance would be sinful for it and has sins similar to those who follow him in it–until the Day of Judgment–without lessening their sins.’ (Sahih Muslim: Book 47, Hadith 26)
Let’s look at a hadith that is overused by many who have not looked at the context behind the statement:
كُلَّ بِدْعَةٍ ضَلَالَةٌ ‘every bidah (innovation) is misguidance” (extract from Sunan Abu Dawud: Book 42, Hadith 12)
There is also a similar hadith with the same word ‘every’: كُلُّ عَيْنٍ زَانِيَةٌ ‘every eye is a fornicator’ (Tirmidhi: Book 43, Hadith 2786)
When you look outside of the Indian-Pakistani subcontinent, and see how over 30 Muslim countries celebrate their Mawlid, you would be surprised. For example, In Senegal, especially at Madina Baye Mosque, every day is Mawlid for them…
However, the translation is not the literal meaning. Of course the eyes of the Prophets did not used to do sin of looking with lust nor do the eyes of the babies look with the desire towards males or females. The wordكُلُّ (kullu), in Arabic can have various different meanings: each, every, or it can mean most. It has been widely accepted by Ijma (consensus) that the word كُلُّ (kullu) in the hadith about innovated matters does not mean everything.
If one were to go ahead and strictly claim there is only one type of Bid’ah, then they must explain their flawed reasoning as there were many Bid’ahs after the passing of Prophet ﷺ.
This is just to list a few:
1. Mushaf (Compilation of the Qu’ran) – that was not around until his passing ﷺ.
2. Tashkeel (diacritics), such as Fatha, Damma, and Kasra.
3. The Basmala in the prayers that was not practiced.
4. Umar (رضي الله عنه) who after the Prophet’s death decided to establish congregational Taraweeh. Umar even said, when seeing the people gathered for taraweeh, “What a good innovation (bidah hasanah) this is!” (Bukhari).
5. The wall/barrier placed in Masjids that which did not exist in the time of Prophet ﷺ.
Imam Sha’fi, also affirms there are two types of innovations:
لْمُحْدَثَاتُ ضَرْبَانِ مَا أُحْدِثُ يُخَالِفُ كِتَابًا أَوْ سُنَّةً أَوْ أَثَرًا أَوْ إِجْمَاعًا فَهَذِهِ بِدْعَةُ الضَّلَالِ وَمَا أُحْدِثُ مِنَ الْخَيْرِ لَا يُخَالِفُ شَيْئًا مِنْ ذَلِكَ فَهَذِهِ مُحْدَثَةٌ غَيْرُ مَذْمُومَةٍ
“Newly invented matters are of two types. Whatever is invented that differs from the Book, the Sunnah, the reports, and the consensus, then this is called an innovation of misguidance. Whatever goodness is invented that does not differ in any way from those, then this is called an innovation that is not blameworthy.”
Secondly, let’s define the word ‘Mawlid’.
Imam Suyuti establishes that this is where people gather together, recite parts of the Quran, narrating stories about the Prophet’s ﷺ birth, serve food to to those around them whether it may be the poor or for their friends and family.
It is almost as if, people are afraid of the ‘M’ word because of the impermissible acts that have derived from it. But we should not be scared, in this day and age – our generation needed to be educated on such matters. It does not need to be made controversial. If anything, one should come to their own understanding based on the Islamic principles and guidelines set out by Qur’an and Hadith.
Any action that one takes should be judged by the Shari ah as being of one of the following five categories:
٠ Fard (Obligatory)
٠ Mustahabb (Recommended)
٠ Mubah/Ja’iz (Simply Permissible)
٠ Makruh (Discouraged)
٠ Haram (Forbidden)
The innovation of Mawlid, therefore, neither opposes the Qur’an, nor the Sunnah, nor practises of the companions or Ijma (consensus). According to the Sha’fi school of thought, it is a praiseworthy deed which was not vogue in the first generation [of Islam].
Both Azz Al din Ibn Abd al-Salam and Shihab Al-Din Al-Qarafi- who was recognized as Mujaddid (renewer) of his time- affirmed this position too, where they stated innovations expanded beyond ‘misguidance’ but had Bid’ahs that were commendable, highly recommended, obligatory and disliked.
Even Ibn Tayymiyah (whom Salafis love to claim) commented positive aspects of Mawlid without needing to denounce it like modern Muslims today. He states: ‘There shall be a great reward for the beautiful intention [of celebrating Mawlids] and for the reverence of the Prophet ﷺ– where some people consider it praiseworthy and some may consider it ugly’ (Iqtida al-Sirat al-Mustaqim).
As Salman Younus (A Student of Sheikh Akram Nadwi) puts it:
“The Mawlid is a non-decisive legal issue – an ijtihadi matter. It’s not very different from any other validly disputed legal rule. Black/white presentations of it stem in part from its assuming the status of an ‘identity marker’. So, groups go overboard in affirming/denying it.”
In essence, what he is saying is that, it is possible for someone not wanting to partake in Mawlid, because it is not an issue of principal or Usul-ud-Deen. So people must remember to make a distinction between principle issues of religion and those issues which are differed over. That is why there should not be a group strictly renouncing it or vice versa.
Those who claim Mawlid is simply a ‘Bid’ah’ (bad, misguided, bid’ah) then they would need to break down the concept of bid’ah and what is involved in it that they deem as bid’ah. This cannot be derived from biased stances from what they have learnt from their Facebook feed or blind conformity, but substantial reasonings behind their claim.
In theory, Mawlid should consist of:
1. Qur’ān recitation.
2. Naats, Nasheed, and Poetry.
3. Extra prayers (either salawāt on Prophet ﷺ or nawāfil).
4. Serving of food.
Whether this is not implemented today, is a different issue. It does not mean you negate something good because bad things come out of it. There is always going to be things that are good, but people abuse to their will. Non Islamic examples would be technology. Islamic examples would be the celebration of marriages and Eid, however people abuse these occasions to be excessive in expenditure and use it as a means to compete with one another.
Which scholars categorically have renounced Mawlid being a Bid’ah from the three generations? None.
In essence, Mawlid gatherings should consist of mentioning the Shamail (Biography) of the Prophet ﷺ. Not just the birth, but celebrating the entire life of his without needing to single out 12th of Rabbi-ul-Awwal. Singing ‘Mera Murshid Sohna’ about their Pirs, cutting cakes, mic boxes, which disrupts the sanctity of the masjids when they’re supposed to be quiet places.
That being said, one should try to take the approach of abstinence over controversial subjects, without calling someone a disbeliever or bidati/deviant, by making excuses and interpretations to those practices I have given above.
Deobandis believe in a concept called Sad al-dhara’i – this essentially means not doing the permissible if it opens up to the impermissible acts. Thus, their perception is based on some practices of the Mawlid such as free mixing- they should be avoided altogether to prevent sins.
However, this does not negate the actual concept of Mawlid itself, which they say in their official book of creed, called Al-Muhannad. In fact, Mawlid has been the official stance of the scholars of the Deoband from this book.
Hanafi scholars like Mulla Ali Wari, argued its permissibility in his treatise ‘al-Mawlid al sharif’. Just the question lies of how it should be done.
Muhammad Yasir Al-Hanafi, a Deobandi scholar, says that “It is ironic when someone who claims to be Hanafi demands evidence from the Qur’an and Hadith only, or to show practice from the first three centuries”. He argues that, this is not only an unjust stance but also inclining towards a Wahabbi approach.
There are some Deobandis who take the approach of Mawlid being Makruh and their basis falls under the two reasons:
1. To not liken themselves to the Barelevi denomination. However, this is a very sectarian approach to things. Firstly, there is no good from exclusivity and it creates cognitive dissonance – Allah says in the Qur’an “And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided.” (Surah Al- Imran)
2. What derives from the Mawlid. Again, this is not a viable approach to take, because the nature of man will always be flawed. Just because, a certain group of people, i.e some South Asians who allow for impermissible/unnecessary acts such as singing about their Pirs, marches that block roads – does not mean every Mawlid is like this, or should be.
When you look outside of the Indian-Pakistani subcontinent, and see how over 30 Muslim countries celebrate their Mawlid, you would be surprised. For example, In Senegal, especially at Madina Baye Mosque, every day is Mawlid for them. Not just 12th of Rabbiul Awwal (which as we know is differed on) not just in that month, but the whole year around. This is the same case for the Habaib of Yemen. The likes of Habib Ali Jifri, Hafiz Umar Bin Hafiz in their Dar Al-Mustafa, they celebrate Mawlid every Monday and Thursdays with their students through fasting, reciting Qur’an etc.
Mawlid – in 1874 at Sultan Ahmed Mosque during the rule of Ottoman Sultan and Sunni Caliph Abdülhamid I who was renowned for his piousness, servitude to Allah and love for the Prophet ﷺ.
Summary of Imam Suyuti’s ‘Husn al-Maqsid fi Amal al Mawlid’ Imam Suyuti without doubt was a renowned scholar of the 9th century, known for his critical insights. Nevertheless, as far as I know, no one rejects him. I will mention some of the points he raised in his book.
3. He refutes against Fakihani’s objection who claims that it is not Mandub,
4. States that Ibn Hajar himself revealed Mawlid to be Bid’ah Hasana
5. Brings forward a Hadith that reports that the Prophet ﷺ performed Aqiqah after the proclamation of prophethood, suggesting that we too, can express our gratitude
6. He states that, holding a banquet and feeding people and the poor without accompanying any sinful actions is indeed a praiseworthy deed and charity. Therefore, it may be classed as Mandub Bidah (recommended innovation)
Those who claim Mawlid is simply a ‘Bid’ah’ (bad, misguided, bid’ah) then they would need to break down the concept of bid’ah and what is involved in it that they deem as bid’ah. This cannot be derived from biased stances from what they have learnt from their Facebook feed or blind conformity, but substantial reasonings behind their claim…
It is evident that we see from the beliefs of the various scholars, that to classify innovations in worship as wholly negative without exception is at the very least, ignorant.
Those who have a problem with fairy lights and decorating masjids, then I would say this relates back to the reality of ‘Urf. Imam Baqillani said that morals and ethics of Shariah will change over time, and thus in certain cultures they have their own way of revealing their joy. Understandably, this money could be put in better use, but why get hostile over it? It creates unnecessary feud.
دَعْ مَــا ادَّعَتْهُ النَّصَارٰى فِيْ نَبِيِّهِـمِ
وَاحْكُمْ بِمَا شِئْتَ مَدْحاً فِيْهِ وَاحْتَكِـمِ
‘Abandon what the Christians have claimed about their Prophet / Beyond that you may say whatever you wish in praise of him.’
– extract from world’s famous poetry of praise by Al-Busiri (Burdah shareef)
As I had mentioned earlier, Allah tell us not to become ‘divided’, and to emphasise- the miniscule issue of customs is not worth the division or rather tensions between the Ummah.
People say: “But the companions did not celebrate it?”
٠ Firstly this is a very bleak way to look at things because, most of the people (pseudo Salafis) who make this statement are ones those who do not even know about the Sahaba Ikraam and how much they revered the Prophet ﷺ.
٠ There is something they forget, in that we are not the Companions.
٠ Those who lived with the Prophet ﷺ for all their lives, breathed his way of life and did not need reminders and I said before, this concept was not vogue at the time.
٠ The Companions did things where people would say it is extreme. For example, trying to catch droplets of water from the wudhu and collecting the locks of the blessed hair of the Rasul ﷺ.
٠ So then why do we have people who say some are extreme in their praise? As for us, we need to be constantly reminded and woken up from our forgetfulness and all the heedlessness that cloud our hearts and minds in our daily life, we have so many distractions and diseases that stop our thinking and getting in the way of our Rasul.
٠ In this day and age, we need the remembrance of our Rasul more than ever. This is why the greatest scholars of our Ummah prescribed us medicine in the form of Awrad (litanies), Mawlid (celebrations of the birth and blessing of the Prophet ﷺ) and Majalis (sacred gatherings). Without such aides, he ﷺ would rarely cross our consciousness.
Some things to pond over:
1. How can you claim you love someone or something, without knowing them? If you cannot recognise our Nabi in this life, how will you recognize him in the hereafter?
2. If Allah wanted to, he could have ended our Shahadah, with ‘La illaha illalah’. But he did not. Reflect on this.
3. When Allah did not forgive Adam (عليه السلام) for his sin, he mentioned the Prophet ﷺ and only then, did Allah forgive him.
4. Allah says in the Qur’an:
“Say in the Bounty of Allah and His Mercy, Let them rejoice.” (Surah Yunus, verse 58)
There is no greater bounty given to creation than the Prophet ﷺ as without him, there would not have been any such thing as ‘Ummah’.
5. Expressing happiness on the existence of Rasul is an obligation, so this is not debated.
6. Habib Umar Bin Hafiz says, ‘I fear that you will not be able to bear it when you see that the day of Resurrection is all celebration of Muhammad. The Barzakh celebrates Muhammad. The Gardens of Paradise celebrate Muhammad. So what are these celebrations in this life compared to those? The celebration is yet to come! Tell him, “Be patient a little. If this celebration angers you, your anger on the Barzakh will be greater. And on the day of Resurrection, even more severe.” Rejoice in Muhammad before you grieve; a grief that has no end.Be happy about Muhammad, and mention his name. Remember him, celebrate him all the time. Because he ﷺ is the dearest, greatest, and noblest in the sight of Allah.’
7. “None of you will have faith till he loves me more than his father, his children and all mankind.” (Sahih Bukhari)
To conclude, it can be said that this is ultimately matter of ikhtilaaf, alongside hundreds of years of scholarship and valid ijtihad on both sides. We must be accommodating on both sides.
And verily Allah Knows Best.
– Sabiha Islam