IT is strange that the late Mufti Bin Baz’s fatwa forbidding the celebration of the mawlud is seen by some as the only edict on the matter. This is strange because there are literally hundreds of legal opinions that differ with him on the permissibility of remembering the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday.
Yet, bizarrely, Bin Baz’s solitary view is often seen as Islam itself.
These were the words of Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks, an imam at the Azzawia mosque in Cape Town, where mawlud was first observed on its premises in 1920 by his grand-father, Shaykh Muhammad Salih Hendricks. Shaykh Muhammad Salih, who passed on in 1945, introduced the Barzanji mawlud, which he brought from Zanzibar, where he spent a year as its chief Qadi, or judge, in 1903.
To feel happiness at the birth of the Prophet, said Shaykh Ahmad, was a part of Shari’ah, or Sacred Law. It was endorsed by Ibn Taymiyya, who affirmed that people celebrated the mawlud out of joy for the Prophet. Joy at the birth of Muhammad (pbuh) was, therefore, permissible.
He added that this was borne out by the experience of one of the Prophet’s uncles, Abu Lahab. In a validated tradition, it is recorded that Abu Lahab – who became one of the Prophet’s worst enemies – is granted temporary respite from the flames of hell due to his celebrating his nephew’s birth, which he did by freeing a slave girl, Thuwaybah.
We are not given to insulting people, stated Shaykh Ahmad, but based on this single Hadith alone, one would have to doubt the faith of anyone who was not happy about the birth of the blessed Prophet (pbuh).
This was further corroborated by the Messenger of God informing his Companions he fasted every Monday. Why? Because Monday was the day he was born. This is clear proof that the Prophet (pbuh) celebrated his own birthday.
That was the underlying principle: the Prophet (pbuh) celebrated his birthday. How could there be any other interpretation? This could not mean that remembering birthdays was forbidden.
Leading from this, continued the Shaykh, was an accepted notion that the Prophet’s voluntary fasting commemorating his birthday could be replaced by other praiseworthy devotion – such as sadaqah (voluntary charity), salawat (citation of blessings on the Prophet) and dhikr (remembering God) – without contravening the Shari’ah.
Furthermore, due to the Prophet fasting throughout the year, there was the explicit social benefit that mawlud could be commemorated at any time, from the month of Muharram right through to Dhul Hijjah, and not just be confined to Rabi ul-Awwal, the month of his noble birth.
Quoting the famous scholar, Imam Hajr al-Asqalani, Shaykh Ahmad said that the Prophet (pbuh) also commemorated historical events. For example, the fast of the Jews on Ashura, in remembrance of their liberation from the Pharaoh, inspired the Prophet to recommend that Muslims fast during the first ten days of Muharram, which marks the beginning of lunar New Year.
As for those who patronisingly accuse us of mimicking Jewish or Christian customs: we fully respect their festivities, but the truth is that we act on our own principles and beliefs, he said.
Shaykh Ahmad continued that the Holy Qur’an has ordered us to be happy with Allah’s Mercies, with the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – the first light of His Creation being the first one created by God and the last one sent by God.
As the Qur’an states, “(O Muhammad)…have we not sent you except as a Mercy to the all the Worlds”. Surely this was proof enough to celebrate his existence?
In another instance, Allah calls the Prophet a prophet of “deep caring and mercy” in the most praiseworthy language possible, in terms not used for any other prophet, at the end of Surat ul-Tawbah (the Chapter of Repentance and Return).
Therefore, it is highly recommended to show happiness at the life of the Prophet.
Shaykh Ahmad stated that Surat ul-Hujjarat, an excellent chapter on outlining noble human conduct, also ordered us to honour the Prophet (pbuh). For instance, we are told: “Do not raise your voices above the voice of the Prophet…”
Then there was the verse exhorting us to perform salawat, the constant citation of peace and blessings upon the Prophet, as practiced by the Angels.
Shaykh Ahmad went on to say that naysayers would often evoke the idea that because the Prophet did not practice something in his lifetime, it would not be permissible after his lifetime. This was a fallacious argument, and not one accepted by any credible faqih, or legal scholar.
Besides, if this principle were to be applied, on one level we would still be riding donkeys and praying in mosques without loudspeakers. On another, we would not be able to practice the tarawih prayers during Ramadan, for instance, regarded by Sayyidina ‘Umar, as a “bida’h hasanah”, an acceptable innovation in Islam.
Nor for that matter, would we be reading the current version of the Qur’an, its sections gathered together after the Prophet’s earthly demise.
Furthermore, the notion that if the Prophet left off something it became forbidden, was as equally fallacious as the idea that if he didn’t practice something in his life it became unlawful. Shaykh Ahmad recalled the incident when the Prophet refused to eat roasted lizard. When quizzed by his Companions, he replied that he didn’t eat it because it wasn’t to his taste, not because it was haram.
Shaykh Ahmad said that the practice of the mawlud was regarded as a bida’h, yes, but a bida’h hasanah. It was a permissible practice for whom the innovator of a “new Sunnah” would get a due reward from the Divine for its benefits to others.
So what do we do on the mawlud? We make salawat, the citation of peace and blessings upon the Prophet, said Shaykh Ahmad, adding that salawat was an integral to forgiveness and invocation, and that the Prophet himself had said that a person who did not make salawat was a spiritual miser.
All the mawlud kitabs reminded us of the Prophet; they reminded us in soaring verses about his life and his qualities. So how could they be haram?
We should imbue the values of the Prophet (pbuh) by getting as close to him as possible by remembering his qualities, his life, his miracles and his mercies. This should inspire us to strive to do our best for mankind; to do this without anger, arrogance or aggression, but by being humble and compassionate.
For this reason, every component of the mawlud is Deen, the practice of our faith. What protects us from the fitnah, the great mischief, of our times is our love and link to the Prophet (pbuh). We should make the salawat repeatedly until the very essence of the most merciful of mankind takes root in our souls, said Shaykh Ahmad.
|Preparing for the mawlud.|
|Perfuming the Zawiyya with buhur.|
|King Protea for the best of mankind.|
|Shaykh Ahmad Hendricks addresses the occasion.|
|Reciting verses on the Prophet (pbuh). |
Photos copyright Shafiq Morton