This topic is of a lot of heated debates between various Muslim groups. Some say that it is a ‘good innovation’ while others say all innovations are strictly forbidden. The debates will never cease to exist, but we should look at what Allah has told us, and what the Sunnah teaches us about what the prophets (peace and blessings of Allah be upon them all) and their companions did, to know the example that we should follow.
I will provide what the history tells us, as well as what the scholars on the Qur’an and Sunnah have to say about it with supporting evidences.
When is the Mawlid?
The birthday of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be him) is unclear.
Details are provided below in summary, in an easier to read format, taken from IslamQA :
The biographers and historians differed concerning the day and month of the birth of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be him). This is something for which there is good reason, as it was not known what status this newborn would achieve. Hence no one can state with certainty the date. Among the matters on which there is consensus with regard to his birth (peace and blessings of Allah be him) is the definition of the year and the day.
1. Year: It was the Year of the Elephant.
Ibn al-Qayyim (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
“There is no difference of opinion concerning the fact that he (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) was born in Makkah, and that his birth was in the Year of the Elephant.” (Zaad al-Ma‘aad fi Hadiy Khayr al-‘Ibaad, 1/76)
Ibn Katheer agrees and says this is the well-known view of the majority.
The reports that say otherwise all have flawed isnaads. This is supported by the modern study undertaken by both Muslim and Orientalist researchers who stated that the Year of the Elephant corresponds to the year 570 CE and 571 CE. (As-Seerah an-Nabawiyyah as-Saheehah, 1/97)
2. Day of the week: It was a Monday.
He (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) was born on a Monday, his mission began on a Monday and he died on a Monday. The Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) was asked about fasting on Mondays and he said:
“It was the day on which I was born, on which I was commissioned with prophethood or revelation was sent to me” (Muslim Book 6, Hadith 2603 )
Ibn Katheer (may Allah have mercy on him) said: “Those who say that he was born on Friday 17th Rabee‘ al-Awwal were mistaken.”
This was narrated by al-Haafiz Ibn Dihyah from what he read of the book I‘laam ar-Wara bi A‘laam al-Huda by one of the Shi‘ah. Then Ibn Dihyan stated why it was da‘eef (weak), and it deserves to be classed as da‘eef because it is contrary to the text.” (As-Seerah an-Nabawiyyah, 1/199)
3. Month & Day of the Month
With regard to the point on which there is scholarly disagreement, has to do with defining the month and the day of the month. We have come across many opinions concerning that, including the following:
2nd of Rabee ‘al-Awwal
Ibn Katheer (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
“It was said that he was born on the second of the month. This was stated by Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr in al-Isti‘aab, and was narrated by al-Waaqidi from Abu Ma‘shar Nujayh ibn ‘Abd ar-Rahmaan al-Madani.” (As-Seerah an-Nabawiyyah, 1/199)
8th of Rabee ‘al-Awwal
Ibn Katheer (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
“It was said that he was born on the eighth of the month. This was narrated by al-Humaydi from Ibn Hazm, and was narrated by Maalik, ‘Aqeel, Yoonus ibn Yazeed and others from az-Zuhri from Muhammad ibn Jubayr ibn Mut‘im. Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr narrated that the historians regarded it as saheeh; it was stated definitively by al-Haafiz al-Kabeer Muhammad ibn Moosa al-Khawaarizmi, and was regarded as most likely to be correct by al-Haafiz Abu’l-Khattaan ibn Dihyah in his book at-Tanweer fi Mawlid al-Basheer an-Nadheer." (As-Seerah an-Nabawiyyah, 1/199)
10th of Rabee ‘al-Awwal
Ibn Katheer (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
“It was said that he was born on the tenth of the month. This was narrated by Ibn Dihyah in his book, and was narrated by Ibn ‘Asaakir from Abu Ja‘far al-Baaqir. It was also narrated by Mujaalid from ash-Sha‘bi.” (As-Seerah an-Nabawiyyah, 1/199)
12th Rabee ‘al-Awwal
Ibn Katheer (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
“It was said that he was born on the twelfth of the month. This was stated by Ibn Ishaaq. It was narrated by Ibn Abi Shaybah in his Musannaf from ‘Affaan from Sa‘eed ibn Meena’ that Jaabir and Ibn ‘Abbaas said: The Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) was born in the Year of the Elephant on Monday 12th Rabee‘ al-Awwal; on Monday his mission began, on Monday he was taken up to heaven, on Monday he migrated, and on Monday he died. This is the well-known opinion according to the majority. And Allah knows best.” (As-Seerah an-Nabawiyyah, 1/199)
In Ramadan or Safar, or some other month
What appears to us to be the case is that the strongest opinion concerning the birth of the Prophet (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) is that he was born between the eighth and the twelfth of Rabee‘ al-Awwal.
Some Muslim mathematicians and astronomers have determined that the Monday in question was the ninth of Rabee‘ al-Awwal. It may be that this is another opinion, and it has some merit. That corresponds to 20th April 571 CE. This is what the authors of some modern books on Seerah (Prophet’s biography) regard as most likely to be correct, including Professor Muhammad al-Khudari and Safi ar-Rahmaan al-Mubaarakfoori.
Abu’l-Qaasim as-Suhayli (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
“The mathematicians say that his birth occurred in the solar month of April, on the twentieth of that month.” (Ar-Rawd al-Unuf, 1/282)
Prof. Muhammad al-Khudari (may Allah have mercy on him) said:
“The Egyptian astronomer Mahmoud Basha (d. 1885 CE) who was well-versed in astronomy, geography and mathematics, and wrote several books based on his research stated that it was on the morning of Monday 9th Rabee‘ al-Awwal, which corresponds to 20th April 571 CE. That corresponds to the first year following the elephant incident. He was born in the house of Abu Taalib in Shi‘ab Banu Haashim.” (Noor al-Yaqeen fi Seerat Sayyid al-Mursaleen (p. 9). See also ar-Raheeq al-Makhtoom (p. 41))
Regardless of what day people claim it is on, the question to consider is should it be celebrated at all? Is it an innovation we should avoid, or is it a good practice to adhere to? Did the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) celebrate it or tell others to? Did any of his companions celebrate it? In the next section we will discover the answer to this.
The Qur’an and Sunnah commands us to follow the laws of Allah and his Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). The prohibitions of introducing new innovations is very clear.
From the Qur’an:
“Say, [O Muhammad], "If you should love Allah , then follow me, [so] Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful." (Qur’an 3:31)
“Follow, [O mankind], what has been revealed to you from your Lord and do not follow other than Him any allies. Little do you remember.” (Qur’an 7:3)
“And, [moreover], this is My path, which is straight, so follow it; and do not follow [other] ways, for you will be separated from His way. This has He instructed you that you may become righteous.” (Qur’an 6:153)
The celebration of the birthday of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), in the month of Rabee’ Al-Awwal has become a widely practiced innovation. The below information is summarized from the scholars at Islamweb .
People today celebrate this occasion in various ways:
Gathering to read the story of al-Mawlid, and listening to speeches regarding it. They sometimes make food and sweets, and offer them to the people present. Such events are often held in mosques or in private homes.
Others go further beyond this by adding haram acts, such as mixing of the sexes, dancing and singing, making offerings, parades, and even acts of shirk by seeking help from the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), by calling upon him to seek support against their enemies, amongst other things.
Whatever the intentions are of those that do this are inventing new things. This was introduced by the Shia Fatimids after the 3 best centuries of Islam. After them, it was re-introduced by the King al-Muzaffar Abu Sa’eed Kawkaboori of Irbil near the end of the 6th century (beginning of the 7th Century AH), as explained by historians such as Ibn Khalkaan.
Ibn Katheer (may Allah have mercy upon him) said in his biography of Abu Sa’eed Kazkaboori:
“He used to observe the Mawlid in Rabee’ Al-Awwal and hold a huge celebration on that occasion… some of those who were present at the feast of Al-Muzaffar on some occasions of the Mawlid said that he used to offer in the feast five thousand grilled heads of sheep, ten thousand chickens and one hundred thousand large dishes, and thirty trays of sweets… he would let the Sufis sing from Dhuhr until Fajr, and he himself would dance with them.”
Ibn Khalkaan (may Allah have mercy upon him) said:
“When it is the first of Safar they decorate those domes with various kinds of fancy adornments, and in every dome there sits a group of singers and a group of puppeteers and players of musical instruments, and they do not leave any one of those domes without setting up a group (of performers) there. The people give up work during this period, and they do no work except for going around and watching the entertainment. When there are two days to go until the Mawlid, they bring out a large number of camels, cows and sheep, more than can be described, and they accompany them with all the drums, songs and musical instruments that they have, until they bring them to the square… On the night of the Mawlid there are performances of nasheed after Maghrib in the citadel.”
So, this is the origin of this celebration on the occasion of the Prophet’s birthday. More recently idle entertainment, extravagance, and wasting of money and time have become associated with an innovation for which Allah has not sent down any authority. It is incumbent upon all Muslims to revive the Sunnah and put an end to Bid’ah (innovation); they should not perform any action until they know the ruling of Allah concerning it.
In conclusion, celebrating the birthday of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), whatever form it takes, is a reprehensible innovation. The Muslims should put a stop to this and other kinds of Bid’ah, and occupy themselves with reviving and adhering to the Sunnah. They should not be deceived by those who promote and defend this Bid’ah, for these types of people are more interested in keeping innovations alive than in reviving the Sunnah; they may not even care about the Sunnah at all. Whoever is like this, it is not permissible to imitate him or follow his example, even if the majority of people are like this. Rather we should follow the example of those who follow the path of the Sunnah, among the righteous Salaf and their followers, even if they are few. Truth is not measured by the men who speak it; rather men are measured by the truth.
On the authority of Abu Najeeh al-’Irbaad ibn Saariyah (may Allah be pleased with him) said:
“The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) gave us a sermon by which our hearts were filled with fear and tears came to our eyes. So we said, “O Messenger of Allah! It is as though this is a farewell sermon, so counsel us.” He (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “I counsel you to have taqwa (fear) of Allah, and to listen and obey [your leader], even if a slave were to become your ameer. Verily he among you who lives long will see great controversy, so you must keep to my Sunnah and to the Sunnah of the Khulafa ar-Rashideen (the rightly guided caliphs), those who guide to the right way. Cling to it stubbornly [literally: with your molar teeth]. Beware of newly invented matters [in the religion], for verily every bidah (innovation) is misguidance.” (Dawud, 40 Hadith Nawawi #28 )
If it was not a practice of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), nor any of his rightly-guided caliphs, then this is a newly invented matter, which will lead people astray. We can see that by the fact that people have involved music, and dancing, and mixing of the sexes to dominate these events.
“O you who have believed, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. And if you disagree over anything, refer it to Allah and the Messenger, if you should believe in Allah and the Last Day. That is the best [way] and best in result.” (Qur’an 4:59)
The Quran and Sunnah are the reference point in cases of dispute. Where in the Quran or Sunnah does it indicate that it is prescribed in Islam to celebrate the mawlid? There are no examples talking about it in them. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) never told anyone to do this, not during his lifetime, nor after.
In fact, he told the people:
"Do not exaggerate in praising me as the Christians praised the son of Mary, for I am only a Slave. So, call me the Slave of Allah and His Apostle." (Bukhari Vol 4, Book 55, Hadith 654 )
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) made his birthday a day of worship, not a day of celebration. The companions were the people that loved him the most. Did Abu Bakr, or ‘Umar, or ‘Uthmaan, or ‘Ali (may Allah be pleased with them all) celebrate this day? The answer is no! Should we say that we love him more than they did, when they were his closest friends, which lived during his lifetime? Are we better than them to do this?
Imams Maalik, Haneefah, al-Shaafi’I, and Ahmad, and al-Hasan al-Basri, and Ibn Seereen never did this or told others to do it either. It wasn’t even mentioned in the first 3 centuries!
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said:
"The best people are those of my generation, and then those who will come after them (the next generation), and then those who will come after them (i.e. the next generation), and then after them, there will come people whose witness will precede their oaths, and whose oaths will precede their witness." (Bukhari Vol 8, Book 76, Hadith 437 )
Many will say “we do it out of love for the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him)”. But what does Allah tell us about this?
“Say, [O Muhammad], "If you should love Allah, then follow me, [so] Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. Say, "Obey Allah and the Messenger." But if they turn away - then indeed, Allah does not like the disbelievers." (Qur’an 3:31-32)
This very clearly explains to us that sincerity is by following the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). It explains the importance and requirement of obeying Allah and His Messenger, and even says that those that do not obey are disbelievers.
Celebrating the Mawlid is should not be practiced because we were told by the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) that we should only celebrate two festivals, Eid al-‘Adha and Eid al-Fitr as these are confirmed in the sunnah of the Prophet.
“When the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) came to Medina, the people had two days on which they engaged in games. He asked: What are these two days (what is the significance)? They said: We used to engage ourselves on them in the pre-Islamic period. The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: Allah has substituted for them something better than them, the day of sacrifice and the day of the breaking of the fast.” (Dawud Book 3, Hadith 1130 )
Therefore, celebrating this day involves opposing the Sunnah.
Those who celebrate Mawlid are imitating the disbelievers (Christians) by imitating their celebration of ‘Isa’s (Jesus) birthday (Christmas).
Ibn ’Umar (RAA) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:
“He who imitates any people (in their actions) is considered to be one of them.” (Dawud in Bulugh al-Maram Book 16, Hadith 1514 )
“You would tread the same path as was trodden by those before you inch by inch and step by step so much so that if they had entered into the hole of the lizard, you would follow them in this also. We said: Allah's Messenger, do you mean Jews and Christians (by your words)" those before you"? He said: Who else (than those two religious groups)?” (Muslim Book 34, Hadith 6448 )
It was narrated from 'Abdur-Rahman bin 'Amr As-Sulami that: He heard Al-'Irbad bin Sariyah say:
"The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) delivered a moving speech to us which made our eyes flow with tears and made our hearts melt. We said: 'O Messenger of Allah. This is a speech of farewell. What did you enjoin upon us?' He said: 'I am leaving you upon a (path of) brightness whose night is like its day. No one will deviate from it after I am gone but one who is doomed. Whoever among you lives will see great conflict. I urge you to adhere to what you know of my Sunnah and the path of the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, and cling stubbornly to it. And you must obey, even if (your leader is) an Abyssinian leader. For the true believer is like a camel with a ring in its nose; wherever it is driven, it complies." (Majah Vol. 1, Book 1, Hadith 43 )