Celebrations: A Sunnah, not Bidah

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Love and mastership (Wilayat) and expression of displeasure (Bara’at) are the cornerstones of Islamic teachings. We understand the meaning of empowering goodness and prohibiting evil from them. These were the aims of Imam Husain‘s (a.s.) martyrdom. Who is more unfortunate than a Muslim who neither understands the concepts of wilayat and bara’at nor acts upon them?

In pursuit of this aim, a tradition prevalent among the Muslims through the centuries is the organizing of celebrations and gatherings on special occasions. Be it the birth of the infallible Imams (a.s.) or the appointment of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) (Be’sat) or Ascent to the Heavens (Meraaj). Organizing celebrations and gatherings characterizes the religious feelings of the masses. Their remembrance enlivens the events and their discussion refreshes the details. Thus, such celebrations possess great importance, benefit and blessings. This work is undertaken in conformity with its inherent significance, whether it is the birthday of an Imam (a.s.) or the appointment of the Messenger (s.a.w.a.) or the Ascent, etc.

Muslims attend these celebrations on special occasions with the intention of gaining success and receiving spiritual benefits from the Infallibles (a.s.) and in this way achieve great blessing and rewards by their (a.s.) providence. But since their inception, the Wahhabis are not only bereft of these blessings and rewards, they also want to keep others away from them. Hence, they use a plethora of guile and insinuations to impede these celebrations and thus, actualize the desires of enemies of Islam, perhaps wittingly. For, the enemies of Islam would never want the Muslims to keep their sacred beliefs active and renew their divine pact every year keeping the Islamic spirit within them alive and well.

Keeping the importance of this topic in mind, we present a detailed list of Wahhabi objections and their replies.

The Wahhabi Sedition:

  1. IbnTaymiyyah says: The second promise ‘of the occasions’. It is that day when certain events occurred. For instance, 18thZilHijjah, is considered as Eid (feast/ festival) by everyone when it has no base or foundation because the Salaf-e-Saleh (righteous predecessors) and the Ahle Bait (a.s.) have not deemed it so. Eid is defined as that day when the Islamic law, not innovation (bidat), is followed. This is similar to what the Christians practice, celebrating the events of Hazrat Esa’s (a.s.) life as festivals.[1]
  2. Sheikh Abd al-Aziz b. Baaz remarks: It is prohibited to hold commemorations for the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and others. This act is an innovation in religion because the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.), rightly guided caliphs and the second generation companions (Taabe’een) have not performed this act.[2]
  3. The congregation of Wahhabi Muftis opines: To remember the Prophets (a.s.) and the righteous on their birthdays and their demises, enlivening them, raising the standard (Alam), burning candles or lighting up their graves and organizing commemorations near their graves is not permissible because these are among the innovations introduced in religion and certified as polytheism. The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.), Prophets (a.s.), the Righteous and the Salaf-e-Saleh have not acted thus. None of the companions, Muslims and the Imams of Muslims have done so in the first three centuries of the Hijrah or better known as golden centuries.[3]
  4. Ibn Fauzan postulates: There are numerous innovations in this era. For example, celebrating the birthday of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) on 12th of Rabi al-Awwal and organizing gatherings for it.[4]
  5. Ibn Usaimin says: Celebrating the birthdays of children was not the practice of Muslims and bears resemblance to the enemies of God and comes into the Islamic fold through inheritance of external traits. The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) advises: The one who resembles a community will be counted among them (on the day of Qiyamat).[5]

Celebrations are a manifestation of love and enmity

Love and hatred are among the most powerful human emotions. They are a sign of man’s inclination (or the lack of it) towards someone/something.

Love is obligatory

It is clear from rational and traditional evidence that it is necessary and compulsory upon people to love certain individuals:

(1) Allah the High

The foremost duty of man is to love Allah. And that too in the sense that Allah, the High is Unique and Alone in His characteristics and excellence. All creation is dependent of His Lofty Being. Hence, the Almighty announces in the Holy Quran (Sura Tauba(9): verse 24):

Say: If your fathers and your sons and your brethren and your mates and your kinfolks and property which you have acquired, and the slackness of trade which you fear and dwellings which you like, are dearer to you than Allah and His Messenger and striving in His way, then wait till Allah brings about His command And Allah does not guide the transgressing people.

(2) The Prophet of Islam (s.a.w.a.)

The Prophet (s.a.w.a.) is among the chosen individuals, who should be loved and befriended for the sake of Allah particularly because he is the channel of divine bestowal in both the material and the existential bounty. This is the reason for his inclusion with the Almighty in the verse and love for him is also made compulsory.

Love Allah because he provides you sustenance and love me for the sake of Allah’s love.[6]

The qualities and excellences of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) are such that it attracts the fair-minded and love for him germinates in their hearts.

(3) Ahle Bait (a.s.)

Among the people whose love is obligatory is the Ahle Bait of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.). Barring the fact that these individuals are the summation of distinctions and excellence and along with the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) are the channel of divine bestowal for both the material and existential grace and bounty, the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) has commanded love for them as is clear from the tradition of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.):

Love my Ahle Bait (a.s.) on account of my love.

Reasons for loving the AhleBait (a.s.):

(a)  The relation of the Ahle Bait (a.s.) to the Prophet (s.a.w.a.).

(b) Ahle Bait (a.s.) are loved by Allah and His Prophet (s.a.w.a.).

(c)  Love of the Ahle Bait (a.s.) is the recompense of the Prophetic message.

(d) People will be questioned regarding the love for Ahle Bait (a.s.) on the Day of Judgment.

(e)  The Holy Quran is companion of Ahle Bait (a.s.).

(f)   The love of Ahle Bait (a.s.) is a prerequisite for belief.

(g)  Ahle Bait (a.s.) are the Ark of Salvation.

(h) The love of Ahle Bait (a.s.) is a condition for the acceptance of worship and service.

(i)    Ahle Bait (a.s.) are the cause of the earth’s security.

Clearly, organizing celebrations and feasts is an expression of love for the beloved. We know that love varies in intensity from person to person and is not characterized merely through eagerness and enthusiasm of the heart; rather it manifests itself and is reflected in the action and behavior of the person. But the outward evidence need not be limited to obedience and submission (as people maintain), but is expressed in many other ways as will be clear with proofs regarding love. The effects of love can be listed as such:

(a) Obedience and submission

(b) Visiting the beloved

(c) Respect of the loved ones

(d) Fulfilling the needs of the beloved

(e) Defending the beloved

(f) Grief and lament in separation from the loved one as in case of separation of  Prophet Yusuf (a.s.) from Prophet Yaqub (a.s.)

(g) Protecting the effects of the beloved

(h) Respecting the children and lineage of the loved ones

(i) Kissing the things which are ascribed to the beloved

(j) To organize celebrations on the birthdays of the loved ones and to mourn them as well.

The concept of festivals and commemoration in the Holy Quran

Reflecting upon the verses, we find commemorations are considered as virtuous actions in Quran. This has been confirmed and recommended by Quran:

(1) The Place of Ibrahim (a.s.)

Allah, the High, instructs:

Take Maqaame Ibraahim (as) a place of payer.

Allah — the High —commands Muslims to adopt as sacred the spot where Prophet Ibrahim’s (a.s.) feet were positioned and establish it as a place for prayer. In this way, the memory of Hazrat Ibrahim (a.s.) and the construction of Kaaba will remain alive in the hearts of the Muslims forever.

Bukhari records in his ‘Sahih’ that during the construction of Ka’bah, Prophet Ismail (a.s.) brought the stones and Prophet Ibrahim (a.s.) did the masonry, till such time that the walls had risen to a height. Then Ibrahim (a.s.) stood on a stone to continue his work till the House of Allah was complete.[7]

(2) Safaa and Marwah

Allah the High states:

Surely the Safa and the Marwah are among the signs appointed by Allah; so whoever makes a pilgrimage to the House or pays a visit (to it), there is no blame on him if he goes round them both; and whoever does good spontaneously, then surely Allah is Grateful, Knowing.[8]

The Almighty has made the traversing between Safa and Marwah as an essential part of Hajj pilgrimage in memory of the efforts of Janab-e-Haajarah (s.a.).

Bukhari says: Ibrahim (a.s.) had left Haajarah (s.a.) and his son Ismail (a.s.) in the land of Makkah where water was scarce. They were both very thirsty. The son struggled with thirst and the mother ran towards Safaa to see if she could locate water. But she could not find anybody. Disheartened, she moved to the hillock of Marwah, but to no avail. This was repeated seven times. Ibn Abbas narrates from the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) that for this reason, the pilgrims traverse between the Safaa and Marwah seven times.[9]

(3) Ritual Sacrifice

Allah the High declares:

So We gave him the good news of a boy, possessing forbearance. And when he attained to working with him, he said: O my son! Surely I have seen in a dream that I should sacrifice you; consider then what you see. He said: O my father! Do what you are commanded If Allah pleases, you will find me of the patient ones. So, when they both submitted and he threw him down upon his forehead. And We called out to him saying: O Ibrahim! You have indeed shown the truth of the vision surely thus do We reward the doers of good. Most surely this is a manifest trial. And We ransomed him with a great sacrifice.”[10]

In appreciation of the great self-sacrifice, the Almighty ordered the (Hajj) pilgrims to present ritual sacrifice at Mena in  conformity with Prophet Ibrahim (a.s.) and his momentous examination and redemption thereof.

The convening of gatherings and commemorations in the light of traditions

On referring to traditions, we discover that it has defined celebrations as permissible and virtuous viz.

(1) Ibn Qataadah narrates in Saheeh al-Muslim: The Prophet (s.a.w.a.) was questioned about the Monday fast. He replied:

It is because I was born on Monday and the Holy Quran was also revealed on that day.[11]

(2) Baihaqi relates from Anas:

The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) performed ‘Aqiqah’ after he was chosen for the position of Prophethood. Whereas, it has come in traditions that the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) grandfather Hazrat Abdul Muttalib(a.s.) had performed his Aqiqah seven days after his holy birth.

Suyuti comments: Aqiqah is never repeated. Hence, this action should be based on the premise that it was his way of thanksgiving to the Lord for giving him life and making him a blessing for the universe. Emulating the action of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.), we should also get together, organize a feast and perform other acts on the birthday of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) which will bring us closer to the Allah’s satisfaction and be a token of our thanksgiving to Allah.

(3) Hafiz b. Nasir al-Deen Damishqi adds:

It has been narrated vide correct (reliable) chain of narrators that the chastisement of Abu Lahab is reduced on Mondays for he had freed his slave girl Nuwiabah in gratification of the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) birth.

It is abundantly clear from the above the tradition that the punishment of an unbeliever is reduced exclusively due to such a diminutive act of affection for the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.). What great reward and blessing then, awaits a believer on organizing feasts and celebrations for the same!

Ahle Sunnah views on ‘Meelad’ (Birthdays)

The scholars of Ahle Sunnah have praised celebration of the Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) birthdays. They have counted such acts among good and recommended deeds (as per religious law). Some of their opinions are mentioned below:

(1) Qastalaasni notes in Mawaaheb al-Daniyyah: Throughout history, Muslims have celebrated the month of Holy Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) birthday as a festival. They have organized feasts, made contributions to charity, helped the poor and showed their happiness and joy through gatherings of eulogies and poetry…May Allah’s Mercy encompass those who carry out such great work![12]

(2) Suyuti opines: I have been questioned regarding poetry and eulogies (Qasidah and Na’t) in the month of Rabi al- Awwal. Is this act recommended or disapproved in religious law? Will the person doing this act be rewarded? The eulogy recitals and the birth celebrations are held so that people gather, recite some Quranic verses and traditions in praise of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.). In the end, they are invited to partake of food that is specifically organized for this purpose. This is a virtuous deed; both the organizer and the participants are rewarded and recompensed. This is because this act increases the respect for the status and honour of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and people’s expression of their joy and happiness on the birthday of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.).[13]

(3) Shiekh Abdullah Haravi better known as Habashi states: To organize a celebration in memory of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) is a recommended act and its denial is baseless. We should actually call the act ‘Sunnat-e-Hasanat’ (an exemplary tradition).[14]

Moreover, numerous scholars and elders have presented abundant proofs on the recommendation of the celebration of festivals and commemorations. We have already had a brief purview of this.

We now focus our attention on the doubts and questions raised by the Wahhabis against this practice.

(a) A gathering established in memory of someone is akin to worshipping someone other than God?

Answer: It is an established fact that the feeling of worship is created when you respect and honour something/someone believing it/him to be God. Hence, if this belief is absent, then it does not amount to ‘worship’.

(b) Such types of celebrations and congregation give rise to the prohibited such as mixed gatherings of men and women, music and song.

Answer: Sin is prohibited at all places and times, whether it is a feast and celebrations or any other place. But a recommended act cannot be struck down by issuing a blanket edict (fatwa) of prohibition due to sins which are committed only in specific celebrations. In other words, only specific celebrations that are exposed to the prohibited must be disallowed and not all celebrations.[15]

(c)  The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.): Do not consider your houses as graves and my grave as Eid. Ibn Qayyim has used this tradition as argument for prohibition of ceremonies and celebrations.


(i) Firstly, the proof is limited to a single place, i.e. particular to the grave of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and not to all places. It is not a blanket edict.

(ii) Secondly, it is obvious that man should be humble and modest before the grave of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and it is not a place for celebrations. But there appears no objection in organizing such ceremonies at other locations.

Sabki observes: This tradition can also imply that: Do not consider my grave as Eid day rather recite Ziyarat, salaam and supplications near it.

(d) Salaf-e-Saleh have not performed this action

Answer: (i) It is clearly established as rule that non-performance of any action by an infallible is not proof of prohibition nor is performance of an act a surety of its obligatory nature. Conversely, it is a fact that if an act is not performed by the infallibles, then it is not obligatory and if it is performed then it is not prohibited. Non-performance is no argument for its prohibition.

(ii) The practice and custom of Muslims till the time of Ibn Taymiyyah was that they conducted ceremonies and celebrations. And the Ahle Sunnah scholars have unanimously stated that Ijma (consensus) amounts to irrefutable proof of the validity of organizing such ceremonies.

(iii) The decree prohibiting ceremonies first appeared in Islam at the time of IbnTaymiyyah who claimed: Salaf-e-Saleh loved the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) more. If ceremonies were not prohibited, they would definitely have organized them. This is against the clear traditions of the Messeger of Allah (s.a.w.a.).The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) addressed his companions in a tradition and prophesized, ‘A nation will soon be born who will befriend and love me more than you do’.[16]

(e) Is it an innovation (bidat) to specify a particular day for celebration and expression of love?

Answer: It is already established that certain places enjoy a higher status due to their association with an auspicious event or thing. The same is true for certain eras and times like Lailatul Qadr. If the celebration is organized on the Holy Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) birthday or the day of Ghadeer, it is so, since the occasion is blessed and holy.

In conclusion, we pray to Allah — the High — to safeguard us from such doubts and hasten the reappearance of Imam-e-Zamana (a.t.f.s.). Aameen!

[1]Iqteza al-Serat al-Mustaqeem, p.392-395

[2]Majmua Qazaayaa wa Maqaalaat Matnuah, v. 1, p.183

[3] Al-Lijnat al-Daimah min al-Futur, p.174

[4] Al-Bidat, Ibn Fauzan, p.25-27

[5]Fataavaa Manaar al-Islam, v.1, p.43

[6]Mustadrakal-Hakim, vol.3, p.149

[7]Saheeh al-Bukhaari, Kitab al-Anbiya, v.6, p.158

[8]Sura Baqarah (2): verse 158

[9]Saheeh al-Bukhaari, Kitab al-Anbiya, v.2, p.158

[10]Sura Saaffaat (37): verse 101-107

[11]Saheeh al-Muslim, v.2, p.819

[12]Mawaahib al-Lazinah, vol.1, p.128

[13] Al-Haawi Li al-Fataavaa, v.1, p.486,  p.197

[14] Al-Ravaij al-Zakiah, v.p.33

[15] Al-Haawi Li al-Fataavaa by Jalaaluddin Suyuti, v.1, p.89

[16]Majma al-Zavaid, v.1, p.66

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