x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Prophet's birth is a reason to celebrate

For some Muslims, the celebration of the birth of the Prophet might border on heresy.

For some Muslims, the celebration of the birth of the Prophet might border on heresy. But there are numerous anecdotes in the Islamic tradition that lay the groundwork for commemorating the Prophet's birth with such celebratory expressions as sharing food, sweets and the good company of family and friends. Certainly, most scholars agree that the first generation of Muslims and contemporaries of the Prophet may not have celebrated the day, or if they did, not in the way many Muslims do today. But the observance or commemoration of a specific moment in religious history is nothing strange to Islamic Law. The Prophet, upon his arrival at Madinah, found the Jews fasting on the Day of Ashura. When he asked about this, he was told that this was the day in which Allah saved their prophet and drowned their enemy, so they fast out of thanksgiving to Allah for this blessing. To this the Prophet responded: "We have more right to Musa than they." So he fasted and ordered the others to do likewise. When he was himself asked about his own custom of fasting on Mondays, he responded: "On this day I was born and on it I received revelation." As the Monday of Rabi al Awwal passes every year, it is really the same metaphysical envelope that contained the moment of his birth. The day on which, in the words of the famous poet of prophetic praise, al Busayri says: "A Countenance Brilliant like the Sun itself was unveiled by a Radiant Night The Night of His Birth whose Day was for the Deen a Pride and Joy" Indeed, there are may anecdotes that commemorate the birth of other prophets, like the Quranic verse that marks the birth of the Prophet Yahya. "So peace on him the day he was born, the day he dies, and the day that he will be raised up to life again." (Maryam: 15) A similar verse in the same chapter commemorates the birth of Jesus. "So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised to life again." (Maryam: 33) It is then only a matter of logic to raise the question: what of the birth of the Seal of the Prophets for whom all other prophets were only precursor and a prelude? Surely commemorating the birth of the Prophet Mohammed is an act of great virtue. Indeed, Allah has commanded us to invoke blessings upon the Prophet as He Himself and His angels do. "Allah and His angels send blessings on the Prophet: O ye that believe! Send ye blessings on him, and salute him with all respect." (Al ahzab: 56) And a command in Legal Method denotes an obligation to be obeyed. The Muslim celebration of the Prophet's birth (mawlid) is one way of or responding to that command. It consists of invoking blessings upon him, reviewing the story of his life (sirah), reminding the community of his virtues, feeding the Muslims, and giving charity to the poor - all of which are not only condoned by Islamic Law but sought after. In the end, even though the contemporaries of the Prophet and the generations that immediately follow did not "celebrate" the occasion in the same way many of our contemporaries do, there is clear evidence that they - at the very least - commemorated it with fondness. Jihad Hashim Brown is the director of research at the Tabah Foundation. He delivers the Friday sermon at the Maryam bint Sultan Mosque in Abu Dhabi.