Shaykh Mutawalli Ad-Darsh answers fiqh questions
Q: Is the celebration of the Prophet's birthday a reprehensible innovation or is it something to be encouraged?
A: We do not call it a celebration but a commemoration of the birth of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.). This is a development which took place at the end of the sixth Islamic century according to Imam as-Suyuti, who researched the origins of the practice.
There are two points of view. On the one hand there are those who consider the commemoration to be a good innovation to remind us of the birth of the Prophet (s.a.w.), to remind us of his achievements and to remind us of the great Islamic way of life we inherited from his coming. In the seventh Islamic century people became more involved in worldly affairs, and the living experience of the Shari'ah was in decline. As a result, scholars took the opportunity to remind people of that great event in the history of humanity. In this commemoration, Muslims revive the memory of the Prophet's achievements.
They quote the Hadith in which the Prophet was asked about the first day of the week, when he replied, "That was the day I was born. That was the day I received my message and when I migrated to al-Madinah." So these were days ingrained in the memory of the Prophet (s.A.w.). Also, upon his arrival in Madinah, the Prophet saw the Jewish community celebrating an event, and when he inquired about it he was told, "This was the day on which God saved Moses and his people", to which the Prophet (s.A.w.) replied, "We deserve to look after the correct tradition of Moses." The proponents of the Mawlid also point to the ayah in the chapter of Ibrahim when God says to Moses (a.s.), "Remember the days of Allah", meaning the days on which Allah has graced them with so many favours.
On the Prophet's birthday, some parts of the life of the Prophet are related, the Qur'an is recited and food is offered to the needy, avoiding the sort of behaviour that is Islamically reprehensible. Those who say that commemorating the Prophet's birthday is a Bid'ah which is not acceptable are influenced by the bad behaviour that took place when people danced in the streets, mixed freely with the opposite sex and danced around the villages. That is the part which is not acceptable.
One of the great Muslim scholars in his book published this century, "Al-Ibda'a fi mazaar 'il Ibtida'a" or "The most innovative thing in explaining the harmful things in innovations" came to the conclusion that the two parties in the Mawlid debate are not talking about the same thing. The party which objects is talking about things which are not generally acceptable, while the party which encourages the commemoration is talking about things that are generally acceptable. The author concludes that if Islamically unacceptable practices are avoided then there is no harm in commemorating the birthday of the Prophet (s.a.w.). This is the view of Ibn Hajar, al-Imam as-Suyuthi and the recently departed great Mufti from Egypt, Sheikh Hasanayn Muhammad Makhluf.