A loaded question: did the Sahaba celebrate Mawlid?

“In Sharh Usul al-Bazdawi of al-allama al-Akmal: ‘the majority of our colleagues (among the Hanafis) and the majority of the Shafi’is have said that matters which admit of permissibility or prohibition in the Sharia before its transmission remain permissible, and that is the basic presumption regarding them… so they deemed permissibility the basis, and prohibition is by demonstrating negation…’” Rad al-Muhtar, Imam Ibn Abidin

It has become quite common, especially in Rabi’ al-Awwal, to hear the question: did the Sahaba celebrate Mawlid? It has even become a source of doubt for some due to the sheer frequency with which it is asked and, at times, the caliber of those asking it.

Yet unless it is being asked simply out of idle curiosity, it is not a fair and honest question. In the context of a discussion about the Mawlid where proponents are expected to justify it, it is what in logic is known as the fallacy of many questions which is defined as “the rhetorical trick of asking a question that cannot be answered without admitting a presupposition that may be false”. The most well known example of that fallacy is the question: do you still beat your wife? That question cannot be answered without admitting that one used to beat one’s wife, and more fundamentally that one has a wife neither of which may be true of the one being questioned.

Similarly the question: did the Sahaba celebrate Mawlid cannot be answered without admitting that their having done so is of legal relevance to the legitimacy of the act and that assumes more fundamentally that it is being claimed that the Mawlid is something legislated in the Sharia (mashru’) like the prayer of gratitude for example.

Well the fact of the matter is that no scholar claims that Mawlid is legislated in the Sharia. People only claim that it is a good deed, like walking an old lady across the street; or collecting the Quran into bound books; or making Thursdays and Fridays weekends, which agrees with generally accepted principles in the Sharia without contradicting others. We should understand that that is why pro-Mawlid writings cite the type of evidence they cite: general examples of new good things done by Sahaba and early Muslim and general verses that encourage remembrance, celebration, and veneration of our master Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace).

That approach is consistent with the well established principle of Jurisprudence, indicated in the quote at the beginning of this note, that “the basis regarding matters is permissibility unless there is evidence to the contrary” which the vast majority of the jurists have agreed upon.

Therefore when someone makes the claim that something is merely good and doesn’t contradict the Sharia then it is upon he who differs to show what in the Sharia is being contradicted making the proposed good deed illegitimate.

And so the question shouldn’t be: did the Sahaba celebrate Mawlid rather it should be: is there any indication from the Sahaba that celebrating the birth of the Messenger of God (Allah bless him and grant him peace) is a bad thing?

And I think we all know the answer to that quite legitimate question.

Another issue related to this concerns a question about Imam al-Shurunbulali’s statement in his Nur al-Idhah which was translated (by some and presented) as follows:

“In the middle of the month of Sha’ban, it is recommended to spend the night in worship because it expiates the sins of the whole year. The night of Friday expiates the sins of the week, and the night of qadr expiates the sins of one’s life.’ Ali Ibn Abi Talib God be pleased with him!! reported that Allah’s Messenger God bless him and give him peace! said [If the night of the middle of Sha’ban arrives, you should offer prayer during the night and fast during the day].’ (Ibn Majah)

However, it is disliked to gather in the mosques to spend these nights in worship, for neither the Prophet (God bless him and give him peace) nor the Companions observed them in the mosques. In fact, the majority of the scholars from the Hijaz, such as ‘Ata and the fuqaha of Madina including the companions of Imam Malik stated that performing any of these nights in a group is an innovation.”

This passage is apparently quoted as proof that if the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and his companions (Allah be well pleased with them) did not do something then it is a blameworthy innovation. The passage does not establish any such principle. If it did then we would not be allowed to build domes on our mosques, or use clocks and prayer charts for prayer timings.

What the passage does indicate is that it is not allowed perform nafl prayers in formal congregations (hence the stipulation in mosques which is not to say it would be allowed outside of mosques but rather it is not allowed in any formal setting that makes it seem like a nafl prayer that is mashru’ like Tarawih ) so this matter is consistent with what was stated above. The main issue is with voluntary prayer in congregation which must be legislated to be acceptable in the Hanafi school. The issue of the gatherings themselves is not of particular consequence.

This can be seen if we simply read just the very next sentences after the above translation conveniently stops. Here I will offer a translation from Maraqi al-Falah, the explanation of Nur al-Idhah by the same author:

“However, the jurists of Syria differed regarding worship on the night of the middle of Sha’ban with two opinions: one – that it was ruled recommended to formally congregate for worship that night in the mosque by a group of notable tabi’in (followers of the companions) such as Khalid bin Ma’dan, Luqman bin ‘Amir, and the most learned of them – Ishaq bin Rahwaih. The second opinion is that it is disliked to formally congregate therein in the mosques for prayer which is the opinion of al-Awza’i, the Imam of the people of Syria, their most leaned, their savant.”

Further, Imam Ibn ‘Abidin in Rad al-Muhtar, commenting on that very passage by Imam al-Shurunbulali, mentions the words of Imam al-Ghaznawi that: “…what has been transmitted of the prayers in those times are to be prayed individually apart from Tarawih…”. Likewise Ibn Nujaim in his Bahr also quotes Ghaznawi on the very issue of congregating on those nights: “…voluntary prayers are not to be offered in congregation except for Tarawih…”.

Thus it comes as no surprise that the discussion of nafl prayers on those blessed nights is normally the point of departure for a discussion on salat al-Raghaib which is regarded by the authorities quoted as an innovation as well. The focus is clearly on the matter of innovating prayers in the Religion.

So if Hanafis want to start praying nafls in formal congregations they need to bring evidence that it was done by the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and/or his companions (Allah be well pleased with them).

Mawlids, Islamic conferences, Da’wah programs, Qur’an competitions, and the like are completely different matters unrelated to the quote presented from Imam Shurunbulali.

May Allah, Most High, make this a means of clarification, understanding and reconciliation.

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top
Zakat / Sadaqah