It is said that on the 12th of Rabi’ al-Awwal in 632 AD, an extraordinary radiance manifested in the world. The angels unlocked all gates in the skies upon command from their Lord, descended from Heaven and gathered on Earth to witness this blessed moment in history. It was the appearance of the siraaj munir (‘Illuminating Lamp’) that would cast light upon the dismal conditions that enshrouded society at the time, and whose luminance would guide generations for all times to come.
The birth of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was a most momentous occasion in history. It was when Allah brought in our presence a ‘mercy to the worlds’, who was to bring glad tidings and guide us. The Prophet, whom Allah had imbued with the most noble and respectable qualities, was a perfect model for humanity. His humble yet courageous nature moved great numbers of people to rekindle their iman and unite firmly in the worship of God, despite the continuous repression and ridicule they encountered in society. Through his virtuous character and pious acts, the noble Prophet carved a path for Muslims to follow, a way of life that would draw us closer to Allah SWT and keep us far from acts that brought harm to self and society.
Today, Muslims around the world express their gratitude and love for the Prophet Muhammad by commemorating his birth (Milad an-Nabi). In some places, colorful processions travel through the streets, ceremonies are held where praises of the Prophet are sung, the Prophet’s history and way of life are remembered in large gatherings, and charity and sweets are distributed in joyous celebration. A collective voice in honor of the beloved Prophet echoes in Muslim communities across the world.
In contrast, there are some communities which denounce these celebrations as sinful innovation (bid’ah sai’yyah), for which there is no place in Islam. They claim that such practices were not present during the Prophet’s time or practiced by his companions, therefore we are not expected to perform them in our time.
Indeed, being in the very presence of the blessed Prophet PBUH, the companions gained directly from his teachings. Naturally, his teachings were learned and revived in the hearts of people who were with him every day. It is narrated by Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas that the companions whose children were born after the time of the Prophet, would relate stories about the Prophet’s life to them and remind them of his teachings. However, as time went on, the need to keep alive the teachings of the Prophet in the minds of people grew.
Sheikh Yusuf al-Qardawi Imam Zaid Shakir, and Dr. Gibril Haddad are some of the contemporary Islamic scholars who sense value in the celebration of Milad an-Nabi. In fact, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qardawi says he recommends such a religious occasion, “especially nowadays, for youth have become forgetful of these religious occasions and their significance because they have indulged in other celebrations.” He suggests that such a great event should be celebrated by remembering the Prophet’s Sunnah and life, building mosques, religious institutes and doing other forms of charity work that remind people of the Prophet's life and his struggle.
There is no explicit mention of celebrating the Milad an-Nabi in the Quran and Sunnah, but it is in the spirit of reviving the Quran and Sunnah in the hearts of masses that we come together at such events.
It is true that in some places, the festive nature of the celebration outweighs the religious significance of the event, and people even miss their obligatory prayers while being involved in festivities. Such acts of negligence must be condemned, as they distance one from the noble teachings of the Prophet PBUH. If people attend the event purely for entertainment purposes or for the sake of socializing, such gatherings should be discouraged, as they have deviated from the purpose of strengthening one’s iman and remembering the Prophet’s message. Also, people must be careful not to partake in wasteful indulgence at these events - when it comes to spending money for festivities or consuming food and drinks. One must always remember that he/she is a representative from the Prophet’s ummah, and should strive to embody the Prophet’s noble qualities and virtues at all times, staying away from what has been prohibited.
Although celebrating the Milad an-Nabi draws criticism from some groups, it is nevertheless a positive opportunity to gather together the Muslim community and remind people of their duty as Allah’s vicegerents on Earth, and followers of the beloved Prophet Muhammad. We remind ourselves of the valuable lessons learned from the Prophet’s life, and how we must incorporate them in our lives. We have the chance to pray for peace and blessings on the Prophet in a large congregation, the blessings of which are elevated, manifold.
Let us remember that as a Muslim community, we must do our best to enjoin good and forbid evil. Today, our words may reach out farther and wider than could be imagined at the time of the Prophet, so we must reflect carefully on our developing views and practices, as well as that of our society. Let us strive to keep alive the memory of our beloved Prophet in our hearts and in our acts, and proclaim it to others – on this day and always.