Why do some Sunni Ulema – like the Deobandis – prohibit the Mawlid?
In an age and time when Muslims are being attacked by the enemies of Islam from every angle possible, to debate and argue about something that is really a non-issue (yes, a non-issue), such as “The Mawlid” is doing injustice to ourselves. Muslims are being massacred and persecuted day in day out, many are involved in all sorts of un-Islamic activities, youngsters are on the brink of disbelief (kufr), our young brothers and sisters are involved in drinking, drug-abuse and fornication, yet here we are debating whether it is permissible to celebrate the birth of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace).
I was personally reluctant to write on this subject, but my dear friend Shaykh Faraz Rabbani ordered me to compile a piece explaining the Deobandi position regarding the Mawlid. Thus, adhering to his command, I will In sha Allah endeavour to explain the ruling on the Mawlid, as understood by the Deobandi Ulama.
Before explaining the Deobandi position on the Mawlid, I would like to emphasize that unfortunately many of our disputes, disagreements and arguments are due to not understanding (or not wanting to understand, should I say) the opposite party’s stance on a particular issue. I have experienced this many times. This is a problem on both, the Deobandi and Barelwi, sides. Rather than find excuses for the statements of fellow Muslims and interpret them so they are justified, we force people to believe something which they themselves do not believe. In my personal experience, this is the main reason why so many Muslims are divided.
I hear some Deobandis claim that all the Barelwis believe this and that, yet when I speak to some of my Barelwi brothers about the issue, they categorically state that this is not what we believe; rather…….and then they explain their stance. The case is same with the Barelwis, in that they themselves decide for the Deobandis that agree or disagree; this is what you believe, despite the Deobandis rejecting it.
This is quite unfortunate indeed. If we were to look at the other religions, faiths, nations, groups, and organisations, they always try and increase the numbers of their associates. The Christians claim that most of the world’s population are followers of their faith, and many other religions also try their best to include every individual in their religion who has a minor attachment to them, in order to increase the size of their following. However, Muslims are the only ones who try their best to decrease the Ummah of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) by forcing people to believe what they don’t, and reduce the Muslim Ummah as much as possible. We don’t hesitate for one moment in branding one another as disbelievers.
The great Hanafi jurist, Imam Ibn Abidin (Allah have mercy on him) states in his renowned Sharh Uqud Rasm al-Mufti:
“Branding someone a non-believer (kafir) is a great thing indeed; hence, I do not label a believer as a non-believer as long as one sign of him believing is found….One should not issue a Fatwa of a believer’s disbelief (kufr) as long as it is possible to interpret his statement in a justified manner, or there is a difference of opinion regarding him disbelieving, even if there is a weak narration.” (Sharh Uqud Rasm al-Mufti, 1/36)
Thus, one should not haste in branding and terming other Muslims as disbelievers or sinners and innovators, for branding a Muslim a disbeliever is a grave thing indeed. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him eternal peace) said: “Any person who calls his brother: O Unbeliever! (then the truth of this label) would return to one of them. If it is true, (then it is) as he asserted, (but if it is not true), then it returns to him (and thus the person who made the accusation is an Unbeliever).” (Sahih al-Bukhari, no: 6130 & Sahih Muslim, no: 60, reported by Ibn Umar, Allah be pleased with him)
It is extremely important to have tolerance, patience and forbearance. We must be precautious in what we say. We should try and look for excuses in favour of our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters. If a statement or viewpoint of a fellow Muslim seems incorrect, then rather than condemning the person, go and investigate as to whether it is true or otherwise. Don’t force others to believe what they themselves do not believe.
Many of the issues on which the Deobandis and Barelwis are divided are for this very reason. Many a time, there is no “significant” difference, rather it is only a case of interpretation or how it was said, yet there is so much fuss made about it.
For example, the matter of whether the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) had knowledge of the unseen is made such an issue, but if we were to ponder deeply with cool headedness, it would become clear that there is no significant difference. The Deobandis state that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) had knowledge of many unseen things, but the knowledge was given to him by Allah Most High. As such, one cannot call the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) the “Knower of the Unseen” (a’lim al-ghayb), for that is used when one has knowledge of the unseen without being informed. When I asked some of my Barelwi friends that do you believe the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) had knowledge of the unseen in a manner that Allah has? They said: “of course not” How can the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) be equal in knowledge to Allah. However, he had knowledge of the unseen, but it was given to him by Allah Most High.
Now, when we look at these two positions, it becomes clear that both the Deobandis and Barelwis agree that the Messenger of Allah’s (Allah bless him & give him peace) knowledge of the unseen was given to him by Allah Most High. The only difference is whether one can call him A’lim al-Ghayb or otherwise. The Deobandis state that because the knowledge was given to him by Allah most High, it is not correct to call him A’lim al-Ghayb, for that title is for someone who knows of the unseen without being informed by another. The Barelwis, on the other hand, say there is nothing wrong in giving this title to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) even if the knowledge to him was given by Allah Most High.
Thus, the difference is very minute indeed. But rather than explain to people that it is a very minute difference, we make it a fundamental part of one’s Aqidah. Some Deobandis insist that the Barelwis regard the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) to be equal to Allah, and that they regard his knowledge to be similar to that of Allah, whereas some Barelwis refuse to accept that the Deobandis also believe that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) had knowledge of the unseen, and that they disrespect the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace).
The second point to remember is that we should abstain from using the various names and titles like Deobandis, Barelwis, etc. I myself have used these terms here, because I had no choice. I am explaining the differences of the two schools, thus it was indispensable for me to use them. But in our day-to-day conversations, we should not call ourselves and others but with the title of Muslims and Sunnis.
Allah Most High says:
“He has chosen you, and has imposed no difficulties on you in religion; it is the cult of your father Ibrahim. It is he who has named you Muslims, both before and in this (Revelation); that the Messenger may be a witness for you and you be witnesses for mankind.” (Surah al-Hajj, V. 78)
Thus, we must avoid using names other than that of being a Muslim. To use different names and titles in order to incite others and cause friction and disunity among Muslims is a grave sin, and must be avoided.
Once a student approached a Syrian Arab Scholar and said: “I need to ask you some questions, but before I do that, I need to know whether you are a Barelwi or Deobandi” He said: “I am a Muslim, follower of the Shafi’i School, I don’t know what this Barelwi/Deobandi thing is” The student insisted that he must be from one of them and suggested the Shaykh look into the classical Aqidah books and see the Aqidahs of these two groups. The Shaykh said: “I have read almost all of the major works in Aqidah but have never found these names. The student insisted that it must have been overlooked by the Shaykh!
Once a brother said to me that Allama Ibn Abidin was a Deobandi and Imam Suyuti a Barelwi! I became infuriated and said: “This is completely incorrect. How can you call someone a Deobandi when Deoband did not even exist? The reality is that the Deobandis, Barelwis and others follow the likes of Imam Ibn Abidin and Imam Suyuti (Allah have mercy on them both).
Therefore, these titles and names should be completely avoided. I sincerely advice our brothers and sisters to abstain themselves and prevent others from using them, for it causes nothing but friction and hostility.
Thirdly, when we look at the issues that are debated by the Barelwis and Deobandis, it becomes quite evident that some of them are minor and petty. You won’t find any of the classical books of Aqidah discussing these issues. We need to overlook these petty issues and concentrate on the more important aspects of Islam. People are in need of real guidance, someone to help them strengthen their faith, teach them about the basics of Islam, not someone who debates whether one can say Ya Rasul Allah or otherwise.
Unfortunately, we have given extra significance to these issues than they deserve. These were issues that were associated to a person’s individual connection with Allah Most High and His beloved Messenger (Allah bless him & give him peace), but we have made them into the basic tenets of Creed (aqidah) and issues that distinguish belief from disbelief and piety from impiety (fisq).
Once a brother phoned me and said: “I need to ask you a question concerning business and trade but first tell me are you from the Aqidah of Assalatu wassalamu alayka ya Rasul Allah? I said this is not a matter of Aqidah. It is similar to saying: “Do you have the Aqidah of Subhan Allah or Assalamu Alayka ayyuhan Nabi”! I explained to him that these are minute and petty issues and debating them should be avoided.
Keeping the above three points in mind; we come to the issue of the Mawlid:
The position of the Deobandi Ulama is that, not only is it permissible to have a “gathering” of Mawlid, rather it is an act of great virtue, as long as the gathering is free from the unlawful or reprehensible activities, such as free intermingling of the sexes, excessive wasteful spending, fixing of a particular date, etc, and it is not held to be something necessary to do such that those who choose not to participate are considered to be in the wrong.
The above is the Deobandi viewpoint and it would be inappropriate to force it upon them that they totally reject having “gatherings” of Mawlid. As mentioned earlier, it is wrong to force upon others their beliefs and opinions; rather we should take what they say at face value. The fundamental book that explains the viewpoints of the Deobandi Ulama is al-Muhannad ala al-Mufannad compiled by Shaykh Mawlana Khalil Ahmad al-Saharanpuri and endorsed by many scholars, such as Hakim al-Umma Shaykh Mawlana Ashraf Ali al-Tahanawi, Shaykh al-Hind Mawlana Mahmud al-Hasan Deobandi and many others (Allah have mercy on them all). The abovementioned viewpoint can be seen quite clearly in this book.
Shaykh Khalil Ahmad (a student of Shaykh Rashid Ahmad Gangohi) states:
“Far be it from any Muslim that he says (let alone us), mentioning the birth of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), or even mentioning the soil under his footwear and the urine of his donkey, is an act of reprehensible and unlawful innovation. Thus, aspects that have even a minute connection with the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), mentioning them is from the much-loved of practices and from the greatest of recommendations, be it the mention of his blessed birth, or the mention of him relieving himself, standing, sitting, sleeping and being awake. This has been explained in detail in my book al-Barahin al-Qati’a in many places.” (al-Muhannad, P: 78)
The above text quite categorically states the permissibility of having a “gathering” of Mawlid. However, what the Deobandi Ulama reject is the unlawful and evil practices that have found their way into some Mawlid celebrations, especially in the Subcontinent. Thus, Shaykh Khalil Ahmad (Allah have mercy on him) further states:
“It is clear from the above that we do not reject the mentioning of the Messenger of Allah’s (Allah bless him him & give him peace) birth; rather, we reject and refute those evils that are attached to such gatherings as you may have seen them in the Indian subcontinent, such as mentioning fabricated and false narrations, intermingling of the sexes, excessive wasteful spending with lights and decorations, holding it to be something necessary to do such that those who choose not to participate are slandered and called non-believers, and other evils from which very few gatherings (in the subcontinent) are free. However, if the gathering is free from such evils, far be it from us that we say, mentioning the birth of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) is an evil and innovation…” (ibid, P: 80)
Let us now look at the Fatwa of Shaykh Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani (may Allah preserve him); with which some people have a problem. The respected Shaykh states:
“As I explained in my article on celebration of Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi (Mawlid), holding a meeting to discuss different aspects of the life of the Holy Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace) is a very meritorious act for which the Muslims should strive to the best of their ability. But confining this discussion to the events of the birth of the Holy Prophet and restricting it to a particular date and holding attendance at such meetings as necessary or obligatory for every Muslim renders this practice as bid’ah or innovation. Mostly the meetings of Mawlid today are of this type. Therefore, contemporary Ulema of Deoband have declared it a bid’ah. If the life of the Holy Prophet is made subject of a meeting, and the meeting is free of the above mentioned defects, nobody can call it a bid’ah. It is in this context that some scholars of the past have allowed the practice.” (Taken from the Al-Balagh website)
The upshot of the above Fatwa is that there are three things which are disapproved of:
1) Mentioning only the birth-events of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) in such gatherings,
2) Restricting the Mawlid gathering to a particular date,
3) Thinking it to be obligatory and binding upon everybody,
As such, if the above three main evils were avoided, not only will having a gathering of Mawlid be permissible; rather, it will be an act of great virtue.
I myself once asked Shaykh Taqi Usmani (may Allah preserve him) that if the evils were avoided in such gatherings, would they be permitted? He replied in the affirmative and said the most important of these evils that must be avoided is restricting the gathering to a particular date. This is quite significant, because during my stay in Syria, I observed Mawlid gatherings being conducted on many different dates of Rabi’ al-Awwal. So much so that many gatherings would even take place outside of this month. These gatherings would be spread out right through the year, although they would become more widespread in the month of Rabi’ al-Awwal.
In light of Shaykh Taqi Usmani’s words, these gatherings and meetings are not only permitted, rather highly recommended practices. It would be wrong (and an innovation) to specifically restrict the Mawlid gathering to the 12th of Rabi’ al-Awwal in a way that it would not take place on any other date.
Below is another Fatwa authorized by Mufti Taqi Usmani (may Allah preserve him):
“The gatherings arranged to remember the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, Sallallahu alayhi wasallam, the mercy to the mankind, are called Milad gatherings. Remembering the life of the Prophet Sallallahu alayhi wasallam, and teaching others about it, is an act of great blessing and virtue. However all good deeds have to be performed according to the rules and guidelines established by the Shariah. To exceed them is a grave sin. For example reciting the Qur’an is a great act of virtue, but it is prohibited to do so while one is in ruku or sujud in prayers. Likewise, Salat is one of the most important acts of worship. Yet, it is haram to perform it at sunrise or sunset.
Similarly, there are rules governing the blessed remembrance of the Sirah. For example, this remembrance must not be associated with a particular day or month; it should be considered equally virtuous during every month of the year, every week of the month, and every day of the week. Also it can take any permissible form. For example you can arrange a reading of an authentic book on Sirah or have a lecture delivered by a scholar. Doing that is not only permissible but it will bring great reward. But it is important to stay away from the evils found in the prevalent Milad gatherings. Here are some of those evils:
1) A particular date (12 of Rabi al-Awwal) has been designated for this remembrance,
2) The element of show-off (riya) is commonly present in these gatherings,
3) If someone does not attend these gatherings, he is looked down upon,
4) Distribution of sweets is considered an indispensable part of the proceedings,
5) To meet the expenses, donations are collected from sometimes unwilling people who give money under social pressure. According to the hadith it is not permissible to take any Muslim’s money without his willingness.
6) Intermixing of men and women commonly takes place in these gatherings. People stay late at night in these meetings thereby missing the next morning’s prayers.
7) The focus of the talks delivered there is very limited. The Prophet, Sallallahu alayhi wasallam, has given guidance for every aspect of our life. These cover acts of worship, dealing with other people, morals and manners, social relationships, business dealings, etc. However, it has been observed that the prevalent Milad talks concentrate mainly or solely on the account of the birth of the Prophet, Sallallahu alayhi wasallam, and his miracles. They do not attempt to cover the vast teachings of the Prophet, Sallallahu alayhi wasallam.
For these reasons, one should refrain from the prevalent Milad gatherings. However, if care is taken to avoid all of these evils and to follow the Shariah carefully, then a meeting organized to remember the Prophet, Sallallahu alayhi wasallam , with the sole purpose of seeking Allah’s pleasure, will Insha-Allah be a blessed event. And Allah knows best. (End of Fatwa)
Written: Muhammad Abdul Muntaqim Sylheti (Darul-Ifta, Darul-uloom Karachi) Concurrence from:
Justice Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani
Mufti Muhammad Rafi Usmani
Mufti Abdul Rauf Sakkharvi
And many others. (Source: www.albalagh.net)
The above Fatwa of Darul Uloom Karachi and approved by Shaykh Mufti Taqi Usmani (may Allah preserve him) also gives the same message, in that a Mawlid event or gathering, if free of impermissible matters, cannot be considered blameworthy or an innovation.
In my personal view (and Allah knows best), it is only a difference of interpretation and the way one puts forth his viewpoint. It is a case of what we discussed earlier that one says something and much more is added to it. If we were to look at the same above Fatwa endorsed by Mufti Taqi Usmani and turn it around, the message would seem quite the opposite. There are two ways of putting your argument forward.
For example: One can say that a gathering of Mawlid is a great act of virtue, a highly praiseworthy practice, etc….Then conclude the Fatwa or article by saying: However, if there are evils attached to the gathering, it would not be permitted. On the other hand, one may say that gatherings of Mawlid are wrong, an innovation, has too many evils, etc….Then conclude the answer by saying: However, if these evils were avoided it would be permissible.
Now, even though these two arguments give the same message, the assumption made is quite the opposite. It’s just a case of “how you say it”.
It is related that the great Deobandi scholar of Hadith, Fiqh and Tasawwuf, Shaykh Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi (Allah have mercy on him) once on his journey to Makkah al-Mukarrama for Umra visited his Shaykh and spiritual master, Haji Imdad Allah Muhajir al-Makki (Allah have mercy on him). Incidentally, on one of the days a Mawlid gathering was organized. His Shaykh Haji Imdad Allah (Allah have mercy on him) said to Shaykh Gangohi that there is a Mawlid gathering organized, would you like to attend with me? He refused and said: “How can I attend a gathering of Mawlid when I prevent others from attending it in India due the evils that have been attached to it. If they (people in India) came to know of me attending a Mawlid what would they say? Upon hearing this, his Shaykh Haji Imdad Allah said: “May Allah reward you. I would have not been happier if you attended the Mawlid than I am in you refusing to come with us, because you are steadfast on what you believe to be the truth.
Thereafter, Haji Imdad Allah al-Makki attended the Mawlid and one of the servants and students of Shaykh Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi, without informing his Shaykh, also went with him. This student of Shaykh Rashid Ahmad said after attending the Mawlid: “Had my Shaykh, Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi, attended the Mawlid gathering, he would have not condemned it, for it was free from evil and impermissible matters. (See: Malfuzat of Mufti Mahmud al-Hasan Gangohi, 1/99)
The Deobandis also have gatherings in which they mention the Sirah, characteristics and ways of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace). Songs and Anashid in praise of the best of creation are sung. These gatherings are organized throughout the year and become more common in the month of Rabi’ al-Awwal. However, they do not attach it to a particular date, and also, rather than calling them “Mawlid” gatherings they call them “Sirah” gatherings, denoting that not only the birth of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) will be discussed rather his life in general. As such, no Deobandi can deny the permissibility and virtue of holding a meeting discussing the various aspects of the Messenger of Allah’s (Allah bless him & give him peace) life and songs and Anashid being sung. Deobandis themselves have such gatherings and call them Sirah gatherings/events. However, many others (non-Deobandis) have similar gatherings but they term them to be gatherings of Mawlid. Hence, judgments should not be based on the terminologies used, but rather on the concepts.
Therefore, we can conclude the Deobandi viewpoint on the Mawlid saying that it is a highly praiseworthy act for which one will be rewarded Insha Allah. However, it will be wrong and an innovation to attach the impermissible matters to it, and this is how they understand the statements of scholars such as Hafidh Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani, Imam Suyuti and others (Allah have mercy on them all) who permitted the Mawlid.
By looking into the books of the Deobandi Ulama, we can sum up these evils and impermissible practices in the following:
1) A particular date (i.e. 12th of Rabi’ al-Awwal) is fixed,
2) Only the birth-events of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) are discussed,
3) It is called a day of Eid, whilst Islam has only prescribed two Eids,
4) Celebrating the Mawlid is considered to be necessary,
5) Unlawful practices (such as intermingling of the sexes) take place,
On the other hand, if we were to look at the statements of those (non-Deobandi Ulama) who support the Mawlid, it becomes clear that they also strongly condemn the various evils mentioned by the Deobandi scholars.
The great Sufi and Maliki scholar residing in Makkah al-Mukarramah, Sayyid Muhammad ibn Alawi al-Maliki (may Allah have mercy on him) states in his short treatise regarding the Mawlid, Hawl al-ihtifal bi zikra mawlid al-nabawi al-sharif:
“How many times have we stressed that the Messenger of Allah’s day of birth is not considered a Eid, neither do we regard it as a day of Eid, for it is a day greater and more virtuous than the day of Eid. Eid only comes once a year, whilst celebrating the birth of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) and mentioning his Sirah should be a constant thing, without restricting it to a particular time or place.” (P.8-9)
He further sates:
“We celebrate the birth of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) constantly and all the time, at every occasion and at every event of happiness and joy. This is increased in the month of his birth “Rabi’ al-Awwal” and the day of his birth, Monday”. (p. 11)
He also states:
“One of the innovations (bid’a) of the Mawlid is that, it is practiced by some of those who celebrate it by carrying out unlawful activities, being negligent with prayers, involvement in Riba and not implementing the outward and inward Sunnas of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace).” (p. 49)
“One of the innovations that is practised in some countries is restricting the mention of the Messenger of Allah’s (Allah bless him & give him peace) sirah, characteristics, and praise, feeding others and carrying out other commendable actions to the month of Rabi’ al-Awwal because of the birth of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace). However, it is necessary that these acts are not restricted to the month of Rabi’ only; rather, it is necessary (wajib) upon a Muslim that he carries out these good deeds constantly in every day of the month, for the mention of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) is not attached to a particular time….” (p. 50)
“ If we met and mentioned the praises of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace), his struggles, his characteristics and did not even mention the story of his birth, to which people have become accustomed to such an extent that they consider a Mawlid gathering incomplete without it….,we would have celebrated the Mawlid.” (p. 40)
When we study the above quotes of Shaykh Muhammad ibn Alawi al-Maliki (may Allah have mercy on him) taken from his book which he compiled in support of the Mawlid, it becomes clear that there is agreement between what the scholars of Deoband say and those who celebrate Malwid regarding the evil and unlawful practices. As such, there is no disagreement in reality.
In conclusion, we need to develop patience and sincerity in our efforts to bring about more tolerance in this world. Try to make differences seem non-existent. There is no significant difference between the Deobandi scholars and the Barelwis, in that they both agree with Mawlid (or Sirah) gatherings and disagree with the evils and unlawful practices that are practiced by some.
Indeed, there are some ignorant Muslims who do practice the evils mentioned by the Deobandi Ulama, but rather than refute their celebration of the Mawlid altogether, Deobandis should strive and correct these practices. If they begin to refute the Mawlid altogether, then those who practice it will say that these are Wahhabis, etc, and won’t even reflect upon their unlawful actions. Conversely, if they support the Mawlid, there is a great chance of them correcting the evils. Thus, they should be given an alternative of pure and uncontaminated gathering of Mawlid in which the general Sirah of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) is mentioned. A gathering in which people are encouraged to implement the Sunnas and characteristics of the beloved of Allah, whether you call it a Mawlid gathering or a Sirah gathering, for names are irrelevant. This is my sincere advice to the Deobandis.
As far as our Barelwi brothers are concerned, rather than arguing the rationality of Mawlid gatherings and trying to prove it, they should try and stamp out the evils practiced by some individuals. Explain to the masses that celebrating the Mawlid is not sufficient. One has to be a complete believer. One needs to implement the ways of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) in all aspects of one’s life. Use these Mawlid gatherings to spread the message.
If we do this, then, not only will we have a more harmonious relationship, but we will see Muslims becoming stronger in their faith and better Muslims as a whole. May Allah guide us all to the straight path. I seek forgiveness if I may have offended anybody. May Allah unite us and gather us all in Paradise, Ameen.
And Allah knows best
[Mufti] Muhammad ibn Adam
Leicester , UK