During the era of Prophet (saw), of the Sahabah and the Tabi'in, the birth of the Prophet (saw) was not celebrated in the present form. However, the Prophet (saw), Sahabah or Tabi'in did not prohibit it.
The meelad celebration is not compulsory. Imam Suyuti (ra) in his book Ruh ul-Bayan stated that it is mustahab to celebrate the birth of the Prophet (saw) as gratitude to Allah.
Although the present form of meelad is a bid'ah hasanah (good innovation), the origin of meelad, akin to many practices in Islam, is rooted in the era of the Prophet (saw) who commented on his own birth saying:
"I am the du'a of my father Ibrahim (as), I am the good tidings of Isa (as), and I am the son of the two slaughtered ones (Ismail and Abdullah)."
The Prophet's (saw) uncle and enemy of Islam, Abu Lahab, set his slave Thuwaiba free being happy for the birth of the Prophet (saw). Abu Lahab's punishment is made light every Monday as a reward of his act. (Bukhari)
It is Sunnah to commemorate happiness.
The Prophet (saw) was asked about fasting on a Monday. He replied, "I was born on that day and wahi (revelation) began upon me on that day." (Mishkat)
The Prophet (saw) used to respect the day of his own birth. He used to thank Allah for that great favour and used to fast to respect that day. It is a requirement of the Quran to show respect on the birth of Prophet (saw). Allah says:
"Say, "In the bounty of Allah and in His mercy - in that let them celebrate; it is better than what they accumulate." (Qur'an 10:58)
And who is Allah's mercy:
" And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds." (Qur'an 21:107)
The Prophet (saw) expressed the virtues of jummah (Friday) by saying Adam (as) was born on that day. Therefore, the virtue of the day when the Prophet (saw) was born is also significant.
The Prophet (saw) famously said that anyone who invented a good deed and people practiced it, they will be rewarded. Meelad is a good deed.
"And all that We relate to you of the tiding of the Messengers is for the purpose of strengthening your heart therewith". (Surah Hud: 20)
It was narrated that Mu'awiyah (ra) said: 'The Messenger of Allah (saw) went out to a circle - meaning, of his Companions - and said: 'What are you doing?' They said: 'We have come together to pray to Allah and praise Him for guiding us to His religion, and blessing us with you.' He said: 'I ask you, by Allah, is that the only reason?' They said: 'By Allah, we have not come together for any other reason.' He said: 'I am not asking you to swear to an oath because of any suspicion; rather Jibril came to me and told me that Allah, the Mighty and Sublime, is boasting of you to the angels.'" (Nisa'i 5426)
As regards bid'ah, there are those that are permitted and those that are forbidden. Imam Shafi'i (ra) for instance said:
"Any thing which opposes (or changes) the Qur'an, Sunnah, Ijma (consensus) or the sayings of the Sahabah is Bid'ah. Any good deed which is not opposed to them is praiseworthy".
Whilst Imam Nawawi (ra) said:
Al-Bid`ah (with a kasrah on the letter ba), is the innovating of what did not exist in the time of the Messenger of Allah (salAllahu alayhi wa salam) and it is divided into good (hasanatin) and reprehensible (qabihatin). The Shaykh, the Imam on whose leadership, lofty stature, and mastery and brilliance in all kinds of Islamic sciences there is consensus, Abu Muhammad `Abd al-`Aziz bin ‘Abd al-Salam, Allah have mercy on him and be well-pleased with him, said, at the end of his book, al-Qawa’id: “Innovation is divided into ‘obligatory’ (wajibatin), ‘forbidden (muharramatin), ‘recommended (mandubatin), disliked (makruhatin), and permissable (mubahatin).
And he said, the way to ascertain this is that the innovation be measured with the principles of the Shari’ah. If it falls under the principles of obligatoriness then it is obligatory; or under the principles of prohibitiveness then it is prohibited; or recommendability, then recommended; or dislike, then disliked; or permissability, then permissable. (Tahdhib al-Asma’ wa al-Lughat (3:22))
This is based on a number of ahadith of the Prophet (saw) that prohibited innovating in that which revelation had addressed whilst encouraging sunnahs:
“Whomever Allah guides, no one can lead him astray. Whomever Allah sends astray, no one can guide him. The truest word is the Book of Allah and the best guidance is the guidance of Muhammad. The most evil matters in religion are those that are newly invented, for every newly invented matter is an innovation, every innovation is misguidance, and every misguidance is in the Hellfire.” (Nisa'i 1578)
The Prophet (saw) said, "Whoever instituted a good practice (sunnatan hasanatan) in Islam its reward is for him and the reward of all those who practice it after him without lessening their rewards at all. And whoever instituted a bad practice (sunnatan sayyiatan) in Islam bears its sin and the sins of all those who practice it after him without lessening their sins at all.” (Sahih Muslim)
Umar ibn al-Khattab (RadiyAllahu anhu) said concerning the night prayer of Ramadhan: “What a good bid'a this is!” (nimatu al-bidatu hazihi). Meaning that it was innovated, having not existed before, and even so there was nothing in it which contravened that which has passed [in mention].” [Narrated by al-Hafidh Abu Bakr al-Bayhaqi, in Manaqib al-Imam al-Shafi`i 1/469]
As in the practices of Hajj, the running between Safa and Marwa are obliged to refresh the remembrance of pious people. Similarly, the celebration of Meelad-un-Nabi is also permitted to refresh the remembrance of the Prophet (saw).
Abdus Sammi' (ra) has cited 73 names of great scholars of Islam who wrote about the validity of meelad celebrations. (Anwaare Saati'a)
Jalaaluddin Suyuti (ra) wrote:
"The Shari'ah commanded aqeeqah on the birth (of a child). This is a way to thank Allah and rejoice, but on the time of death no such commandment has been given. In fact, mourning and grieving is prohibited. The same principle of Shari'ah demands that happiness and the joy should be expressed in Rabi-ul-Awwal on the birth of the beloved Rasool (saw) and not grieve on his wisaal (departure from this world)". (Husnul Maqsad Fee Amalil Moulid Al Haawi Lil Fatawa)
Imam Suyuti (ra) wrote extensively about meelad:
"According to me, gatherings, recitations of the Qur'an, mentioning incidents of the holy life of the Prophet (saw) and mentioning those signs which appear at the time of his birth are amongst the good innovations in which a person is rewarded because in this there is respect, love and expression of happiness for the arrival of the Prophet (saw)". (Al Haavi Lil-Fataawa)
Imam Qastalani (ra) said:
"In the month of the birth of the Prophet (saw) Muslims always had assemblies. In the nights of that month they gave charities and expressed happiness. They always increased good deeds in those nights. They always made arrangements to read the meelad of the Prophet (saw) with the auspicious (hope) that Allah showers His blessings upon them. One of the experienced barakah (blessing) of meelad is that the year passes upon them peacefully. May Allah send His Blessings and Favour upon that person who took meelad-un-Nabi as Eid, so this Eid should become reason of hardness upon that person who has disease in his heart". (Mawahe bul Le-Dunya)
Sheikh Abdul Haqq Muhaddith Delwi (ra) observed:
"Muslims have always celebrated meelad functions in the month of Rabi-ul-Awwal. They gave charities in the nights of that month and expressed their happiness. This is a common practice of Muslims that they particularly make mention of those incidents which are related to the birth of the Prophet (saw)". (Ma Sabata Bi-Sunnah)
Mullah Ali Qari (ra) wrote:
"Firstly, we see that it is permissible to arrange an assembly of meelad. It is permissible to participate in that assembly for the purpose of listening to the praises and character of the Prophet (saw). Inviting people and expressing happiness is permissible. Secondly, we do not say that it is Sunnah to celebrate meelad on any fixed night. Anyone who believes that it is Sunnah to celebrate meelad on any fixed night (and not in any other night) is a bid'ati because the zikr of the Prophet (saw) is required all the time. Yes, in the month in which the Prophet (saw) was born, has more preference". (Al-Mouridur-ravi fil Moulidin Nabi)
Allama Ibn Abedeen Shami (ra) stated:
"Every person who is truthful in the love of the Prophet (saw) should express happiness in the month of Rabi-ul-Awwal. He should arrange an assembly for the meelad of the Prophet (saw) in which the incidents of his birth are explained with correct ahadith. There is a strong hope from Allah that such a person will be included in the group of pious people with the intercession of the Prophet (saw)." (Jawahi Rul Bihaar)
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