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The Birth-Date of the Prophet and the History of the Mawlid – Part I of III

This article comprises of three parts. In part one, the various opinions regarding the birth-date of the beloved Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) are mentioned. In part two, the history of celebrating this day will be documented.

The Date of the Prophet’s Birth

It is a commonly held belief that the birth-date of the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) is the 12th of Rabīʿ al-Awwal, in the ‘Year of the Elephant’, which is the year that the Abyssinian Emperor Abraha attacked the Kaʿbah with an army of elephants. However, most Muslims are unaware that there has always been great controversy over the precise date of the Prophet’s (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) birth, and it is quite possible that the 12th of Rabīʿ al-Awwal is not in fact the strongest opinion on the matter.

There is no narration in the famous ‘Six Books’ of ḥadīth that specifies when the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) was born. Rather, the only narration that exists specifies the day he was born, and not the date. Abū Qatāda narrates that a Bedouin came to the Prophet and asked him about fasting on Monday, to which the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) replied, “That is the day I was born on, and the day that the revelation began”. [1]  Therefore, the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) was born on Monday. But Monday of which month, and which year? For that, we need to turn to other sources. Again, no standard source book of ḥadīth mentions any precise date. However, there is a tradition of disputed authenticity, in the Sunan of al-Bayhaqī [2] states that Suwayd b. Ghafla narrated, “The Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) and I were born in the same year, the ‘Year of the Elephant.’” Certain other evidences also indicate that he was born this year. Hence, from the extended books of ḥadīth, two pieces of information can be gleaned: that he was born on a Monday (and this is confirmed), and that he was born in the ‘Year of the Elephant’ (and this is most likely correct).

When we turn to books of history, a number of dates regarding the birth of the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) are found. Ibn Isḥāq (d. 150 AH), the earliest and most authoritative biographer of the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam), states, without any isnād or other reference, that the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) was born on Monday, the 12th of Rabīʿ al-Awwal, in the ‘Year of the Elephant’. Between Ibn Isḥāq and the birth of the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) lies almost two centuries, so some more proof is needed before this date is settled on.

Another extremely important early source, Ibn Saʿd (d. 230 AH) in his abaqāt, mentions the opinion of a few early authorities regarding the date of his birth. In order, they are:

1) Monday, 10th of Rabīʿ al-Awwal, the ‘Year of the Elephant’.

2) Monday, 2nd of Rabīʿ al-Awwal.

3) Monday, no precise date.

4) The ‘Year of the Elephant’, no precise date.

It is interesting to note that Ibn Saʿd, one of the most respected historians of early Islam, does not even list the date of the 12th of Rabīʿ al-Awwal as a possible candidate. Of course the last two opinions are correct and do not clash with any specific date, but by quoting earlier authorities who only gave this information, it can be noted that the precise birth date of the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) was not known to them, hence they only gave the information they knew.

Ibn Kathīr (d. 774), the famous medieval historian, also lists many opinions in his monumental al-Bidāya wa-l-nihāyah regarding the birth-date of the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam). He states that the majority of scholars believed that the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) was born in the month of Rabīʿ al-Awwal, but differed regarding the precise day of the month. Some of these opinions are:

1. 2nd Rabīʿ al-Awwal. This was the preferred opinion of Abū Maʿshar al-Sindī (d. 171), one of the earliest scholars of sīra, and of the famous Māliki jurist and scholar, Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr (d. 463). It was also listed by al-Wāqidī (d. 207) as a possible opinion. [Al-Wāqidī is one of the most reputable early historians of Islam, despite his weakness as a narrator of ḥadīth].

2. 8th of Rabīʿ al-Awwal. This was the opinion of the Andalusian scholar Ibn Ḥazm (d. 456), and many of the early scholars. Imām Mālik (d. 179) reported this opinion from al-Dhuhrī (d. 128) and Muḥammad b. Jubayr b. Muṭʿim (a famous Successor), amongst others. Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, while subscribing to the first opinion, said that this opinion was the opinion of most historians. Ibn Diḥya (d. 610), one of the first to write a treatise on the birth of the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam), also considered this date to be the strongest opinion.

3. 10th of Rabīʿ al-Awwal. This has been reported by Ibn ʿAsākir (d. 571) from Abū Jaʿfar al-Bāqir (d. 114 AH), a descendant of the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam)and an alleged imām of the Shiʾites. It is also the opinion of al-Shaʿbī (d. 100), a famous scholar and student of the Companions, and al-Wāqidī (d. 207) himself.

4. 12th of Rabīʿ al-Awwal. This is the opinion of Ibn Isḥāq (d. 150), who reported it without any reference. In other sources, it is reported as the opinion of Jābir and Ibn ʿAbbās, but there is no isnād found in any primary source book to them. Ibn Kathīr writes, “…and this is the most common opinion on the matter, and Allāh knows best.” I could not find this opinion attributed to any other authorities of the first few generations of Islam.

5. 17th of Rabīʿ al-Awwal. This was the opinion of some Shiʾite scholars, and is rejected by most Sunnī authorities.

6. 22nd of Rabīʿ al-Awwal. This opinion has also been attributed to Ibn Ḥazm.

7. In the month of Ramaḍān, without a specific date, in the ‘Year of the Elephant’. This was the opinion of the famous early historian al-Zubayr b. al-Bakkār (d. 256), who wrote the first and most authoritative history of Mecca, and some early authorities agreed with him.

8. 12th of Ramaḍān, in the ‘Year of the Elephant’. This opinion was reported by Ibn ʿAsākir as being held by some early authorities.

 

These are the most predominant opinion regarding the date of the Prophet’s (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) birth. However, this is by no means comprehensive – for example, a modern researcher has concluded that the 9th of Rabīʿ al-Awwal is the strongest candidate for the exact date, whereas a few earlier authorities even disputed the very year, claiming that it was ten, or twenty-three, or forty years after the ‘Year of the Elephant’.

 

Why is the opinion of the 12th of Rabī al-Awwal so popular?

As can be seen, there are numerous opinions regarding the precise date of the birth of the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam), some of which differ about the month, and others even the year. However, an overwhelming majority of historians and scholars agreed that he was born on a Monday, in Rabīʿ al-Awwal, in the ‘Year of the Elephant’, which corresponds to 570 (or 571) C.E.

Within the month of Rabīʿ al-Awwal, more than half a dozen opinions exist. Out of all of these dates, the two dates of the 8th and the 10th were in fact more popular opinions in the first five centuries of Islam, and in particular the former opinion was given greater credence. Why, then, is the date of the 12th of Rabīʿ al-Awwal considered the most popular in our times, so much so that most people are unaware of alternate opinions? This question is all the more compelling in light of the fact that Ibn Isḥāq narrates this opinion without any reference. This can be explained, and Allāh knows best, by two factors.

Firstly, the popularity of Ibn Isḥāq himself. His book of sīra is a primary source of information regarding the biography of the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam). Since his bookis a standard reference for all later writings, many scholars simply copied and pasted his opinion, disregarding the other opinions (some of which were given more weight by earlier authorities).

Secondly – and this perhaps is a stronger factor – the first time that a group of people decided to take the birthday of the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) as a public day of celebration (i.e., the inception of the celebration of the mawlid) , it so happened that they chose this opinion (viz., the 12th of Rabī al-Awwal). Hence, when the practice of the mawlid spread, so did this date. This also explains why Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, writing before the conception of the mawlid in the fifth century of the hijrah, stated that the most common opinion amongst historians was in fact the 8thof Rabīʿ al-Awwal, and yet Ibn Kathīr, writing three centuries later, after the mawlid had been introduced as a public festival, stated that the 12th of Rabīʿ al-Awwal was the most common opinion.

 

Conclusion:

The exact birth-date of the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) has always been the subject of dispute amongst classical scholars. Nothing authentic has been reported in the standard source books of tradition, and this fact in itself shows that it was not held in the significance that later authorities did. The 12th of Rabīʿ al-Awwal is a strong candidate for being the exact birth date of the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam), but the 2nd, 8th and 10th are also viable and well-respected positions, with the 8th being the weightiest.

As to who was the first to celebrate the mawlid, and how it spread in Muslim lands, that shall form Part II of this article, insha Allāh.

 

 

[1] Muslim

[2] vol. 1, p. 79

 


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About Shaikh Yasir Qadhi

25 comments

  1. Aussie Muslim

    The issue is simple, but not as the simple minded intend. Celebrate the birth of the Prophet.saws, spread his love and praise, and don’t spread a bida Protestant version of Islam.

  2. The Prophet s.A.w also didn’t assemble a mushaf or pray taraweeh over 29 or 30 nights in Ramadan as we know today. The “qulli bidatin dalala” hadith is likely the most misunderstood hadith in the religion.

    Bida hasana people. Look it up.

  3. AA, it’s so interesting people just like to have fun and food by celebrating prophet’s birthday once a year. Why not fast every Monday to celebrate his birth like he use to do. But no there is no fun in fasting :). We claim we love prophet and then innovate instead of following Sunnah.

  4. Watch the above YouTube video explaining the permissibility of Mawlidh iA.

  5. The Prophet SAW said the best of people after will be of the first three generations after him. Therefore when it comes to matters of worship we look at the generation of the prophet saw and then if it is not found there to look in the generation after that and after that. This is part of the preservation of worship in Islam. It is not a discussion of whether things such as internet or tv is bidaah

  6. My Query is if Ibn Ishaq was such a big historian and knowing the science of transmission of ahadith with chains. How could he make the date of birth declared without any reference? It begs the question of methodology of transmission of knowledge

  7. Y all the fuss ? Whether the Prophet SAW was born on whichever date let us celebrate his birth , the greatest benefactor of mankind!
    Those who feel it shdnt b celebrated shd do and practise what they believe !
    What’s meant by celebration ? A celebration by Muslims has always .bn different . We celebrate by reading extracts from the seera of the Prophet SAW ,by reading durood or salawat abundantly ,by reminding others as to y we love this personality SAW – the one who personified al-Qran Majeed ! Y wd that b wrong ?
    To read qasaid in praise of Rasulullah SAW…y wd that b wrong ?
    But shd u feel uncomfortable to do so follow urge heart and respect others who feel differently !
    In conclusion the Prophet SAW fasted on Mondays .cz he was born on a Monday ! He remembered the day he was born by fasting ! Celebration in any acceptable moral form shd b encouraged !There r so any aspects of the the life of Muhammad Mustapha SAW that we take for granted or completely oblivious of !

    Let us take this opportunity to remind each other of the great personality of Nabi e Kareem SAW then to bicker abt trivial issues that creates more heartache n sorrow amongst the believers ! Islam has a great code of conduct that governs our every action. Our beloved Prophet SAW has left the greatest legacy …let us celebrate thereby”finding” each other n smooth over all our differences ! I LOVE MY PROPHET SAW AND WISH I COULD DO SO MUCH MORE FOR HIM IN ORDER TO PLEASE MY RABB !
    Allahuma salli ala Muhammad wa ala ali wa salam !

  8. No doubt Allah swa states that his servants should celebrate the blessing bestowed on us by Allah. Oh foolish people the prophet sallahu alaihi Wasalaam is the greatest and bestest blessing sent by Allah. He sallahu alaihi Wasalaam is a mercy to the worlds, through him Allah blessed us and he is the one who is granted intersession for us. Quran is recited, islamic knowledge is learnt on mawlids so where is the bad in that. If anything ur rejoicing at a blessing of Allah swa and thanking him and showing grateful ness and honour and respect to the best of his creation. Finally those who argue the companions never did this. Firstly they do not know every single hathith to make such remarks and secondly there’s a lot of permissible things we do which the companions never did. They never ate burgers, sat in cars or planes, they never used internet. As long as something doesn’t go against the religion it’s ok and if it’s something with good intention then that’s what u will be rewarded for. We are not following the Christians becoz they claim Jesus is the son of god. Astagfirulla we do not claim this, we say clearly what the prophet sallahu alaihi Wasalaam has taught us. To conclude those who are ( in today’s day and age) true lovers find ways and excuses to express their love for their prophet sallahu alaihi Wasalaam. It’s sad that others who claim they are lovers are busy finding ways to prove such acts to be biddah. lighten up and use the senses of ur heart, u will be guided inshaAllah!

  9. why do we need to celebrate prophets birthday
    why all the fuss about a birthday? let’s follow the simple religion that god has sent for us. Our prophet was only a man , a messenger…for all , let’s focus on the real world and move on to greater things that our religion demands from us.

    • Excellent said

    • Please learn to speak respectfully of the Messenger (saaw).

    • Aussie Muslim

      “Only a man” – how disrespectful to the blessed Prophet.saws to call him only a man – he was a pillar amongst men as diamonds are amongst rocks. He was a bright rose amongst shrubs. Have some more respect for the Master of Creation!

  10. What a Joke ?
    Did every thing has to be connected with early Muslims ?
    Why not those claiming that the early muslims doesn’t do this or that didn’t ask themselves here whether the early muslims used to write on the Internet as they are doing now to refute anything concerns about Islam ?
    Did early Muslims used to board a flight to Saudi Arabia, Did they used to watch Sate-lite TVs, Did they used the Mobile phones
    Please give us a Break !

    • Assalamu alaikum,
      If u notice everything you mention such as internet, tv etc all is a means to worship Allah. We take aeroplane to do hajj but we do hajj the way it was established long long time ago. How to worship Allah and respect our prophets is only established by Allah, no one else. We can trust the first three generation because our prophet (saw) told us to do that. Allah told us to follow prophet muhammed (saw) way to worship him. We can only succeed if we worship Allah the way he want us to, but not the way our desires tells us to.

    • We have to refer to the earlier generations as they r the ones who spent time with the prophet sallalhu alayhi wassalam . In regards to did the sahabas use technology like Internet n so on (lol). That’s just lame.. Technology such as cars etc r advancements in civilisation they r not something which has been added into Islam as being part of the religion. Mawlid is an innovation as no sahabas did this or the prophet sallalhu alayhi wassalam. So why do it now ? R u trying to say that prophet Muhammad sallalhu alayhi wassalam made a mistake n forgot to mention celebrating birthdays ? Biddah is something new added to the religion … Internet n traveling via airplanes isn’t Biddah as we have not added to the religion of Islam .. It’s a development in the way we travel … Lol

    • Chemo..you obviously have not grasped a basic understanding of important concepts of the religion. This can be the only excuse i can offer for your ludicrous line of argument. Apologies not intending to offend but…

    • If you do anything to get reward from Allah, that must come from Quran and hadith. otherwise you can do anything you like as long as there is no prohibition in Islam for doing that.

      For example, you can wear any color clothes, except, saffron, you can slaughter and eat any bird that does not prey, except swift. You can do sunnah, nawafil any time except prohibited times, sun rise and sun set. etc.
      So Mowalid is being done to get reward from Allah, and we do not have any example from Sahabas and tabaeen.
      Once Imam Malik was asked, can we follow any Sahabi blindly, he replied NO, unless his action comes from Prophet (SAS).
      It is very serious issue, one can be out if Islam. Be careful.

  11. the issue is simple
    ALHAMDULILAH OUR DEEN IS SIMPLE WE ARE PROTECTED ROM THE RISK OF INNIVATION BY BEING GIVEN THE GUIDANCE OF THE SUNNAH.DO AS THE PROPHET SAW DID AND ALLOWED AND THAT OBLIGATED IN THE QURAN.THEN FOLLOW THE IJMAA OF THE RIGHTEOUS PREDECESSORS.

    THEY DID NOT CELEBRATE THIS AND WE HAVE NO GUIDLINES TO FOLLOW IT YET I SEE SO MANY PEOPLE ARGUING FOR IT IT SEEMS TO BE DUE TO DESIRE AND AT TIMES PRIDE IN ONES INTERPRETATION,SHEIKH AND/OR FAMILY TRADITIONS.NEITHER MATTER.THE WORST THING IS WHEN SUPPOSED SHIEKHS MISGUIDE PEOPLE AND TELL THEM THIS IS ALLOWED.THEY WILL HAVE TO ANSWER FOR THIS.

    ALSO DIDNT THE PROPHET SAW SAY TO NOT BE LIKE THE CHRISTIANS AND JEWS AND THEY (CHRISTIANS)CELEBRATE PROPHET JESUS’s birthday this is just one of hundred reasons to not celebrate mawlid.THis is derived from sufism.May Allah guide us to the right path ameen.

  12. Can you post the Arabic text where Ibn Ishaq mentioned that he was born in the 12th Rabi Awwal?

  13. yuhibbu
    “Love” is derived from the Hebrew meaning to make “white.”

  14. The big question – did the early Muslims celebrate his birthday during the lief of the prophet
    I suspect they did not, so if not then, should we be doing so?

    Is there any hadith or historical facts to prove Muslims celebrated the last prophets birthday during his life?

    • The real question is, is there any hadith or historical facts that say Islam is to be understood in this simple way “did it happen during his life”?

      Or is Islam based on laws and principles, yes principles, established during the Prophet.saws life, so as that compiling the Quran is good, making a new poem in praise of the Prophet.saws today is good, using the internet to inform people about the good message of Islam is good? So as that, we take seriously, the hadith of the Prophet.saws which says “Man sanna sunnah hasana…” – “Whoever establishes a good sunnah will be rewarded for the performance of it thereafter”

      We need to expand our minds and understand our religion from its true inheritors, yes inheritors, those scholars (termed as the “inheritors of the prophets” in a hadith) who have a live unbroken chain of learning back to the Messenger.saws, and not from modern pseudo-scholars who have basically gone against much of what all four madhabs have said on many already sorted items of deen.

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