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This article comprises of three parts. In part one, the various opinions regarding the birth-date of the beloved Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam are mentioned. In part two, the history of celebrating this day will be documented.
The Date of the Prophet’s Birth
1) Monday, 10th of RabÄ«Ê¿ al-Awwal, the ‘Year of the Elephant’.
2) Monday, 2nd of RabÄ«Ê¿ al-Awwal.
3) Monday, no precise date.
4) The ‘Year of the Elephant’, no precise date.
It is interesting to note that Ibn SaÊ¿d, one of the most respected historians of early Islam, does not even list the date of the 12th of RabÄ«Ê¿ 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 salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam was not known to them, hence they only gave the information they knew.
Ibn KathÄ«r (d. 774), the famous medieval historian, also lists many opinions in his monumental al-BidÄya wa-l-nihÄyah regarding the birth-date of the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam.3 He states that the majority of scholars believed that the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam was born in the month of RabÄ«Ê¿ al-Awwal, but differed regarding the precise day of the month. Some of these opinions are:
1. 2nd RabÄ«Ê¿ al-Awwal. This was the preferred opinion of AbÅ« MaÊ¿shar al-SindÄ« (d. 171 AH), one of the earliest scholars of sÄ«ra, and of the famous MÄliki jurist and scholar, Ibn Ê¿Abd al-Barr (d. 463). It was also listed by al-WÄqidÄ« (d. 207 AH) as a possible opinion. [Al-WÄqidÄ« is one of the most reputable early historians of Islam, despite his weakness as a narrator of á¸¥adÄ«th].
2. 8th of RabÄ«Ê¿ al-Awwal. This was the opinion of the Andalusian scholar Ibn á¸¤azm (d. 456 AH), and many of the early scholars. ImÄm MÄlik (d. 179 AH) reported this opinion from al-DhuhrÄ« (d. 128 AH) and Muá¸¥ammad b. Jubayr b. Muá¹Ê¿im (a famous Successor), amongst others. Ibn Ê¿Abd al-Barr, while subscribing to the first opinion, said that this opinion was the opinion of most historians. Ibn Diá¸¥ya (d. ~ 610 AH), one of the first to write a treatise on the birth of the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam, also considered this date to be the strongest opinion.
3. 10th of RabÄ«Ê¿ al-Awwal. This has been reported by Ibn Ê¿AsÄkir (d. 571 AH) from AbÅ« JaÊ¿far al-BÄqir (d. 114 AH), a descendant of the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam and an alleged imām of the ShiÊ¾ites. It is also the opinion of al-ShaÊ¿bÄ« (d. 100 AH), a famous scholar and student of the Companions, and al-WÄqidÄ« (d. 207 AH) himself.
4. 12th of RabÄ«Ê¿ al-Awwal. This is the opinion of Ibn Isá¸¥Äq (d. 150), who reported it without any reference. In other sources, it is reported as the opinion of JÄbir and Ibn Ê¿AbbÄs, but there is no isnÄd found in any primary source book to them. Ibn KathÄ«r 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 RabÄ«Ê¿ al-Awwal. This was the opinion of some ShiÊ¾ite scholars, and is rejected by most SunnÄ« authorities.
6. 22nd of RabÄ«Ê¿ al-Awwal. This opinion has also been attributed to Ibn á¸¤azm.
7. In the month of Ramaá¸Än, without a specific date, in the ‘Year of the Elephant’. This was the opinion of the famous early historian al-Zubayr b. al-BakkÄr (d. 256), who wrote the first and most authoritative history of Makkah, and some early authorities agreed with him.
8. 12th of Ramaá¸Än, in the ‘Year of the Elephant’. This opinion was reported by Ibn Ê¿AsÄkir as being held by some early authorities.
These are the most predominant opinion regarding the date of the Prophet’s salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam birth. However, this is by no means comprehensive – for example, a modern researcher has concluded that the 9th of RabÄ«Ê¿ 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’.4
Why is the opinion of the 12th of RabÄ« al-Awwal so popular?
As can be seen, there are numerous opinions regarding the precise date of the birth of the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam, 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 RabÄ«Ê¿ al-Awwal, in the ‘Year of the Elephant’, which corresponds to 570 (or 571) C.E.
Within the month of RabÄ«Ê¿ 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 RabÄ«Ê¿ 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 Isá¸¥Äq narrates this opinion without any reference. This can be explained, and Allāh knows best, by two factors.
Firstly, the popularity of Ibn Isá¸¥Äq himself. His book of sÄ«ra is a primary source of information regarding the biography of the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam. 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 salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam 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 RabÄ« al-Awwal). Hence, when the practice of themawlid spread, so did this date. This also explains why Ibn Ê¿Abd 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 8th of RabÄ«Ê¿ al-Awwal, and yet Ibn KathÄ«r, writing three centuries later, after the mawlid had been introduced as a public festival, stated that the 12th of RabÄ«Ê¿ al-Awwal was the most common opinion.
The exact birth-date of the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam 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 RabÄ«Ê¿ al-Awwal is a strong candidate for being the exact birth date of the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wa sallam, but the 2nd, 8thand 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.
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