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

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

It is unanimously agreed upon, by historians, legal specialists and theologians of all groups, that the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) himself never commanded his followers to celebrate his birthday, nor was this practice known for the first few centuries of Islām. Therefore, the question arises as to how this practice was instituted and who were the first group to think of the idea of celebrating the birthday of the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam).

The Origin of the Mawlid 

The first mention ever made of the mawlid celebrations in any historical work comes in the writings of Jamāl al-Dīn Ibn al-Ma’mūn, who died 587 AH/1192 CE. His father was the Grand Vizier for the Fatimid Caliph al-Amir (ruled 494-524 /1101-1130). Although the work of Ibn al-Ma’mūn is now lost, many parts of it were quoted by later scholars, in particular the most famous medieval historian of Egypt, al-Maqrīzi (d. 845/1442) in his monumental Mawā’īal-i’tibār fī khiaMir wa-l-amār (shortened to the Khia). Al-Maqrīzi’s book is the standard source of information for Fatimid and early Mamlūk Egypt. What makes this work stand out above many others is not only its comprehensiveness, but also the fact that al-Maqrīzī quotes from many earlier references that are now lost, and also takes great care to cite his source, a practice very rare for the time.

Al-Maqrīzī relies upon the work of Ibn al-Ma’mūn for information regarding the social, political and religious policies of the Fatimids during the early part of the sixth century, which was the period that Ibn al-Ma’mūn’s father worked for the Fatimid Caliph. Due to the high position that his father enjoyed, Ibn al-Ma’mūn provided many details that outside historians could not possibly have been privy to.

Before proceeding, it is important to point out some facts regarding the Fatimid dynasty. This dynasty had established itself as a rival dynasty to the Abbasids in Baghdad. They had conquered Egypt in 358/969, and established the modern city of Cairo. They claimed descent from the Family of the Prophet (a claim that all others deemed to be fabricated), and followed the Sevener Branch of Shi’ite Islām, also known as ‘Ismailism’. Their beliefs and customs were so different from other branches of Islām that all Sunnis and even many other non-Ismaili Shi’ite groups deemed them outside the fold of the religion. The Ismailis had reinterpreted the five pillars of Islām to such a level that they would not conform to the regular rituals that other Muslims are accustomed to (such as the five daily prayers). The intellectual (and at times even biological) descendants of the Fatimid caliphs in our times are many. In particular, the Ismaili Aga Khan Imams and the Bohri Imams both trace their direct lineage to the Fatimid caliphs, and the group known as the Druze also are an offshoot of the Fatimid dynasty. It was this dynasty that first initiated the celebration of the mawlid.

To return to our topic, Al-Maqrizi, in his Khia, quotes Ibn al-Ma’mūn as follows, writing about the events of the year 517:

Next, the month of Rabī’ al-Awwal arrived, and we shall begin [the events of this month] by mentioning the thing for which it has become famous, namely, the birthday of the Master of the first and last, Muḥammad, on the thirteen [sic.] day. And by way of charity, the Caliph presented 6000 dirhams from the fund of najāwa [an Ismailite tithe], and from the dar al-fitra he presented 40 dishes of pastry, and from the chambers of the trustees and caretakers of the mausoleums that lie between the Hill and Qarafa, where the Al al-Bayt lie, he gave sugar, almonds, honey, and sesame oil [as a gift] to each mausoleum. And [his Vizier] took charge of distributing 400 pounds (ratl) of sweets, and 1000 pounds of bread.

The wording of the paragraph clearly suggests that the mawlid was a clearly established practiced by this time.

Another early source that mentions the mawlid is the work of Ibn al-Ṭuwayr (d. 617/1220), in his work Nuzhat al-Muqlatayn fī Akhbārt al-Dawlatayn. Ibn al-Ṭuwayr worked as a secretary for the Fatimid dynasty, and witnessed the change of power from the Fatimids to the Ayyubids, at the hand of Salaḥ al-Dīn al-Ayyūbi, which occurred 567/1071. His skills were so appreciated that he ended up working for the government of Ṣalāh al-Dīn as well. Ibn al-Ṭuwayr also describes the pageantry and pomp associated with the mawlid. He describes in detail [1]  the large amounts of foods that were distributed on this day, especially around the famous mausoleums of Cairo (some of which would have been considered by the Fatimids as being those of their Imams). The focus of the pageantry, of course, was the palace of the Caliph, and only the elite would get to attend. The celebrations of the day worked their way up to the appearance of the Caliph (who was the living imām for the Ismailites) from a palace window, his face covered in a turban. He himself would not deign to speak – rather, his private attendants would signal to the audience that the Caliph had returned their greetings and seen their love for him. From the courtyard pavilion various reciters and preachers would address the audience, finally culminating in the address of the khatib of the Azhar masjid (which of course, at that time, was the epitome of Ismaili academics).

The mawlid was not the only celebration that was sponsored by the Fatimids. Al-Maqrīzi, in his Khia, [2] has an entire section dedicated to Fatimid holidays. He writes, under a chapter heading entitled, “The mentioning of the days that the Fatimid Caliphs took as celebrations and festivals throughout the year, upon which the situation of the people would be improved and their benefits increased,”

The Fatimid Caliphs had, throughout the year, a number of festivals and celebrations. These were: 1. New Year’s Eve, 2. Beginning of the year celebrations, 3. The Day of ‘Āshūrā’, 4. The birthday of the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam), 5. The birthday of ‘Alī, 6. The birthday of al-Ḥasan, 7. The birthday of al-Husayn, 8. The birthday of Fāṭima al-Zahrā’, 9. The birthday of the current Caliph, 10. The first day of Rajab, 11. The fifteenth day of Rajab, 12. The first day of Sha’bān, 13. The fifteenth day of Sha’bān, 14. The festival of Ramaḍān, 15. the first day of Ramaḍān, 16. The middle of Ramaḍān, 17. The end of Ramaḍān, 18. The Night of the Khatm, 19. The Day of ‘Īd al-Fitr, 20. The Day of ‘Īd of Sacrifice, 21. The Day of ‘Īd al-Ghadīr, 22. The ‘Cloth of Winter’, 23. The ‘Cloth of Summer’, 24. The Day of the ‘Conquest of the Peninsula’, 25. The Day of Nawrūz [Persian festival], 26. The Day of Veneration [Christian], 27. Christmas [Christian], 28 Lent [Christian]

As can be seen, the Fatimids loved their celebrations! The reason why they had so many celebrations is obvious, and is hinted at by al-Maqrīzi in his title. As the main rival to the ‘Abbāsid dynasty, the Fatimids were desperate to try to legitimize their rule in the eyes of the masses, and one of the ways to do so was to shower them with gifts on these days, and to provide an outlet for them to be merry and enjoy. Al-Maqrīzi mentions in detail the types of gifts that would be showered on the people on each of these days, sometimes exotic dishes of meat and bread, most of the time pastries and sweets, and even (on the ‘Cloth’ days) special types of clothes. Anyone who has been to Cairo can attest to the pomp of Fatimid structures, but it wasn’t only through architecture that the Fatimids wished to prove their superiority over the Abbasids.

Another thing to note is that there are many pagan festivals listed as well, for the Zoroastrian and Christian citizens. All of this was done to appease these minorities and prevent them from rebelling against the state.

A number of factors need to be discussed here.

1) From the above, it appears that the Faṭimids instituted a number of key yearly celebrations, all of which involved much pomp and pageantry. The primary celebrations were the mawlids of the Prophet and Imams, and also the celebration of the day of Ghadīr Khumm (the day that Shi’ites of all stripes believe the Prophet designated ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib to be the heir apparent). As mentioned earlier, the primary purpose of so much pageantry was to ingratiate themselves with the masses. Such public celebrations would have been anticipated as public holidays, and as days to revel and enjoy good food and sweets, compliments of the government.

2) We can also venture a rough guess regarding the era that the mawlid was introduced. Without any other sources, it is impossible to reconstruct a precise date on which the Faṭimids initiated the mawlid.[3] However, recall that al-Maqrizī’s history (the Khiat) is merely a compilation of numerous histories that are now missing. Many of these histories, such as those of Ibn al-Ma’mūn and Ibn Ṭuwayr, were written by eyewitnesses. Modern scholars have analyzed the sources of al-Maqrīzi’s history, and shown that for each era, al-Maqrizī relied on specific authors. For events of the third, fourth and fifth centuries, al-Maqrizī took from authors of other works; it was only for events of the sixth century that he quoted Ibn al-Ma’mūn.[4] Therefore, since the first suggestion of the mawlid occurs in the chronicles of Ibn al-Ma’mūn, we can safely venture the hypothesis that the mawlid was first celebrated around the turn of the sixth hijrī century.

3) All of the mawlids introduced by the Fatimids centered around the Family of the Prophet, except for the mawlid of the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) himself. The Shi’ite nature of the Fatimid Dynasty, along with the other celebrations that were practiced, makes it quite clear that the entire concept of celebrating birthdays was a Shi’īte one aimed at exalting the status of the Imams. In fact, these source books mention that on the days of these other mawlids, most of the ceremonies took place around the mausoleums and graves of the Fatimids, and it was at these places where much of the food was distributed. Hence, the Fatimids clearly wished to promote the cult of the Imams and ‘Ahl al-Bayt’, and aggrandize their religious figures. When the Fatimid dynasty collapsed, the other mawlids were simply forgotten, as they held no significance for Sunnis, but the mawlid of the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) continued. In other words, the mawlid was originally an Isma’ili Shi’ite festival, even though eventually it lost the tarnish of its Shi’ite origins.

4) The earliest reference (that of Ibn al-Ma’mūn) specifically states that the mawlid was celebrated on the 13th of Rabi’ al-Awwal. Scholars have said that this is either an error (and what proves this is that the later Ibn al-Ṭuwayr correctly writes that it was celebrated on the 12th of Rabī’ al-Awwal), or that it was initially instituted on the 13th, but within a generation was changed to the 12th. In either case, by the middle of the sixth century, the mawlid was an official holiday in Fatimid Egypt.

The question then arises: how did the mawlid spread to Sunni lands, and who was the first to introduce it to lands East and West of Fatimid Egypt? That shall be the topic of the third and final part to this article, insha Allāh.

 

[1] See: Nuzhat, p. 217-219

[2] vol. 1, p. 490

[3] The modern Egyptian author Hasan al-Sandubi, in the only monograph in Arabic on the subject, suggests that the Fatimid Caliph al-Mu’izz was the first to initiate this celebration, but there is absolutely no evidence that he brings to back this claim. Al-Mu’izz ruled from 341 to 365 A.H.

[4] See the editor’s introduction to Nuzhat al-Muqlatayn, p. 3, where he lists al-Maqrizī’s sources for every era.

 

 

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About Shaikh Yasir Qadhi

The foundation strives to articulate Islam in a modern context and address the unique situation and challenges faced by Muslims in the West. An integral focus as a means to this end is the study, analysis & presentation of classical Islamic scholarship and its contemporary application.

15 comments

  1. Failure to celebrate the maulid of the Prophet s.A.w EVERY-SINGLE-DAY is a failure in being truly Muslim. Not a moment should pass without us rejoicing his existence and the gift it was to us.

  2. Salam Brothers & Sisters in Islam!
    Lets keep it simple. For every question, for every reference the biggest scholar, the biggest Imam in Islam was the Prophet Muhammad,PBUH. The best source of information is the Quran & the book of Sahi Hadees, so If the prophet PBUH didn’t celebrate nor asked to celebrate it after his death + if the Islamic source of books do not mention it, by not mentioning it implies it is outside the boundaries of Islam, there without a question celebration of this event is nothing but an innovation/Bidda.

  3. There is no hadith condemning CHRISTMAS EASTER FATHERS DAY MOTHERS DAY NEW YEARS DAY BIRTHDAY ANNIVERSARY etc……does this mean we are allowed to celebrate these days as well? Copying our neighbours I.e. Christians and Jews ? We have been warned by the prophet saw directly not to follow the Christians and Jews in their practices. Also, we should not be disrespectful to any human being let alone a scholar or knowledgeable person. If u read the prophet saw final speech sermon he clearly mentions that he was going to pass away and warned his ummah to continue on the straight and simple path and not to deviate from it. He also warned against shirk bidah specifically and said he will meet us on day of judgement where Allah swt may grant him intercession for us in sha Allah. Allah swt has said clearly in the Qur’an that THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE UNSEEN AND QADR HAS NOT BEEN GIVEN TO ANY OF HIS CREATION THAT’S WITH ALLAH SWT ALONE….. prophets had powers but only when Allah swt gave and the prophets asked for them for a certain period where they were having difficulty in delivering Allah’s message etc. Munkar and nakeer angels on left right shoulders write our deeds doings nobody else. Plz check. Thanks. I hope I havent made any error in sha Allah with Allah’s help.

  4. Just came back from a charity trip from Syria there were little kids barefoot in the snow some hadn’t eaten a hot meal in months.Turn off your hot water and don’t flush your toilets for 24 hours now imagine a camp with 3000 people in it with 2 toilets. Arguing about Milad puts things in perspective doesn’t it. I’d rather spend my time helping the Ummah of our Beloved Prophet Muhammad Saw and leave the debating of non urgent matters to the scholars as that’s all they are good for these days (not all but the vast majority)

  5. Brother Shafi Chowdhury

    السلام عليكم
    ASSALAAMU ALAYKUM !

    Knowledgeable Articles. Please forward me Part 111.

    جزاكم الله خيرا
    JAZAKUMULLAAHU KHAIR

  6. Islam (PEACE)

    @ Truth

    You need to look up what Hadith is or better still I’ll explain. HADITH saysings of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) and written down by sahaba. So how is there going to be a hadith condeming the Mawlid when there is no hadith that justifies doing the mawlid. There is alot of hadith’s condeming acts such as celebrating birthdays and other pagan rituals etc.
    So if Prophet Muhammad (saw) wanted his birthday celebrating he would have done it at his time with the best of creation the sahaba (radiatalahum).On that day it is best to keep fast as the prophet did. As you should know it was the same day the prophet (SAW) past away.
    All I say is Ya Allah make this ummah one.
    Allah knows best.

  7. how can theere be a hadith to condemn the celebration of Mawlid as it only started decades after the passing of the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam)?

    You make no sense….

  8. In maulid all people do is send salutations to our Prophet and ziker and below is a hadith from the prophet

    Reported by Abu Hurairah and Abu Sa`id Al-Khudri (RA): The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “When a group of people assemble for the remembrance of Allah, the angels surround them (with their wings), (Allah’s) mercy envelops them, Sakinah, or tranquillity descends upon them and Allah makes a mention of them before those who are near Him.” [Muslim] This is so incredibly beautiful. Just amazing. May Allah guide us ALL to this position. Join us to say Ameen!

  9. Beautiful article and detailed information. Jazak Allah.

  10. This topic is well researched and I thank the brothers who has contributed to this discussion.
    Our beloved prophet saw is obviously well respected and honored throughout the world and the mention of our Prophet saw name as part of our Shahadah obviously bears testimony to the high status that Allah swt has bestowed upon our beloved prophet. Therefore I agree that there is no Haadith condemning the Mawlid .
    However, in the Muslim countries like UAE, Saudia, Qatar etc. the leaders of the various countries are honored, respected and presented in such a way that in my humble opinion it borders onto a form of worship to the so called (western appointed leaders) of the Arab countries. Surely, this is a worse form of Bida than celebrating a Mawlid to honor our beloved Prophet Saw.

  11. Islamic Jurisprudence Shariah *

  12. Yasir Qadhi, why don’t you debate traditional Sunni Scholars when it comes to this issue? I hear there are a plethora of them wanting to debate you. Please, issue up a challenge as you claim to be a scholar of the Islamic Sciences. Bring your proofs and they will bring theirs, we can let Allah Subhana Wa Ta’ala decide. Rasul’Allah SalAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, is not disconnected, our deeds are displayed to him and this is a Hasan Hadith go look it up when he SalAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam will see you writing this article what will he SalAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam think and feel?. Also, you seem to have not studied Shariah last time I check the roots of Islamic Knowledge are predominantly four. Qur’an Sunnah Ijma and Qiyas and it si through these we derive rulings of the Shariah, Mawlid hence is Jaaizz if it fulfills requisite conditions. Also, Hello, there is no Hadith that condemns the celebration of Mawlid either. Please quit pandering your nonsense.

  13. Use the blessing of ‘thinking’
    Regarding to what brother Yusuf has written, I would argue that scholars get get their verdicts right and sometimes wrong. When using the right methodology and effort they are always rewarded for their verdicts. But, in this case and in general, and I believe this answers Shehzada’s coments too, we always refer to the Prophet sallallahu aleyhi wa selam and his companions radiallahu anhum in seeking guidance and closeness to Allah. Use the gifted mind to ask simply, did the Prophet saws or Sahabah celebrate this day? Did they not know better? The asnwer to this should really satisfy a true seeker of knowledge.
    Secondly, please read PART 1 and we learn how this begun and how did id disseminate. This to further fascilitate the understadning on the matter.
    Finally, there will always be those who really wish to follow that which they desire and their intellect deems as right. If Prophet saws was today around and did not celebrate his brithday, like he didn’t 1400 years ago, you will find those who will do it.
    Let us follow our beloved Rasul saws’s way and we will prosper. If you insist in celebrating then do it by fasting and commemorating the Sunnah and Seera and do not do anything that resembles the non-muslims way of celebrating.
    Allah knows better

  14. bida?
    Many classical scholars have made the mawlid permissable. Jalal ud deen as suyuti one off the top of my head. it has never been an issue in the muslim lands, it only seems to be the salafi movement started in what, 1950? that is so deeply based in knowledge of the salaf, that calls it bida. each to their own. As Churchill said, “history will be kind to us gentlemen, because we will write it”. Such is the position of the Salafi movement in the Sudi Arabian hierarchy. This loaded explanation of the history is just not good enough.

    In the old days, a donkey would be used to transport goods across the land. The purpose, the goal, was to get the goods across the land. The goal was never the donkey. Some deep thought on that may lead us to really understand the sunnah, and what it is to embody it. Big beards, miswak in the top pocket, trousers above ankles, staunch opposition to any new ways of embodying the sunnah, this is what the beloved preached?

    Is it against the values the sunnah represents, to spend extra time in a period blessed by the birth of the prophet saw in remembrance and gatherings?

  15. Shehzada javied malik

    Dr
    Very well researched. Thankyou for giving us historical background of this widely spread bida. Bui i wpnder why it took so long why scholars did not reject it at outset. Why they let it grow so big that a ordinar muslim sometimes thinks what is right and shat is wrong to celebrate or not to celebrate. It is the duty of muslm scholars to put their put down where they are sure it is a bida. Jazak Allah khairan

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