The scholars’ case is very clear. The celebration of the Holy Prophet’s birthday, an event of unique importance in mankind’s religious history, is classed as a ‘good innovation’ (bid’a hasana) in the weighty tomes of classical fiqh (Islamic law). In a fatwa delivered in 1991, Shaykh Muhammad al-Khazraji, the present Mufti of the United Arab Emirates and author of many authoritative works on Islam, explains that although Mawlid was not known in its present form to the early Muslims, its immense value in inculcating love for the Prophet, and the fact that it does not contradict any principle of the Quran and Sunna, means that it is considered recommended (mustahabb) by the jurists.
Despite the objections of some smaller sects, such as the Kharijites of Oman, this view has been overwhelmingly shared by conservative Islamic scholarship. Great legal experts such as Ibn Hajar, al-Suyuti, al-Nawawi, al-Shawkani and many other orthodox figures have written in confirmation of the classical support for the mawlid celebration. Mainstream Sunni scholarship thus concurs with the ‘salafi’ branch of Hanbalism, which has always been at the forefront of calls to promote this Islamic festival. Ibn Taymiya, for instance, the medieval scholar of Syria, wrote: ‘To celebrate and to honour the birth of the Prophet, and to take it as an honoured season, as some of the people are doing, is good, and in it there is a great reward, because of their good intentions in honouring the Prophet, may Allah bless him.’ (Ibn Taymiya, Fatawa, vol.23, p.163.)
His pupil Ibn al-Qayyim takes the same line: ‘Listening to a beautiful voice celebrating the birthday of the Prophet, or celebrating any of the holy days of our history, gives peace to the heart, and bestows upon the listener a light from the Prophet himself.’ (Madarij al-Salikin, p.498.)
In the tradition of these scholars, the ‘salafi’ sect of Islam has produced a number of beautiful mawlid works written specifically for public recital on these celebrations. Perhaps the best known of these is the famous Mawlid of Ibn Kathir, which soon became popular throughout the Islamic world. This great commentator on the Quran begins his Mawlid by observing: ‘The night of the Prophet’s birth, may Allah bless him, is a magnificent, noble, blessed and holy night, a night of bliss for the believers, pure, radiant with lights, and of immeasurable price.’
Hence despite the efforts of secular regimes and sectarian tendencies to deprive the Muslims of this most happy and beneficial of Islamic festivals, the scholars of all orientations have been overwhelmingly in support of the orthodox position. At a time when conditions for the Muslims are hard, and we need more than ever to rekindle the fire of love for our Prophet in the Umma, our communities should follow their counsel loyally. As Mufti al-Khazraji concludes: ‘Celebrating the Mawlid is a recommended practice, especially in this difficult age of ours, and should never be abandoned.’