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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Maolid Celebration: Innovation or act of ibadah?

It is not uncommon to see some Muslims criticising the celebration of the birth of the prophet saying it is innovation and therefore not acceptable.  Innovation – Yes!, unacceptable – No!  Congregating to recite the Qu’ran, narrating stories about the Prophet’s birth,  or qassidah which moves hearts and drives them to do good and work for the hereafter; then possibly serving food, and afterwards everybody departs is one good innovations that is rewardable, because it involves venerating the status of the Prophet and expressing love for him and joy for his honorable birth. The Prophet’s birth is the greatest bounty to all mankind.
A believer should express thankfulness for His bounties. No doubt we are commanded to sacrifice an animal on the birth of a child and distribute the meat to people which is an expression of gratitude and happiness with the newborn. It is not out of place to show joy at the remembrance of the birth of the Prophet.  But let us critically look at what the word innovation means in the context of the religion.  Innovation is anything that did not exist during the time of the Prophet.  But some are good while others are bad.  Imam Shafi’i and Imam Nawawi, declared that innovations could be divided into good and bad, based on their compliance with, or deviance from religious law. Al-Nawawi explained that it is any act done without a previous pattern. It could be good or bad,  based on their compliance or deviance with the existing law. It means innovation could be disagreeable when it is viewed within the context of good or bad, unlike in the context of language where everything that has been originated without a previous pattern is called innovation regardless of whether it is good or bad. This explains the hadith of Tirmizhi- “He who inaugurates a good practice in Islam earns the reward of it, and of all who perform it after him, without diminishing their own rewards in the least. “   Note: inaugurate here means to establish a practice whether through personal reasoning (ijtihad) or derived from the rules of religious law.
Another hadith which says: "Wa sharrul Umoori Muhdathaatuhaa, Wa kulla Bid’atin dhalalah, wa kulla dhalatin fin-naar” meaning: Every innovation is a misguidance and every misguidance goes to Hell fire. “Beware of innovations, for every innovation (kuli bid'ah`) is misguidance.”  According to Imam Shafi, such an objection stems from the misinterpretation of the term kulli (“every”) in the hadith to be all encompassing without exception.  He summised that whereas in arabic it may mean “nearly all” or “the vast majority,” it is a term which meaning emcompasses 'every.' 
Other reports suggest that the companions rejoiced and sang poetry regarding the birth of the Prophet (saw). The Prophet’s uncle, Abbas ibn AbdilMuttalib, composed poetry commemorating the birth of the Prophet (saw) and then sought permission to recite.  The Prophet not only permitted it, but prayed for his uncle asking Allah to protect his mouth. Then, Abbas (r a) recited what was possibly the first poetry for maolid ever, “And when you were born (O Prophet) the earth shone bright and the horizon was radiant.”
Eminent scholars like Sheikh Abdulallah Al-Ilory of blessed memory (r.a) never spoke against celebration of maolid. I have spoken with others like Sheik Mustapha Zuglool, Sheikh Ibrahim Garuba Akinnola-chief Imam of Lagos state, Sheikh Seifudeen Olowooribi of Ikorodu; and I have heard Sheikh Sheik Daud Abdul Majeed Eleha (Alfa Nla), Sheik Abdullah Gbade Akinbode, Sheikh Robiu Adebayo talked about maolid in glowing terms, including Shiekh Abdul Ganiyy Bello my mentor.  These eminent scholars who read far and wide did not differ on the celebration of Maolid. To date, I have not seen any of the classical jurists condemning the practice. 
But come to think of it, there were many practices instituted by his close companions after the Prophet’s death (s.a.w) innovation as you may call it; which are among the major feat of Islam.  The compilation the Qu’ran in one book;  adding the first call to prayer on Friday; (during the time of the Prophet (s.a.w), Abu Bakr and ‘Umar, the call to Friday prayer used to occur when the Imam sat on the pulpit. When it was Uthman’s (r.a) time, he added what is now known as the first call). Tahajjud prayer in congregation: The Prophet (s.a.w) did not pray this prayer in congregation because he feared it would be made obligatory,and during his period this prayer was not observed in congregation, but after the death of the holy Prophet (s.a.w) during the caliphate of Umar (r.a), it was performed in congregation  by the order of Umar among other, ditto with the tarawih prayers.  But today, they are performed in congregation especially.
Besides, the celebration like I said earlier is in remembrance of Allah and birth of the Prophet where zikr is held, recitation of the Quran is done, qassidah is rendered, and lectures are given, I do not think there is any hadith which go against these act for whatever purpose.  A hadith narrated by Muslim, Tirmidhi, Ahmad, lbn Majah says: “When any group of men remember Allah, angels surround them and mercy covers them, tranquility descends upon them, and Allah mentions them to those who are with Him.”
All of these are forms of worship. The love of the Prophet (s.a.w) is a worship that is necessary for faith, since the love of the Prophet is part of one’s faith.
During the Rabiu-Awwal 12, it is good to spend some time whether in the company of others or in jamat to reflect on the episodes and events of his unique life from the time the great Prophet was born to his adolescence, from his prophet hood to the beginning of revelation, the trials and sufferings endured while calling men to Allah, the Hijra, the great and heroic battles against paganism, the creation of the Islamic State, the farewell pilgrimage, and finally, the moment when revelation to earth came to its conclusion with the demise of the blessed Prophet (s.a.w)
On the merit of what is done at the organised Maolid celebration, it is an act of worship and no one knows which act he would do last before breathing his last. Activities such as recitation of the Quran, listening to the stories and life of the prophet, lectures could add up to the act of ibadah and good deed of a muslim before he passes on and therefore it should not be condemned. What is important is to stay away from haram, shirk and Kufr and try to follow hadiths in order to fulfill the claim of being strict followers of the Prophet. (s.a.w)It is not about teaching a new thing but about doing the existing thing in a new way.  The aim is rather to create an environment of tolerance where individuals, both for and against it, can appreciate the position of one another. 
You may send your reactions and comments on this issue. Alimighty Allah knows best.

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