Question and answer details
|I am currently living in Egypt, and have noticed last year that Muslims here celebrate the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, almost as if it was Christmas – no offence meant, this is just my observation. This makes me wonder something about Islam. Does Islam have the equivalent of Christmas (the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus)?|
Thank you very much for the question which tackles an important issue and an event that is held dear to the heart of every Muslim.
Let me state at the very beginning that we Muslims do not have a "Christmas" and the Prophet Muhammad's birthday is, by no means, similar to Christmas. The whole issue of celebrating the birthday of the Prophet (peace be upon him) the way you see it in Cairo, started during the time of the Fatimid dynasty, which ruled in Cairo from 969 to 1171 AD.
For many centuries that preceded the Fatimids, the Prophet's birthday was not celebrated in that way of making special sweets or launching these marches of people dancing in streets, and many other things which people have developed as a culture and linked it to religion.
During the time of the Companions of the Prophet, the time of the Umayyad dynasty, the Abbasid dynasty and even later on in other parts of the Muslim world, such celebrations did not exist. Even till today, certain things that happen in Cairo are quite unique and happen only in Egypt, and not anywhere else in the world.
Therefore, we cannot say that Prophet's birthday celebrations, as they happen now, are of any religious connotation. On the contrary, there are many scholars who speak against the way this event is celebrated, simply because it includes so many practices that run against the very tradition and guidance of the Prophet.
Let me also give a bit of insight about Christmas itself, as many Christian scholars say it is not a Christian thing and just attaching it with Christ is not correct. The exact date of the birth of Jesus Christ has never been pinpointed as Christian sources agree.
In addition, Christmas celebrations themselves were celebrated before Christ himself, by the Mesopotamians who believed in many gods, and as their chief god, Marduk. (The History of Christmas)
Now, back to the issue of Prophet's birthday, I can assure you that there is no reference whatsoever in the traditions of the Prophet, known as the Sunnah, that he celebrated his birthday in any of these modern practices of celebrating the event.
Yet, we are told that he used to fast on Mondays and when he was asked about this, he mentioned that it is the day when he was born (he was born on a Monday) and as a way of showing thankfulness to Almighty Allah, he spends that day in fasting. By the same token, some Muslims used to show some kind of gratefulness to Allah by fasting on that day.
Because the Prophet's birthday is not like Christmas at all, you can simply find Muslim scholars having very different approaches on how we celebrate that day. Some scholars say by reading his biography and learning about his life and turning that into actions. Others say by gathering to send peace and blessings on him. Some others say by introducing his example to others through books, poems, or literature. Some say by fasting and praying to Allah to bless his soul and reward him for what he has done for us. Others say by memorizing his words and communicating them to mankind.
Yet, none will say that it is a religious injunction or even a recommendation to eat the sweets that are made in Egypt and participate in these processions.
What you see in Cairo is definitely unique because Egypt is a den of culture and history, due to the fact that it was ruled by so many dynasties and variant rulers from different parts of the world who brought their cultures with them and added more flavor to the diversity of Cairo.
Of all the people who ruled Egypt, the Fatimids brought a lot of new and strange practices with them, some of which have died out and others still live till today. Some of these practices that are still alive include the Ramadan lanterns and the sweets of the Prophet's birthday, and other practices that relate to this event. We cannot say that these are religious practices; they are just cultural things that even differ from one country to the other.
One last point remains, all Muslims all over the world, with their different cultures and backgrounds, see the Prophet's birth as one of the happiest events that happened to the world.
This is because they see his blessed coming as marking a renewal of the connection between heavens and earth, a start of a new phase in the life of humanity where all people were able to stand on equal footing and claim same rights and stand free from the enslavement of ignorance and superstitions.
To Muslims, the birth of Prophet Muhammad means the birth of the light that has enlightened the hearts and the minds. In the very famous collections of the sayings of the Prophet, known as the authentic book of Al-Bukhari, we read some of his descriptions, as described in the Torah:
O Prophet, We have sent you as a witness, a bearer of glad tidings, a warner and a guide to mankind. You are my servant and messenger, I gave you the description 'al-mutawakil' (the one who places his trust in God). He is not harsh or tough, nor noisy in the streets. He does not reward an evil deed with an evil deed; rather, pardons and forgives. Allah will not take him (in death) until blind eyes, closed ears and sealed hearts are open through his mission.
It is for all these great things that the Prophet's birth is such a great and distinguished event that should be enjoyed and received with joy and thanks, not dance and superstitions.
I hope this answers you question. Please keep in touch.