About the celebration of Mawlid nabawî (celebration of the anniversary of the birth of the prophet)

About the celebration of Mawlid nabawî (celebration of the anniversary of the birth of the prophet)

Mawlid Ennabaoui will be celebrated on Thursday September 28, 2023

Debates over the advisability or permissibility of celebrating the birth anniversary of the Prophet (al-Mawlid al-nabawî) do not date from our time. As evidenced by the fatwa written at the end of the 9th/15th centurye century by the great scholar Jalâl al-Dîn al-Suyûtî (d. 911/1505). Before him, others ‘ulama’renowned had already written booklets entitled Mawlidin honor of the Prophet (Ibn al-Jawzî, Ibn Kathîr, etc.), or had taken a position in favor of this celebration.

Thus, Ibn Taymiyya himself (d. 1328) declares in his book Iqtidâ’ al-sirât al-mustaqîm : “We celebrate the Mawlidout of love and reverence for the Prophet.” The Suyûtî fatwa has the advantage of, on the one hand, tracing the history of the celebration of Mawlid, on the other hand to provide the endorsement of an eminent Islamic scholar to the recognition of this celebration. Let us first present – ​​if necessary – Suyûtî. It’s a ‘âlimencyclopedist, versatile, who mastered many Islamic disciplines and also wrote on the most varied subjects. Note that he is the most prolific author of Islamic literature, since around a thousand works are attributed to him (1)! In the abundance of his work, what stands out overall is his attachment to the Muhammadan prophetic model. For him, as for Junayd before, it is the only path leading to God. He himself declared that the discipline in which he felt most at ease was that of the “science of hadith “.

For our author certainly, this model cannot be transmitted solely by bookish science; it needs to be experienced from within. Suyûtî therefore practiced the Sufi Way, and had as his master a sheikh of the tarîqaShâdhiliyya, Muhammad al-Maghribî (d. 911/1505). No surprise, therefore, that he developed here and there the esoteric dimension of the Muhammadan message(2). Our Egyptian scholar thus established a personal, mystical relationship with the spiritual person of the Prophet. In this sense, he claims to have seen it more than seventy times in his waking state (yaqazatan), which constitutes, in Sufism itself, a favor rarely granted. Contemporaries also reported visions during which the Prophet met Suyûtî and called him “ shaykh al-Sunnah (3)”. And the latter stipulates, like other Sufis or ‘ulama’spiritualists, that the Prophet can entertain, during visions, such initiate of the validity or not of a hadithgiven.

Historical overview of the celebration ofMawlid nabawi

Suyûtî attributes the initiative of this celebration to a Sunni prince, of the Ayyubid dynasty, who reigned over the Kurdish city of Irbil, 80 km from Mosul: Muzaffar al-Dîn Kökbürî. This prince would have started to celebrate the Mawlidat the very beginning of the VII/XIIIe century, i.e. from 605/1208. According to the chronicles of the time, it was a kind of festival which attracted a lot of people and which owes a lot, in fact, to the Sufis of the region: they animated the ceremony with the dhikr and the sama’.
We can say that, since this ceremony has existed in Muslim countries, political leaders have needed the support of Sufi circles more than the reverse. The traveler Ibn Jubayr (d. 614) mentions, in his Rihal, the celebration of Mawlid for the same period, in Mecca.
Other sources claim that the Fatimids (Egypt and Syria) were the first to celebrate Mawlid. When we know that the Fatimids, a Shiite Ismaili dynasty, were the rivals of the Sunni Ayyubids, it is hardly surprising that there is such ideological escalation. We also know that the Sunni Kurdish prince Nûr al-Dîn Zengui (d. 1174) – Saladin’s uncle – wrote a text of praise, from Damascus, in honor of the Prophet.

Besides the fact that the celebration organized by Muzaffar al-Dîn Kökbürî was well identified in historical sources (Ibn Khallikân devoted a detailed description to it), it is obvious that Suyûtî, a pronounced Sunni and legitimist concerning the question of the Abbasid caliphate, did not was not going to promote in his fatwa a hypothetical Shiite origin for the celebration of Mawlid… In reality the appearance of the ceremony of Mawlidhistorically corresponds to the needs, for the Muslim community, to gather around the person of the Prophet in times of crisis: let us recall that since 1099, the Crusaders have invested part of the Middle East (Syria, Palestine), and that, at In the East, the danger of the Mongolian surge is increasingly looming.

Context of the Suyûtî fatwa

According to several authors, theMawlid nabawiexperienced its true development at the time of Suyûtî, that is to say at the end of the Mamluk period(4). In Cairo, the ceremony takes on an official character, at the Citadel, in the presence of the Mamluk sultan, emirs, ‘ulama’and Sufis of course. But its popular festive aspect is not eclipsed. The sheikhs celebrate it in their zawiyasurrounded by their disciples and numerous guests (5).

We are at a time when the notion of the “Muhammadian Way” is increasingly emerging, which must unite and bring together all the particular initiatory paths. However, the question of the legality of the celebration of Mawlidstill arises here and there. This debate is evidenced by the Suyûtî fatwa, which aims to provide a substantiated and definitive response.

This fatwa is of particular importance due to the fame of its author during his lifetime: Suyûtî delivered legal opinions at the request of a wide audience stretching from India to Sahelian Africa (al-Takrûr). No surprise then, that we find traces of the influence of this fatwa as far as the Maghreb (6). Suyûtî’s method consists of citing many previous authorities which, for the most part, agree with him. This referencing, as we know, constitutes the only way in Islamic culture to establish one’s opinion. Suyûtî thus relies on recognized scholars such as al-‘Izz Ibn ‘Abd al-Salâm, al-Nawawî, Ibn al-Hâjj, Ibn Hajar, etc. But he also knows how to give voice to his doctrinal adversaries… before refuting them.

The argument developed in the fatwa

The text is titled Husn al-maqsid fi ‘amal al-Mawlid“The good intention regarding the celebration of Mawlid “, and it is incorporated in the collection of fatwas that Suyûtî collected at the end of his life and which is entitled al-Hâwî lil-fatâwî(7). Suyûtî mainly develops the theme that this celebration is certainly about innovation (bid’a), but that not all innovation is blameworthy (madhmuma).
On the contrary, this is a “laudable” innovation (hasana), or even recommended (manduba). Suyûtî even specifies that, in certain cases, an innovation may prove obligatory, essential (wajiba). Furthermore, he specifies that, once he became a prophet, Muhammad celebrated for himself the ‘aqîqawhile his grandfather ‘Abd al-Muttalib had already practiced it for him at his birth: this piece of information is in line with the commemoration of his birth by the Muslim community.

The meaning of commemorating the birth of the Prophet Muhammad is to give thanks to God (izhâr al-shukr)for having sent him as a prophet who brought Islam, and as a mercy to all beings. This gratitude is naturally accompanied by the joy that Muslims, and more specifically those who attend the celebration, can share. And Suyûtî mentions that the Prophet’s disbelieving uncle, Abû Lahab, had his fate improved in hell simply because he rejoiced at the birth of Muhammad. It is therefore the intention of thanksgiving and rejoicing that must be taken when organizing the Mawlid.

Like previous scholars, Suyûtî draws a comparison between this celebration and the establishment by the caliph ‘Umar Ibn al-Khattâb of the prayer of Tarawîh, during the month of Ramadan. We find in all this, he writes, no contradiction either with the Koran or with the Sunnabecause it is part of “beautiful action”, of the “search for excellence” (al-ihsan). Simply, we must distinguish the celebration as recommended by the ‘ulama’and the Sufis, reprehensible practices which may have been introduced there.

In this regard, Suyûtî gives fairly precise indications on the content and progress of the commemoration of the Mawlid : throughout the month of Rabi’ al-awwal, during which Muhammad was born, one must practice goodness, multiply alms, etc. During the ceremony itself, it is recommended to gather together to read the Quran, feed the poor, read passages of tradition concerning the birth of the Prophet and the miraculous signs that accompanied it, sing poems in his praise , and of course avoid any excess of popular religiosity (dance, music, etc.).

When we consider the scientific and spiritual authority of Suyûtî, and that of the previous scholars whom he cites (al-‘Izz Ibn ‘Abd al-Salâm, al-Nawawî, Ibn al-Hâjj, Ibn Hajar…), we remains dismayed by the peremptory ignorance of these contemporary Muslims for whom the Mawlid is a reprehensible innovation, and who rail against the celebration of the birth of the one who was sent “as a mercy to the worlds”(8).

In partnership with the Sufi Conscience Foundation

(1)See article al-Suyûtîin the Encyclopedia of Islam, 2e edition, by Éric Geoffroy – volume IX, p. 951-954.
(2) See for example his little work entitled al-Bâhir fî hukm al-nabî bi l-bâtin wa l-zâhir.
(3)Cf. Sha’rânî, al-Tabaqât al-sughrâ, Cairo, 1970, p. 28-29.
(4)JS Trimingham, The Sufi Orders, Oxford, 1971, 27; NJG Kaptein, Muhammad’s Birthday Festival, Leiden – New York, 1993, p. 5, 48.
(5)E. Geoffroy, Sufism in Egypt and Syria under the last Mamluks and the first Ottomans: spiritual orientations and cultural issues, IFEAD, Damas-Paris, 1995, p. 106.
(6) Kaptein, Muhammad’s Birthday Festival, op. cit., p. 45.
(7)al-Hâwî lil-fatâwî, Beirut, nd, volume 1, p. 251 – 262.