In the past several years I have had my own way of celebrating the Milad ul Nabi, it doesn’t include attending organized events. Rather, I dedicate the month of Rabi al Awal to reading a Seerah of the Prophet. This time I have been making it through Muhammad- Man and Prophet.
Sheikh Suhaib Webb had this wonderful post discussing the celebration of the Milad ul Nabi, from which I pulled the ruling on whether or not one should celebrate.
Whoever wants to celebrate the Prophet’s (sa) birthday should celebrate it and avoid doing any action contrary to Islamic Law. This act should be done with an intention that it is not a sunna nor an obligatory act. If these conditions are observed, and one is careful not to contradict Islamic Law, out of sincere love for the Prophet (Peace and blessing of Allah upon him), then, Allah willing, there is nothing wrong with this action and this person will be rewarded.
Commenting on this, the Shaykh of Islam Ibn Taymiyyah (May Allah have mercy upon him) said, “Indeed, such a person will be rewarded because of his intention.” Likewise, for the one who shuns this celebration, seeking to cling to the sunna out of fear of falling into innovation, then this person will also be rewarded, Allah willing. It is important to note that this is not a big issue. Nor is it necessary to give it more attention then it deserves.
The whole post is worth reading as its an English translation by Sheikh Webb of a fatwa issued by Sheikh bin Bayyah.
My Own Innovation
There is this American, Western maybe, concept of Person Religion and Social Religion. Progressive ideologue Walter Rauschenbusch, was the head of the Social Gospel movement, which was a theological and institutional response of the liberal evangelical Protestantism to the challenge brought by evolutionary biology, the Socialist embrace of atheism, and the religious entrenchment of individual-centered theology. Rauschenbusch advocated Christian socialism as a means of achieving the kingdom of God here on earth, rather then the gospel by many American Churches of individual salvation in the hereafter. His idea was that a “personal religion” is good, but it could not exist without the social responsibility a Christian (person of Faith) had toward society.
In that construct, I can say that while Islam has a very social aspect to it, there is a significant personal affair to one’s Islam. In one’s personal religion, one could celebrate the Mawlid as they see fit, which for me is how the Prophet was instructed in the first utterance by God through the angel Gabriel to him- “READ! Read in the name of your Lord!”
Islam is a engaging Faith, therefore it is all about active participation. It requires Muslims to think and reflect, and without reading and learning its hard to reflect and engage with the Faith from an un-informed perspective. Therefore, each year, I read a different biography of the Prophet, also known as a Seerah.
Through Salahi’s Seerah I pulled three aspects of the Seerah that I was inspired by this year.
- “On Charges of Torture, Etc., Etc., Etc.” was the title of a report the US Department of War issued after a decade of civilian agitation and horrific reports from US Marines about their participation in torture against Filipino’s. This was in the early 1900’s. But when you read the articles and editorials from that time, they might as well reflect the situation that exists in the US currently. In my first and third reflection on Salahi’s Seerah it was hard not to reflect on the campaign of persecution and torture carried out against the early Meccan Muslim community, especially given the release of the Senate Torture Report.
- “On Contextualizing Taif” I was still stuck on the psychological aspect of the Prophets circumstances. This blog reflection delved into portions of the Seerah that I never fully contextualized before, something that Salahi’s Seerah took pains to do more so then others. The Taif incident came at the heels of devastating loss and suffering to the Prophet, and was followed immediately by one of the most significant historical events for Muslims- the Night Journey of Isra-Miraj. It was after the string of suffering and pain, and a very poignant heartfelt prayer of desperation from the Prophet, that God’s awesomeness was revealed.
- “Stop Settling for Iramah’s Exchange” reflects on one of my favorite lessons gleaned from Salahi’s Seerah. In fact, this is the first time I ran across this incident in any of the Seerah’s I have read, which is one reasons why I believe Adil Salahi’s Muhammad: Man and Prophet stands out as a good English language Seerah.
On The Whatever
While the Mawlid is only a one day celebration, for some, we actually have an entire month where you can read up on the life of the Prophet. While not all Seerah’s are 800 page undertakings like Salahi’s Muhammad: Man and Prophet, you have the chance to focus on his life twice in this solar year (2015) as the Mawlid (in the Islamic Lunar calendar) will fall in late December, again! Here’s a short list to choose from:
- Dr. Tariq Ramadan’s In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad, is by far my favorite Seerah, as it is written to be relevant to contemporary Muslim life. Unlike the other Seerah’s that go through factual events, or historical analysis to explain the situation at that specific time, Dr. Ramadan focuses on connecting the historical events and lessons for contemporary Muslims living in the West, throughout the narrative he constructs on life of the Prophet. I had the pleasure of attending a Seerah conference where I got to hear Dr. Ramadan speak a few years ago, and it was what motivated me to read this Seerah. (It’s now available on Kindle!)
Muhammad: A Prophet for Our Time by Karen Armstrong was one of my first Seerah’s outside of the Islamic Sunday School childrens’ books. Its now available on Kindle as well, and like Dr. Ramadan’s its a short read, less then 300 pages. What’s unique about this is that Armstrong is not a Muslim and she wrote so eloquently about the Prophet’s life that it made me stop in my steps and wonder how it was that as a Muslim I didn’t have this sort of connection to the Prophets life. It also helped that I read this in a post-9/11 environment where I was being exposed to Islam and religion forcibly as a labeled identity, and not willingly as a person who was interested in exploring “faith/religion.”
- One Seerah that I did not like when I first read it, but I have grown to appreciate over time, is Martin Ling’s Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources. Ling converted to Islam, and as a Westerner, I had high hopes that he would help connect me to the Prophet’s life in a way that spoke from my American experience, like Armstrong in her first biography of the Prophet. But Armstrong was not Muslim, and in my just-getting-religious-paranoia I was highly suspect of Armstrong’s work and therefore wanted to read a Muslims Seerah. (Don’t ask, it’s insane looking back at that time as I type about it) However, Ling’s Seerah read like a narrative, without any of the analytical or critical aspects of a biography I had expected. Therefore, it felt a lot like reading Friday Khutbahs (sermons) or sitting through after prayer Khatirah’s (study circles). What I appreciate about Ling’s Seerah now, is that it serves as a great foundational timeline to help me sort through the analysis I ran into when I read other historical books. Therefore, to me, this is a good starting point for anyone just looking for straight event timeline narrative about the Prophet’s life, that isn’t child-oriented. Sadly, Ling’s seerah is not digitized, yet.