Over the past couple of weeks, social media has been inundated with controversial videos and statuses from two groups of Muslims on the permissibility of celebrating Prophet Muhammad's (peace be upon him) birthday, known as the "Mawlid". In recent years, this debate has been commonly attributed to Muslims from "Salafi" and "Barelvi" backgrounds.
Personally, I do not celebrate or acknowledge Prophet Muhammad's birthday, and have adopted one of two valid positions stated by classical and contemporary scholars regarding this matter. That said, I have friends and family members in abundance who do celebrate the Prophet's birthday, and I have never resorted to labelling them with derogatory names such as "deviants" or "heretics", as has been evident by some over the course of the recent debate.
In the earlier overzealous days of "practising Islam", this was one of many topics that I used to vehemently debate and argue about - in most cases, unable to convince a single person to change their stance and to adopt my own. But as years passed, and as I matured, it became apparent to me that there were wider issues that were affecting the Muslim community here in the UK and abroad.
Foreign occupation, Western-led wars, brutal oppression under tyrannical regimes, the looting of resources, unemployment and famine plagued the Muslim majority world. In the West, specifically the UK, Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crime was increasing, daily attacks by the mainstream media against Islam and Muslims were becoming a norm and passively tolerated, and the Government was churning out draconian policies which indiscriminately targeted Muslims and normative aspects of their faith under the guise of "combating extremism".
With all these issues on the horizon, I came to realise that debating topics such as the permissibility of celebrating Prophet Muhammad's birthday was a futile, trivial and fruitless pursuit for the following reasons:
1. Great scholars of the past discussed this matter in great detail, and they never reached a unanimous consensus on the issue. Respected contemporary scholars from across the theological and juristic spectrum have written and spoken on this subject, and they too have acknowledged that there is not an overall scholastic consensus on this matter.
2. There are far more pressing issues facing the Muslim community in the West and the Islamic world, as stated above. So in the grand scheme of things, it is very unwise to invest so much time and resources on a topic that has been exhausted in a far more honourable and respectful manner in the past than how it is being addressed today. In a nutshell, is it wise to immerse ourselves in intra-Muslim semantics whilst the house of Islam burns? I think not.
3. Muslim youth are in need of role models and guidance now more than ever before. Almighty God has blessed both camps that have been debating this issue with a considerable following, and with this following comes great responsibility. How conducive is this divisive rally between two groups of Muslims when the community is experiencing immense challenges, and the religion itself is under attack from muscular liberals and militant secularists? Furthermore, the two feuding sides should ask themselves, would the Companions of the Prophet, or the great generation that came after them, have engaged in such arguments if the very tenets of their religion were under attack from external forces?
In light of these points, if either of the debating camps are reading this, I wholeheartedly plea with you all, for the sake of Almighty God, the brotherhood of Islam, and the betterment of our religion, to stop this at once.
The "Mawlid debate" is one that has been discussed exhaustively, and very few have been convinced and won over by the other's presentations due to the sectarian and cultural baggage attributed to this sensitive topic.
Both camps may argue that the issue of the permissibility of celebrating the Prophet's birthday is at the root of a Muslim's creed - and it distinguishes between religious orthodoxy and deviancy. It can also be argued by some, that the never-ending calamities which the Muslim community is currently experiencing are a form of "punishment" for their creedal deviancy that has become so rife, and thus must be rectified. However, this latter point is one that I unequivocally disagree with.
Whatever the case may be, Islam has a long and rich tradition of intra-Muslim debates and scholastic dialogue, primarily aimed at enriching the community and bringing them closer to God. However, this ongoing "Mawlid debate" has surpassed that of any respectful etiquette of scholastic exchanges, and has been filled with casting suspicions, sectarian rhetoric and cultish behaviour.
Dearest brothers, I respectfully ask you with the utmost sincerity, hone your efforts and skills to something that will tangibly and spiritually benefit your followers. Channel your time and resources to something that will strengthen and unite the community at such a testing time in our history, for verily, this will be of greater good for us all in this life and the next.
Almighty God said in the Holy Qur'an:
"And hold firmly to the rope of God all together and do not become divided. And remember the favour of God upon you - when you were enemies and He brought your hearts together and you became, by His favour, brothers." [Quran 3:103]