One hot topic (or debate I should say) in modern Islam is whether or not it’s permissible for us to celebrate birthdays, whether our own or our friends’ etc. I’m tackling this topic today because it’s my birthday, I turned 21 today! Yesterday marked a whole year since I “formally” accepted Islam too, but I studied it for almost two years before I decided that this was the religion for me. So let’s tackle another controversial issue that has everyone divided…
The first thing I’m going to say about the topic is that I celebrate my own birthday. From time to time I will celebrate a friend of family member’s birthday too if their celebration doesn’t involve anti-Islamic things like drinking alcohol and the like. If that’s the case then I will politely decline to attend but I’ll give them a card to let them know that I love them and care about them anyway. While I appreciate all of my friends each and every day of my life, I mark their birthday as the day that God brought an incredible blessing into this world and I thank Him for the day when the world became a slightly better place because that person came into it.
You don’t have to go far to find all the people saying that celebrating a birthday is completely forbidden, but there are also those who say that it’s allowed as long as it doesn’t involve things that are clearly forbidden in Islam. The forbidden side say that it’s an innovation of the faith (we all know Muslims don’t like those) and that it has un-Islamic originals, therefore it’s prohibited. The permissible side say that since it’s not the religious holiday of another faith and that it doesn’t involve prohibited things, it’s allowed because Islam doesn’t seek to strip a person of their culture or heritage. Plus, the Quran never outlaws birthday celebrations.Personally, I see it as a cultural thing no different than something like Canada Day, which Canadian Muslims adore because after all, what’s not to love about this country? Except maybe the super cold climate….
You can read various p.o.v. from another blog written by a fellow Muslim about this issue with almost a hundred comments on whether or not it’s permissible to celebrate a birthday by people from a wide range of beliefs and backgrounds. The purpose of this article is not to impose my belief about birthdays on you, it’s to make you think for yourself. Whether you celebrate your birthday (or something else like a national holiday or a wedding anniversary, etc.) or not it’s ultimately a decision between you and God and it should be respected by those who believe differently than you, but I’ll tell you why I don’t have a problem with birthdays as long as they don’t include forbidden things.
But why would anyone celebrate something that signifies that you’re one year closer to death? That’s much like the endless debate over whether the cup is half full or half empty. It’s all about perspective. Some people hate the idea of getting a year older, while others see a long life as a blessing and something to rejoice over because so many never make it that far. That’s the way I see it. I’ve been no stranger to tragedy in my short life and the blessing of seeing another year is something I hold on dearly to. But that’s not really the issue, so, moving on…
You can read a variety of viewpoints on Quora when it comes to birthdays but since even some of the most conservative Muslims in Saudi Arabia celebrate the Prophet’s birthday, how dare they say that you can’t celebrate your own? Whether or not it’s “appropriate” to celebrate the Prophet’s birthday is another intense issue but that’s not the point here. The point is, how can you allow one but prohibit the other? And what about your country’s national day? We all have one don’t we? Even if a birthday is an innovation, you can’t say that it’s the worst that’s being passed around in modern Islam. I don’t really believe that a person’s birthday is an innovation added to the faith, I think it’s a cultural thing that is not related to religion. In some societies birthdays have never been part of the deal, hence it’s also fine if you don’t like them and prefer to skip them, but I enjoy having them part of my society.
There’s another interesting point of view about birthdays here but I should add that based on the words of Mufi Muhammad, I don’t believe that music and singing are prohibited in Islam as I’ve written about before on this blog. However, I agree that your birthday also shouldn’t include extravagant things, lavish and excessive spending, and forgetting God and other stuff that’s clearly not Islamic, but I see nothing that would indicate that acknowledging or observing your birthday is wrong. It may not be encouraged since it can turn into a bad habit, but ultimately it’s all about intentions. I want to share a quote I found on Yahoo when researching both sides of the issue myself from Sheikh Faysal Mawlawi:
Permissibility is the original ruling in this case, as there is no evidence of prohibition. The principle of not following the Jews and Christians is really required in matters of their false claims and beliefs in relation to religion. Such beliefs are no more than disbelief from an Islamic perspective.
Islam supports the celebration of birthdays if it is an expression of gratitude to Allah for His bounties, sustenance and blessings in man’s life, as long as that celebration does not include anything that may displease Allah, the Almighty. In this context the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was asked about fasting on Mondays, and he answered: “It is the day on which I was born.” Muslim scholars take this hadith and the hadith of fasting on the Day of `Ashura’ (10th of Mharram) as evidence on the permissibility of celebrating good occasions, which have special significance in our religion such as occasions like the birthday of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).
In this context, people must be aware that celebrating such occasions, e.g. the Prophet’s birthday, is no more than a matter of habit, and by no means a religious requirement. However, if it entails any forbidden practices, such a celebration becomes forbidden for that reason alone. Moreover, a celebration of this sort becomes recommended if it includes recommended acts of worship.
It is also right to say that such celebrations contain some aspects of innovation, however it is an innovation in matters of popular habits not in matters of religion. Actually innovation in habits is not prohibited. What is prohibited in this context is innovation in religion, as indicated in a well-known Prophetic hadith.
By analogy, there is nothing wrong in celebrating birthdays, as long as the celebration does not include any forbidden practices.
While I accept that those who say that birthdays are forbidden have some good arguments too, I have found nothing from my own research that would indicate that a birthday celebration (within the bounds of what is permissible) should be prohibited. When it comes to the little things and the technicalities of a birthday, I guess you’ll have to decide for yourself whether or not it’s acceptable. At the end of the day only God knows best, but I see no indication that I should refrain from celebrating my 22nd birthday next year if God blesses me with life until then.
I haven’t always celebrated my birthday. When I was younger I didn’t have your classic pool parties popular with kids in the summertime because we couldn’t afford them, but as I got older I came to understand that a birthday isn’t about a big money-motivated party, it’s actually a time of gratitude to God. Some years I have cake (or other food like caramel apple pie) and some years I don’t depending on how I feel but my birthday is always a day where I feel extra blessed by both God and those who love me. For me a birthday is another reason to thank God and get closer to Him. But for those whom this might end up being a stumbling block for them, it’s best to abstain. Next year I think I might opt for the foods super high in calories either before or after my birthday and fast on the actual day and see what ends up of that spiritual experience.
This year I even found some cute Islamic-themed birthday cards with uplifting quotes and scripture inside that I will definitely be happy to send to my friends to remind them on their special day that God makes no junk and that they are a valuable part of His plan. May God bless me with another year to continue to serve Him and His beautiful creations. May God accept my actions to make this world a better place for all who live in it. What do you think? Please share your thoughts but be respectful of commenters who believe differently than you.