For many Muslims, especially in the last few years, the word Eid Milad un Nabi has become almost one of the dirty words you cannot pronounce. We have Independence Day, National Day, Defence Day and myriad other celebrations but nary a mention of Eid Milad un Nabi. The debate about whether or not Muslims should celebrate Eid Milad un Nabi has been raging for centuries. There are equally sincere and committed Muslims on both sides of the issue, each with multiple reasons why or why not Eid Milad un Nabi should be celebrated in Muslim homes.
While certain acts of revelry can be criticized as can be many other practices in most religious or communal rituals, none of the points opposing the celebration of Eid Milad un Nabi are without a certain amount of conjecture rather than being explicitly proof positive. For instance, one argument against Eid Milad un Nabi is that the traditions surrounding the celebration of the Prophet’s birthday have origins in paganism. Regardless of the fact that Islam retained or sanctioned some of the practices in Arabia preceding its advent, searching for reliable information on this topic is difficult because the origins of many of our traditions are so obscure that sources often contradict one another. The fact is that human beings, across time and cultures, have always used light, colours, decorations, and poetry to celebrate and the use of these in one’s home certainly does not indicate a return to paganism – neither on the day commemorating the Prophet’s birth nor on the National or any other day.
In my view there is no legitimate scriptural reason not to celebrate Eid Milad un Nabi. At the same time, there is no religious mandate to celebrate it, either. In the end, of course, whether or not to celebrate Eid Milad un Nabi is a personal decision. Whatever Muslims decide to do regarding Eid Milad un Nabi, their views should not be used as a club with which to beat down or denigrate those with opposing views, nor should either view be used as a badge of honour inducing pride over celebrating or not celebrating. For every person who chooses to abstain from celebrating Eid Milad un Nabi, others should be free to revere the holiday.
For me, what we are really doing at Eid Milad un Nabi time is celebrating the fact that Muhammad is an inseparable part of the affirmation of the Muslim’s faith, as avowal of his prophet-hood is eternally tied to Allah’s oneness as God. The simple fact that Muhammad was born and is the prophet of God is to be part of the Muslim’s thinking all of the time, every day of the year through the recitation of Kalima, at the least. So the issue isn’t whether to boycott or observe Eid Milad un Nabi, but to observe it properly. For me this is the most important day of joy and festivity worth remembrance in the Muslim year.
For many of us from Pakistan, this day holds a profound significance as the memories of a Pakistan which has now changed beyond recognition. The suburban and urban Pakistan I grew up in the ’70s was utterly traditional but very tolerant. I knew no one who would fight merely because of differences in faith, and neighbourhoods were largely nuclear and cohesive.
Growing up as a small boy, I couldn’t wait for Rabi ul Awal each year, especially the twelfth of the month. We always had special Rabi ul Awals. The cities wore festive looks, love and harmony pervaded the air, and there were large crowds everywhere. All the decorations of exterior lights, indoor candles, wreaths, and flags had been in place for several days, patiently setting the stage in advance for the day itself. Nobody got blown up for celebrating their Prophet’s birthday in those days. It was a wonderful period of the year when you had everyone around you having a good time. There was such a good spirit in the air, everybody was friendly and giving and that was lovely. The air reeked of unity and love.
I recall how my grandmother would tell me endless stories about the Prophet. Back then we used to have Milad celebrations, Naa’t renditions, Qawali concerts, festive illuminations, the whole works. I loved to hear Naa’ts and had them on in the car and at home. I loved listening to them because these were the only days I heard them intently. One of my favourites used to be “Ham madiney sey Allah kiyoo’n aa gaey, qalb e Hairaa’n ki takhti wahi’n reh gaee”. It has changed quite a bit now under the sway of extremist militancy but it is still my favourite season in the lunar calendar.
Now that all those beautiful “Barhwee’n Sharif” ceremonies are a distant memory like a lost dream, it still remains the happiest day of the year for me. I still love getting ready for this day and do a lot of celebrating and praying on this day. We also do whatever we can to make our home look nice and up to the occasion. I still get excited on Milad un Nabi morning and “Barhwee’n Sharif” meal is still a big meal in our household. The main thing to be done now on Milad un Nabi’s eve is to pray that it passes peacefully and without any major incident.
I vividly recall, and profoundly cherish, the magic of my childhood Eid Milad un Nabi. At the same time I cherish the memories of a Pakistan when the harmony and respect in Moharram and Rabi al Awal instilled in me at a young age the deepest possible love and mutual respect. And it is because of having lived through those wonderful climes, that hope has not yet deserted my heart.
A blissful Eid Milad un Nabi to everyone! And may the joy, hope, peace, and love of Muhammad’s (PBUH) life be with us throughout the entire year!