“Is it haram to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and would this count as bidah even though it does not have to do with worship? JazakAllah Kheir.”
The issue of celebrating birthdays and anniversaries has been discussed by our scholars for some time now. They have ruled these celebrations as being haram (unlawful) due to many reasons which include that these celebrations are an imitation of the practices of the non-Muslims, they are innovations in the islamic legislation, and they have no origin in our religion. However, of recent some callers to Islam have attempted to challenge this position by arguing that they are halal because they are customs, are not innovations, and that the legislation does not give any ruling on them. These types of arguments have been presented by the likes of Salman al-‘Awdah, Yasir Qadhi, and others. The following is a detailed response to these doubts:
First doubt: there is a difference between communal celebrations and personal/individual celebrations
Those who claim that birthdays and anniversaries are halal argue that the Islamic legislation has mentioned and defined the communal celebrations, but says nothing about personal/individual celebrations. Therefore, personal celebrations remain on the origin of permissibility. To begin, dividing celebrations into communal and private does not have any proof for in the Qur’an and Sunnah. However, in the term communal appears in the Legislative definition of the word (عِيد). For example, Shaikh ul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728 H.), may Allah have mercy upon him, defined Eid as: “Whatever repeats in terms of a public gathering in a regular manner, either repeating every year, or every week, or every month, or the likes”. End. [See: Iqtidaa as-Siraat al-Mustaqeem (1/496)]. A similar definition of Eid has been given by many other scholars as well [See: Mughni al-Muthaaj (1/310), as-Sihaah (2/515), Anees al-Fuqahaa (pg. 40), and others]
So while an Eid is a communal celebration, that is not the only part of its definition. To claim that a celebration which is personal is permissible because it is not communal is to restrict the definition of Eid to only mean communal celebrations. In reality, the term Eid can include three matters as Shaikh ul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728 H.), may Allah have mercy upon him, wrote: “So Eid combines between a number of affairs. From them is a recurring day, like the Day of Fitr and Friday; from it is gathering in it. Also from it are actions that follow therein from acts of worship or customs. An Eid may be specified by a particular place and it may be unrestricted. All of these affairs are called Eid”. End. [Iqtidaa as-Siraat al-Mustaqeem (1/444)]
So the term Eid (festival) is used to refer to a recurring celebration, a public gathering, and actions done on that day whether they be religious or customary. So it is not correct to limit the meaning of Eid to a communal celebration and exempt personal celebrations because even though these celebrations are done privately, then they are still done consistently (i.e. yearly). Thus, they are still Eids. It is for those reasons, Shaikh ul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah (may Allah have mercy upon him) wrote: “If a gathering is introduced which is additional to these recurring gatherings [i.e. Eid, Jumu’ah, five daily prayers], then that resembles what Allah legislated and established as a sunnah, unlike what a person does alone or with a specific group of people sometimes […]”. End. [Iqtidaa as-Siraat al-Mustaqeem (1/638) and ‘Amr bi-Itibaa’ wa Nahi ‘An al-Ibtidaa’ (pg. 65-66) of Imam as-Suyuti (d. 911 H.)]
For argument’s sake, if we accepted that personal celebrations are exempt from Eids, then what is intended by personal/individual celebrations? It is unclear because birthdays and anniversaries, which are supposed to be personal/individual, involve the gathering of others, therefore fulfilling the definition of an Eid. For example, Salman al-‘Awdah, who is one the foremost in arguing for the permissibility of birthdays and anniversaries, wrote: “That which is apparent to me is that these individual celebrations, such as a child gathering his friends and relatives for a [birthday] celebration, is innocent and subconscious and does not carry any ideological deviation. For verily the origin in it is permission and not prevention […]”. End. [Reference]
So within al-‘Awdah’s definition of an individual celebration is the gathering of others for there is no real birthday or anniversary except that people come together to celebrate it. It is not done alone. So from here we realize that the division between individual/private celebration and public celebration is a very vague, ambiguous division that not only lacks evidence but clarity.
In addition, those who argue that birthdays and anniversaries are permissible claim that the Hadith of Anas bin Malik (may Allah be pleased with him), about the Prophet (ﷺ) replacing the two days in which the People of al-Madinah used to play in, is in regards to a communal celebration. This is what Yasir Qadhi claimed despite that none of our earlier scholars interpreted the Hadith in this manner. This Hadith will be explained later. Thus, this first point about dividing celebrations into individual and communal is futile. What is more surprising is that some argue that birthdays and anniversaries are permissible if we do not call them that, Eids, such that Dar al-Ifta of Egypt who claimed that birthdays and anniversaries are not festivals according to the literal meaning of the word, and that they are fine as long as we do not refer to them this way! [See here]. This is clearly ignoring the reality at hand.
Second doubt: Birthdays and anniversaries are not and cannot be innovations because they are not done as an act to draw near to Allah.
This doubt is probably the most commonly heard one in defence of birthdays and anniversaries. Most of the scholars who say that birthdays and anniversaries are haram argue that they are innovations. As we know, the definition of innovation is to introduce something new into the religion that the Prophet (ﷺ) and his companions (may Allah be pleased with them) did not do. Imam ash-Shaatibi (d. 790 H.), may Allah have mercy upon him, gave one of the most comprehensive and widely accepted definitions of innovations. He wrote: “The religious innovation, in this meaning, is an invented way in religion, to imitate what is ordained by Shari’ah, intended thereby to exceed the due limits in the worship of Allah” [al-‘Itisaam (pg. 24) of the DKI English Translation]. Later on in the same book he wrote: “That the religious innovation is an invented way in religion intended thereby to attain worship in the utmost manner or realize the best of benefits” [al-‘Itisaam (pg. 29) of the DKI English Translation].
This is the understanding that most Muslims have about innovations. So how come our scholars refer to celebrations, like birthdays and anniversaries, as innovations if the people who perform them are not intending to draw nearer to Allah? The reply to that is as follows:
1) Festivals and celebrations are considered acts of worship and not acts of customs. This is a very important point. Shaikh ul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah (may Allah have mercy upon him) wrote:
“Festivals are from legislation, methodologies, and ritual ceremonies which Allah, the Exalted said about
“For every nation We have ordained religious ceremonies which they must follow” [22: 67]
such as the Qiblah, the prayer, and fasting. So there is no difference between participating with them (the disbelievers) in the Eid and between participating with them in the rest of their methodologies. For verily conforming with them in all Eids is to agree in disbelief. Conforming with them in some subsidiary issues is to conform in a branch of disbelief. Rather the Eids (festivals) are from the most specific of things which distinguishes between the [different] legislations”. End. [‘Iqtidaa as-Siraat al-Mustaqeem (1/470)]
Likewise, Shaikh Muhammad bin Ibraahim Aal Shaikh (d. 1389 H.), may Allah have mercy upon him, said, “Festivals (Eids) are all from the chapter of worship”. End. [Fatawaa Shaikh Muhammad bin Ibraahim (3/106)]
Shaikh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen (d. 1421 H.), may Allah have mercy upon him, said:
“Specifying the days, months, or years with a festival returns to the legislation and not to customs. So like this, when the Prophet (ﷺ) arrived to al-Madinah, they had two days in which they would play. So he (ﷺ) said:
“What are these two days”. They said: “We used to play in them in days of ignorance”. So the Prophet (ﷺ) said: “Verily Allah has replaced these days with two days better than them: the Day of al-Adhaa and Day of al-Fitr” [Saheeh Sunan Abi Dawood (no. 1134)]
If the Eids (festivals) in Islam followed customs, then the people would introduce an Eid for every event and the legislated eids would not have much benefit”. End. [Majmoo’ Fatawaa wa Rasaa’il (16/203)]
So from here we see that Eids (festivals) are connected to the legislation and worship and not customs. The callers who claim that birthdays and anniversaries are permissible claim that they are from customs and thus the origin is permissibility. However, the major scholars of our Ummah clearly state that they are from the acts of worship and the origin in the acts of worship is prohibition unless you have proof. Thus, from here we understand that when the scholars say that birthdays and anniversaries are innovations it is because introducing any act into the realm of worship that Allah did not permit is an innovation, as it comes in the Hadith of ‘Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her)
that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “He who innovates something in this matter of ours (i.e. Islam) that is not of it will have it rejected (by Allah)” [al-Bukhari and Muslim].
Sadly, those who permit birthdays and anniversaries deceive the laity by calling these acts are customs and therefore they cannot be innovations. This is wrong and not how the earlier scholars understood the issue. To further establish this point that celebrations are from the acts of worship and not customs, we return to the Hadith of Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) cited earlier.
Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) said: “When the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) came to al-Madinah, the people had two days on which they played. He asked: What are these two days (what is the significance)? They said: We used to play on them in the Pre-Islamic period. The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: Allah has substituted for them something better than them, the day of sacrifice and the day of the breaking of the fast” [Reported by Abu Dawood (no. 1134) and an-Nasaai (no. 1556). Graded Saheeh by Imam al-Albani in Saheeh Sunan Abi Dawood (no. 1134)].
Shaikhul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah (may Allah have mercy upon him) said:
“The Hadith proves the prohibition of imitating the disbelievers in their festivals because the Prophet(ﷺ) did not confirm the two Eids in Jahiliyyah and he did not leave them to play on those days out of custom. He said ‘He replaced them’ and replacing necessitates leaving off that which is being substituted since there is no gathering between the substitute and that which is being substituted. So like this, this phrase is not used except for leaving off combining between both affairs”. End. [‘Iqtidaa as-Siraat ul-Mustaqeem (1/432-433) and Fayd ul-Qadeer (4/511)].
So from here we see that the Prophet (ﷺ) changed these two days in which the People of al-Madinah used to play for two better days: Eid ul-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. The Prophet (ﷺ) did not allow them to continue to play during these days out of custom because, as mentioned earlier, all festivals are from the angle of worship and therefore restricted to the legislation. If celebrations were considered customs, the Prophet (ﷺ) would not prohibit them from playing on those two days merely out of customs. But since celebrations are from worship, then he (ﷺ) prohibited them because the Eids in Islam are defined and restricted.
While on this topic, it is important to note that Yasir Qadhi claims that the above Hadith is not a prohibition of customary celebrations because the Prophet (ﷺ) said ‘better than them’ and not prohibition. Qadhi said: “Substitution does not indicate tahreem (prohibition). If the Prophet (ﷺ) wanted to, he could have said, very easily, Allah has forbidden any Eids except for our Two Eids. That would have … that wording, we could have forbidden any national secular holiday. That wording. But he didn’t” [Fiqh of Celebrations at the 1:17: 00 min mark until 1:17:22 min mark found here]. This speech of Qadhi shows his lack of understanding of the Hadith.The Scholars of Hadith explain that the Prophet (ﷺ) used the wording “better” not to indicate that there is good in the two days in Jahiliyyah, but to show that the two day of Eid are superior [See: ‘Awn al-Ma’bood (3/360) of Imam al-‘Adheemabaadi (d. 1329 H.)].
The Prophet (ﷺ) did intend to prohibit these days as Shaikh ul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah (may Allah have mercy upon him) said. He wrote: “It is evidence that he (ﷺ) prohibited them from these two days (i.e. the two days that they used to play in during the Days of Ignorance) replacing them with the two days of Islam. If the intent was not prohibition, then he (ﷺ) would not have mentioned this appropriate substitution […]”. End. [‘Iqtidaa as-Siraat al-Mustaqeem (1/434)]. Thus, it is sad to see Yasir Qadhi make such statements knowing full well that the scholars understood the Hadith to mean a prohibition and not simply a dislike of the festivals celebrated before Islam. More surprising is that he makes reference to Shaikh ul-Islaam’s excellent work ‘Iqtidaa as-Siraat al-Mustaqeem throughout the course of his video on this topic, but he fails to cite the Shaikh’s speech on the Hadith for some strange reason.
2) Another way of showing that birthdays and anniversaries are innovations is returning to the definition of innovation. For argument’s sake, if we assume that birthdays and anniversaries are only customs and not part of worship, then even then they can be considered innovations. This is because the definition of innovation, according to some scholars, also includes customs. From the foremost scholars who held this view is none other than Imam ash-Shaatibi (may Allah have mercy upon him) whose definition of innovation is often cited by the scholars.
Imam ash-Shaatibi (may Allah have mercy upon him), during his discussion about innovation, discussing whether or not customs are included. He writes:
“It is well-established in the fundamentals of the Shari’ah that any normal habit should have a side of worship. The worship includes such commands and prohibitions that are beyond reason in detail, like performance of ablution, prayer, fasting, Hajj, and so. The normal habits include the things which are within the reach of mind, whose benefit and evil are known, like transaction, marriage, divorce, contracts, and crimes: the rulings of those are within the reach of mind”. End. [al-‘Itisaam (pg. 415) of the DKI English Translation with minor]. The Imam also said something similar in his work “Muwāfaqāt Fī Uṣūl Al-Sharīʻah (Reconciliation of The Fundamentals Of Islamic Law) (2/239). Imam ash-Shaatibi’s argument is that customs have an aspect of worship connected to them, thus they are susceptible to innovations. The definition of an act of worship is an action that is legislated by Allah and whose juristic reason for its legislation in detail is not known to us. Thus, if the benefits and harms of that action are not clearly known to us, it would not resemble a custom but resemble more of an act of worship. Hence, even if someone did not intend to draw near to Allah through a particular custom, due to it resembling an act of worship it can be still considered an innovation according to some scholars [For more details on this, see: Qai’dah fil-‘Ayaad by Shaikh Sulaymaan bin Maajid and also see his work: Daabit al-Bid’ah wa Tadkhuluhu].
The summary is that even if we assumed that celebrations/festivals are from customs, then it is possible for it to still be an innovation. It is not like how Yasir Qadhi’s claim when he said: ” . . With utmost respect, this is the weakest argument. It cannot be bid’ah because when you celebrate the birthday of your five-year old kid, do you expect Allah to reward you for that? Is it part of the religion? No. You have not understood the meaning of bid’ah with utmost respect even though you might be more knowledgeable than me in a million and one things. It can’t be bid’ah. This is just wrong . . .” [Permissibility of Celebrating Birthdays and Anniversaries (2 min mark until 2: 20 min mark) as seen here].
In Allah Aid is Sought! Rather it is he who did not properly understand the meaning of innovation. Our scholars have called birthdays and anniversaries as innovation due to the above reasoning and the following:
3) Another reason why the scholars have declared birthdays and anniversaries as being innovations is because Allah has enumerated the number of Eids in our Religion.
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “The Day of Arafah, the Day of Nahr, and the Days of Tashriq are Eid for us. The people of Islam, and they are days of eating and drinking” [Saheeh at-Tirmidhi (no. 773)].
Alongside these days is Jumu’ah (Friday prayer) which is the Eid of the week as it comes
on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: “The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: ‘This day is an ‘Eid (festival) which Allah has ordained for the Muslims” [Saheeh Ibn Majah (no. 908)]
Since Allah has restricted the Days of Eid to a specific number of days, then the celebration of any other Eid/festival is considered an innovation. Imam ad-Dardeer al-Maaliki (d.1201 H.), may Allah have mercy upon him, said: “Verily if the legislator restricted something, whatever is additional to that is an innovation”. End. [ash-Sharh al-Kabeer (1/673)]. Thus, along with the points mentioned above, this is another reason as to why celebrating birthdays and anniversaries are innovations. Sadly those who argue that birthdays and anniversaries are allowed ignore these evidences and understanding and rely merely on logic and generalities. The scholars have referred to birthdays and anniversaries as innovations with knowledge and deep understanding of the topic.
Third doubt: Birthdays and Anniversaries are not imitating the disbelievers
This is another doubt mentioned by those who allow birthdays and anniversaries. They say that birthdays and anniversaries are not considered imitating the disbelievers. This is incorrect. Imitating the disbelievers means to follow them in something that is specific to them and as we established above that festivals are from worship and from the most defining aspects that distinguish one religion from another. Thus, imitating them in something which is religious and specific to another people is haram in Islam. It is for those reasons the Prophet (ﷺ) said: “O Abu Bakr, every group of people has its festival and this is our festival” [al-Bukhari (no. 952)].
The vast majority of scholars consider it imitating the disbelievers including Shaikh ul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah [See:’Iqtidaa as-Siraat al-Mustaqeem (1/426-27)]. Sadly, Yasir Qadhi argues that birthdays and anniversaries are universal and not specific to one society or people. Thus, it is allowed. However this is if celebrations are from customs, but they are from the acts of worship and from the most specific of them. Therefore, such an argument does not hold.
Yasir Qadhi then makes a false analogy between the days of the week which have Pagan origins and between celebrating festivals. He said: “Then they say: O, but the origin is pagan. We already explained the origin is pagan means nothing because Tuesday is also pagan and we all know what Tuesday is”. End. [Permissibility of Celebrating Birthdays and Anniversaries (3:15 min mark until 3:23 min mark) as seen here].
This is a false analogy. First, the scholars who declare birthdays and anniversaries as imitating the disbelievers consider the Gregorian dates and calendar as being imitations of the disbelievers as well [See: Fatawaa al-Lajnah ad-Daa’imah (no. 20722)]. So there is no contradiction here as these scholars are consistent in their view. However, considering that we live in the west in which the Gregorian calendar is only used, then the scholars allow to use it out of need while also mentioning the Hijri calendar [See: Shaikh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen’s fatwa here].
Second, there is a difference between that which someone has no control over, such as the use of the names of the week such as Tuesday, and between something someone has control over, which is celebrating a non-Islamic celebration. To equate the two is a false analogy. While the origins of both are pagan, they do not have the same ruling. We use the names of the days of week, such as Tuesday out of a need which is totally different than celebrating holidays voluntarily. The former is done due to a need and necessity while the latter is done out of choice and wrongdoing. As the poet said:
ومَنْ يَأَتِي الأُمُورَ على اضْطرارٍ فَلَيْسَ كَمْثِلِ آتَيِهَا اخِتْيارًا
“Whoever approaches an affair out of necessity
Is not like the one who approaches to it out of choice”
End. [al-Waseet fi Taraajam Udabaa Shinqeet (pg. 247) and Adwaa al-Bayaan (2/133) of Imam ash-Shinqeeti]
Sadly, Yasir Qadhi deceives his audience into thinking that these two issues are the same and they are not.
In summary, birthdays and anniversaries are not allowed in Islam for the above-mentioned reasons. The doubts presented by those who permit birthdays and anniversaries are feeble and against the evidence. For those reasons the majority of our scholars have ruled these two types of celebrations to be unIslamic and not to be celebrated.
And Allah Knows Best
Faisal bin Abdul Qaadir bin Hassan