Reflection on Milad al Nabi
Aziz discusses the debate about celebrating the Prophet's birthday.
The rejoinder to my case above is to invoke alcohol as an analogy. “Millions of muslims drink and have been drinking for centuries, and that is clearly in violation of shari’a” goes the argument, “are you saying that drinking alcohol is validated by the precedent?”
Of course not. And a diligent reader will already note the flaw in the analogy, but let’s spell it out anyway. No muslim who drinks alcohol attempts to argue that there is merit in this act, or tries to defend the act within the context of Islam. There is no debate whatsoever about whether alcohol is permitted. There is no defense of alcohol as fostering piety or virtue of any kind. The debate over practices such as milad, in contrast, is not about something expressly forbidden, but about a pious action which is not expressly permitted.
The fundamental truth is that the diversity of the Ummah manifests itself in very human ways. Even accounting for all that is expressly forbidden in Shari’a, there is infinite space for cultural practice within Islam.
The doctrine against bid’a is misused as a sweeping legalistic injunction when it fact is limited in scope to the Deen itself. Those who seek to impose their views of what Islam should be, often implicitly admit by their actions that they are misusing bid’a itself, because their arguments are always accompanied by secondary attempts at delegitimizing the behavior they seek to forbid, such as ascribing the practice to Jews, or attempting to undermine the validity of other madhabs. For an example, see an essay series by Yasir Qadhi at Muslim Matters against observance of milad, which ostensibly sets out to be a dispassionate historical analysis of mawlid celebrations but then can’t help blaming Shi’a and Sufis in a classic guilt-by-association and delegitimization ploy.
It is indeed a fact that there is disagreement among Muslims of different madhabs as to which hadith to follow, who the descendants of the Prophet SAW are, and other general matters relating to how authority is defined. But that disagreement often strays into takfir; the accusation of heresy against Islam itself. Takfir is rarely invoked explicitly, but instead exists as an undercurrent of implication (though Yasir Qadhi barely suppresses his takfiri sentiments, especially when he talks about Ismailis). It’s an intellectually lazy tactic which fosters needless dispute between muslims and weakens the Ummah as a whole. It is sad to see so many ostensibly modern muslim intellectuals engage in it.