Birthdays: To Celebrate or Not to Celebrate: A Rational Approach
“Say, “In the bounty of Allah and in His mercy – in that let them rejoice; it is better than what they accumulate.”
(Holy Quran 10: 58)
People often ask me my view on wishing and/or celebrating birthdays from the Islamic perspective. Usually I do not reply to such minor controversial issues. Upon insistence from several friends as well as dear readers of my blogs, I here have given a rational approach to the issue. I have given the unfavorable viewpoints first and then have given the favorable points.
Finally I will give my own viewpoint with a conclusion but still leave the final decision to the reader.
Celebrating birthdays-The Unfavorable Viewpoints
Why it may be haram (forbidden)?
1. It is a bida’a
This is one of the major objections raised against celebrating or wishing birthdays
Bida’a meaning an innovation in Deen of Islam, a new thing introduced in Islam which was not done by the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and his companions (RA).
Since celebrating birthdays has not been documented in early Islam, therefore it must be a Bida’a
2. One should NOT imitate the unbelievers
This is second of the major objections raised against celebrating or wishing birthdays. It is said that this is a Christian/pagan custom and therefore according to Islam, we should not be imitating the Non-believers.
Cutting of the cake, lighting of the candles & blowing on them etc are all pagan customs, not allowed in Islam.
3. Another year of one’s life has decreased
Scholars say that why should one celebrate when another year of one’s life has just decreased; one should be sad rather than being happy or celebrate about it.
4. It may lead to other Haram/evils
a. May lead to dance and music
The 3rd major objection about birthdays is that they lead to Haram. Often birthdays are accompanied by such entertainment in which music is turned on and people dance to it. Scholars have strong objection to this as well.
b. May lead to waste of money
Sometimes extraordinarily huge amount of money is spent on celebrating birthdays, which goes into the category of ‘Israaf’, which Islam has prohibited
c. May lead to waste of time; prayers may be forgotten
Sometimes a huge amount of time is wasted at these birthdays and people often even ignore daily prayers.
d. May involve mixing of sexes
Often birthdays are mixed gatherings, not necessarily within the family, but also involving friends and such gatherings are not permissible per se in Islam.
e. May lead to idealizing personalities and shirk
Some scholars say that highly revering a famous personality, especially on his/her birthday may lead to idol-worship which is Shirk (associating someone with Allah, which is the most dangerous and an unforgiveable sin in Islam).
Celebrating birthdays-The Favorable Viewpoints
Why it may NOT be haram?
1. Not mentioned in Holy Quran and Sahih Hadith
There is no Quranic verse or saying of the Holy Prophet stating that celebrating birthdays is haram (forbidden).
According to a thumb rule by Sheikh ibn Taymiyyah (RA): “In things dealing with worship, what is mentioned in the Quran & Sahih Hadith is Halal, and what is not mentioned is Haram”
But in worldly affairs (Mu’amalaat): “What is mentioned in the Quran and Sahih Hadith as Haram is Haram, but what is not mentioned may fall in the Halal (allowed, permissible), Mubaah (neither forbidden nor recommended), Mustahab (liked; preferred) or Makrooh (disliked) categories”.
Birthdays is argued fall in the Mu’amalaat (worldly fairs) category.
2. It is not a Bida’a.
Bida’a is an innovation in Deen. Birthday is not considered a part of Deen. It is a culture or custom or worldly affair of Muslims and Christians like watching television is a custom. It may be put in to good or bad use.
3. One can celebrate it differently than the Non-believers
This is a major objection. However, one may celebrate it differently than how the Non-believers celebrate it.
See the following Hadith:
“When the Prophet (PBUH) came to Medina, he found (the Jews) fasting on the day of ‘Ashura’ (i.e. 10th of Muharram). They used to say: “This is a great day on which Allah saved Moses (AS) and drowned the folk of Pharaoh. Moses (AS) observed the fast on this day, as a sign of gratitude to Allah.” The Prophet (PBUH) said, “I am closer to Moses than they.” So, he observed the fast (on that day) and ordered the Muslims to fast on it. ” – Narrated by Ibn Abbas (Sahih Al-Bukhari Hadith – 4.609)”
According to another Hadith, it is more advisable that the fast of Ashura (10th of Muharram) should either be preceded or succeeded by an additional fast. It means one should fast two days, 9th and 10th Muharram, or 10th and 11th of Muharram.
The reason for this additional fast as mentioned by the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is that the Jews used to fast on the day of Ashura alone, and he wanted to distinguish the Muslims from the Jews. Thus he advised to fast another day besides the 10th of Muharram.
“Ibn Abbas (RA) used to say that we should fast on two days: 9th and 10th of Muharram to distinguish ourselves from the Jewish community” (Al-Tirmidhi)
Thus likewise, birthdays can be celebrated differently from the Non-Muslims, without the cake, lighting candles & blowing on them etc
It cannot be considered to be unique with the non-Muslims, for celebrating birthdays has become a widespread phenomenon that is carried out in many different parts of the world
Besides, there should be no intention of imitating the Non-Muslims in the celebration.
4. Thankfulness to Allah
People ask as to why then it is celebrated. It may give a person a chance to thank Allah Almighty for granting another year of life. It may offer a person to bring useful resolutions, to ask forgiveness from Allah, to change oneself to a better person etc.
5. It is not considered an obligation
Birthdays should NOT be considered as Fardh/an obligation, meaning that if one misses it, then it is still okay; no sin or crime has been committed, no remorse or regret over missing it.
6. Birthdays may NOT lead to evil if celebrated correctly:
- Maybe celebrated simply without extravagant spending
- Birthdays may not necessarily have dance and music
- Birthdays may be of short duration
- Prayers should be offered on time
- Birthdays should be celebrated without mixing of sexes
- Birthdays should not lead to idol, personality-worship
We can conclude from the above discussion that most of the birthdays being celebrated now a days could be categorized in the Makruh (disliked) category due to the various unfavorable reasons mentioned above (cakes, candles, music, dance, overspending, waste of time, mixing of sexes etc).
This is the main reason why most scholars have labeled celebrating birthdays as Haram, but like Dr. Zakir Naik says, I would NOT say it is Haram per se.
If one can avoid all these unfavorable viewpoints, and if one really wants to celebrate (especially for the children/insistence of the children), one can celebrate it, but in a way totally different from the Non-Muslims and especially to thank Allah Almighty for everything He has given and to make or refresh resolutions to become a better Muslim from this day onward.
If all these unfavorable viewpoints are unavoidable, then one should avoid celebrating it all together.
Just do it differently. For example, why not a local specialty like Biryani for the party?
Note: Same goes for celebrating anniversaries like marriage anniversary. Wishing someone a happy birthday would fall in the category of Mubah from the discussion above.
And Allah knows best