salawat

The month of Rabi` al-Awwal is here, which can only mean that some of us will witness renewed debates on the practice of celebrating the birth of the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him), writes Ustadh Salman Younas.

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To make things easier for everyone, I’ve mentioned a handful of leading classical scholars who permitted the mawlid in its institutionalized form and those who deemed it impermissible. What is this meant to teach us? That this is a *valid* difference of opinion. While we can cordially discuss the merits of each view, no one should be condemned, mocked, or looked down upon for engaging or not engaging in such a practice, since leading scholars throughout the past few centuries have differed on this issue.

Don’t Let Your Nafs Distract You

Instead of using this time to debate and argue, let’s use it to draw closer to the greatest of creation in a manner that we individually deem sound and acceptable. If that means gathering to sing poems in his praise and celebrating his birth, then wonderful. If it means you sit alone in your house to send some salawat upon him, then wonderful. The point is not to let your nafs and the devil distract us from doing good and puff us up with arrogance/anger by occupying us with argumentation on an issue scholars have differed upon for centuries.

Some of Those who Permitted the Mawlid

  • Imam Abu’l Khattab ibn Dahiya [al-Hawi li’l fatawa (ed. Ilmiyya, pp. 189)]
  • Ibn al-Jazari [al-Arf al-ta`rif [ed. al-Kattaniya, pp. 13-43)]
  • Imam Abu Shama [al-Ba’ith fi inkar al-bid`a wa’l hawadith (ed. Dar al-Raya, pp. 95-96)]
  • Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani [al-Ajwiba al-murdiya (ed. Dar al-Raya, pp. 1117-1118)]
  • Imam al-Sakhawi [Ibid., pp. 1116-1120)]
  • Imam Jalal al-Din al-Suyuti [al-Hawi, (pp. 189-193)]

Some of Those Who Did Not Permit the Mawlid

  • Imam Taj al-Din al-Fakihani [al-Mawrid fi amal al-mawlid (ed. Maktaba al-Ma`arif, pp, 19-27)]
  • Shaykh Ibn Taymiyya [Majmu` al-Fatawa (ed. al-Najdi, 25:298)]
  • Imam al-Haffar [al-Mi`yar (ed. al-Awqaf, 7:99-100)]
  • Imam Abu Amr ibn al-Ala’ [al-Hawi, (pp. 192)]
  • Imam Abu Ishaq al-Shatibi [al-I`tisam (ed. Maktaba al-Tawhid, 1:46)]

Methodological Differences Underlying These Positions

When it comes to the issue of innovation, we can identify two broad approaches:
(a) The dominant approach adopted by many jurists of the Shafi`i school that allowed for a general principle or text to be applied in practice in a particularized manner despite there being no specific precedent for said practice. An early example of this is the position of Imam al-Shafi`i that it is recommended to recite blessings upon the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) after uttering the tasmiya while slaughtering an animal. This is deduced from the general command in Surat al-Ahzab (33:43) of sending blessings on the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him). In other words, Imam al-Shafi`i used a general command to legislate a particular practice despite there being no explicit precedent for this practice. Since such a practice could be validly subsumed under a general principle, it would not be an innovation to put into practice in an unprecedented form.
(b) Another view, which was held by a number of Maliki scholars, argued that there must be specific evidence in order to permit persistence (iltizam) on a particularized form of a general command. This is termed by al-Shatibi as takhsis al-umum bi-la dalil (specifying a general text without evidence). Those scholars agreeing with al-Shatibi would not allow reciting blessings on the Prophet (blessings and peace be upon him) after saying the tasmiya while slaughtering because no specific evidence exists to establish such a practice. As for the general command to send such blessings, it is alone insufficient to evidence permissibility in this case.
Therefore, the first view lends itself to being utilized to institutionalize or invent specific forms of devotional practice so long as they do not oppose the broad principles of the law.
The second view is not “open-looking” in this manner as it restricts itself to the existence of past precedent without which a devotional act cannot be invented or institutionalized. The only exception is when a devotional act is is done spontaneously or due to free-time without it being institutionalized.

Both views have support in the actions of the early Muslims:

(i) The first view is supported by the narration of Abu Hurarya who stated that Khubayb ibn Adi initiated the practice of performing two cycles of prayer before being executed. Here, Khubayb had no specific precedent but took a general recommendation of performing prayer and applied it in a particular manner to a specific time and situation. [Sahih al-Bukhari]
(ii) The second view is supported by the actions of some Companions who opposed practices that could reasonably be subsumed under general principles/text. One example is Ibn Mas’ud’s opposition to those who were engaging in group dhikr in the mosque despite the general command in the Qur’an to, “remember God.” (3:191)
Both these approaches return to ijtihadi differences and preferences. Consequently, the choice scholars make to argue for or against certain practices should be respected as an exercise of valid ijtihad based on sound methodological divergences.
And God knows best.

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"Whoever guides someone to goodness will have a similar reward"-- The Prophet (Peace and Blessings Be Upon Him)