09 May 2008

Deoband declares birthdays un-Islamic

Darul Uloom Deoband, possibly the most prominent Islamic seminary in South Asia, has issued an edict saying "It is unlawful to celebrate birthdays. It is a tradition of the West and has no importance in Islam. It is wrong to attend such... celebrations". A separate Deoband edict says that Muslims should not utter the phrase "Happy birthday".

In response to the edicts, Begum Naseem, a member of the executive committee of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said that

Birthday celebrations are wasteful expenditure especially in a poor country like India. Islam lays great stress on social reform... it strives to counsel people to avoid wasteful expenditure.

Another member of the Board, Maulana Khalid Rashid Firangimahali, was in agreement with Begum Naseem. In his view, “Instead of spending money on celebrating birthdays, a man should offer food to the poor people."

Yasoob Abbas, spokesman of the All India Shia Personal Law Board, remarked that “Such fatwas carry no weight... in fact Darul Uloom has made of a mockery of the fatwas" (Deccan Herald).

While being a Sunni, I tend to agree with Abbas. Islam certainly lays a great deal of emphasis on moderation in all spheres of life. However, to say that birthdays are "unlawful" simply based on the fact that they are "a tradition of the West" is slightly silly. Which "tradition of the West" is next? Jeans? Pizza? Living in Britain?

I think what the scholars of Deoband ignored in issuing these edicts is the role of 'urf (custom) in the Shari'ah. As long as a custom does not contradict Islamic principles, there is nothing un-Islamic about it, whatever part of the world it comes from.


Maria said...

What a primitive and narrow-minded people they are.
In the tradition of celebrating birthdays they see only spending part. What about family and friends being together, having special moments, feeling warmth and love?
Most people celebrate with a fairly modest spendings.
If authors of edict are really concerned about excessive spending, why not to declare un-Islamic the truly excessive spendings of Middle-Eastern and South-Asian billioners?
Why to forbid a child to have a birthday cake?

Rashed said...

Yes, unfortunately, there are killjoys among every kind of people, and Muslims are no exception. However, as the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) reportedly said, "An hour and an hour", that is, a Muslim should remember God intensely and pray to Him for some amount of time, and then should take some time to relax. There is nothing in Islam that encourages being grim or cheerless. That's a fact that sometimes seems to escape certain scholars.

saif said...

Name-calling is never a good idea. What's wrong with being primitive? Does having a different perspective make you narrow-minded?

The Deoband movement has strong traditional roots. It is unthinkable to issue a fatwa contradicting the views of the movement's elders. Late nineteenth and early twentieth century jurists of the Deobandi movement considered Birthday celebrations an essentially Christian (and not European) phenomenon. Thus, they opposed it as an alien religious practice.

I've heard that some senior Deobandi scholars such as Mufti Taqi of Pakistan have permitted birthday celebration, but it is not a widely popular opinion among their circles.

Fatwas are given keeping the Mustafti's (the person seeking fatwa) circumstances and background in mind. It is quite possible that the 'Urf (custom) of his/her place is quite different from yours.

I do not agree with this and several other fatwas issued by Deoband. But I would never go so far as to diss them 'cause of their views.

Rashed said...

Thanks for the comment, Saif.

Anonymous said...

peace to you

i think it is ok to celebrate a birthday or even a marriage.



Rashed said...

To Anonymous:

Wa'alaykum assalam. I agree.

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