Salaamalaikum, I’m not querying celebrating the birthday of Prophet (SAWS) as 100% it is permissible. This is Birthdays in general. People celebrate their birthdays inline with the gregorian/western/christian calendar which is based on the Julian calendar (Idol worshippers calendar). Shouldn’t we do birthdays based on the Islamic date they were born and not western calendar as it imitates idol worshippers essentially and is sinful? And all this birthday cakes and candles etc. are of the same ideology surely. We should be doing what Prophet (SAWS) said of his Birthday i.e. to fast and be thankful to Allah (SWT) and supplicate to Allah (SWT) more?
The birthday/wedding cake concept is something of the west and muslims have adopted that we must have them in Birthdays/weddings and even give them center spaces in wedding/birthdays rather than it being a cake at a wedding like the rest of the food at a wedding and just serving it to the guests. Surely this is wrong/sinful/blameworthy?
Salam alaykum, and thank you for your question. There is a well-known hadith: Whosoever imitates a nation is amongst them (Sunan Abu Dawud). However it is widely understood by scholars that imitation is understood in very specific ways: that a person engages in an activity that is clearly part of the religious practice of a non-Muslims, or exclusive to non-Muslims, or that a person engages in an action with the sole intention of imitating non-Muslims. Basically, imitation here means that a person is ashamed of their Muslim identity and imitates the practices of non-Muslims in order to hide their own Islam from the world.
When we consider imitation in this way, then there is nothing blameworthy about birthday cakes and candles. These are not religious practices. These are neutral cultural practices that, if they were once religiously rooted, are clearly no longer seen as such. Indeed, it is praiseworthy to adopt certain cultural practices of the place we have made our home, as long as they do not clearly go against the sunnah. We adopt these practices not because we are ashamed of being Muslims, but to help us live in peace alongside those of different cultural and religious traditions. And remember that Muslims don’t have a monopoly on truth, beauty and goodness. In fact, Muslims have historically integrated the best that many cultures have to offer, and in doing so have created the diverse and pluralist Muslim cultures that we see in the world today. As long as birthday celebrations are not excessive (too much food, too much money spent), and the activities do not go against the sunnah, there is nothing wrong with people choosing to enjoy birthday cake in the company of family and friends. If you wish to fast on your birthday, and supplicate to Allah, those are praiseworthy actions indeed and may Allah help you continue to grow in piety. But if your family and friends wish to celebrate your or their birthday with those they love, and with cakes and candles, you must not criticize them as sinners or hurt their feelings by rejecting their affection.
If you choose to celebrate your birthday on the Islamic date, that is an excellent practice. However, if you’re living and working in a Western country, you are no doubt following the Gregorian calendar in every other aspect of your life. Why the focus on birthdays?
And Allah knows best.
Dr. Homayra Ziad