Home Sermon A critical analysis of Ibn Hajar’s view on celebrating Maolud

A critical analysis of Ibn Hajar’s view on celebrating Maolud

iWITNESS NG ~ Nigeria's foremost Islam online news
iWITNESS NG ~ Nigeria's foremost Islam online news

ABSTRACT – The issue of celebrating Maulid, in later generations up till this age of ours, has been viewed differently by many people, scholars and commoners alike. Many writings have been excellently presented on the subject by eminent scholars from all quarters, some of them condoning while other condemning it. Many Muslims view the matter from a purely sentimental and emotional perspective, as such, they consider any opposite opinion to be wrong. Some find it difficult to believe that the practice is alien to Islam, considering the fact most of the Muslim Ummah in almost all countries observe it or that some famous scholars known for their sincere service to Islam were reported to have been observing the Maulid. Ibn Hajar (Ali bin Ahmad bin Hajar al-Asqalani, d. 852 a.h.), and Suyuti (Abdurrahman ibn Abi Bakr as-Suyuti d. 911 a.h.) are among the scholars whose observance of the Maulid attracted the attention of many and in this paper effort was made to confirm that Ibn Hajar and Suyuti did not only endorse and observe the Maulid but also presented some arguments in an effort to give it a legal bearing from some texts of the Quran or the Sunnah. This was followed with responses from the scholars especially from the Maliki school of law. This paper did not include the arguments presented by the likes of Ibn Taimiyyah, Ibn al-Qayyim or Ibn Abd al-Wahhab but was restricted to the scholars of the Maliki Mazhab.


Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani is one of the great names Muslims the world over revere for the eminent service he rendered to Islam especially in the field of sciences of hadith. His name is Ahmad ibn ‘Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Muhammad ‘Ali al-Kinani al-Asqalani. His great grandparents lived in Ashkelon (Arabic: Asqalan) having entered it in the year 583H. The word Hajar is the name of one of his grandfathers. His kunya is Abu al-Fadl and his laqab is Shihab al-Din.

This city of Asqalan is found in Palestine in Gaza. Ibn Hajar was born on the 12th of Sha’ban, 773H. He was an orphan. His father who was a great scholar and merchant died in the year 777H (making Ibn Hajar only four years old). His mother passed away before that and so he was an orphan from both of his parents. (al-Sakhawi n.d. 2: 36-40).

The stand of Ibn Hajar regarding Maulid is clear and he had really endorsed its observance without any doubt. But this is not found in any of his books, or to be more precise I could not lay my hands on his justification for celebrating maulud and the arguments on which he based that from his own books, but his student Suyuti (Abdur Rahman ibn Abi Bakr As-Suyuti, d. 911 a.h.) quoted him. This I suppose he took directly from Ibn Hajar in one of his lessons.

Suyuti states in his Husn al-Maqsid Fi Amal al-Maulid from his al-Hawi Li al-Fatawi (2004. 1: 221-223)
“Shaikhul Islam, Abul Fadl Ahmad bn Hajar was asked about celebrating the Maulid, and he gave the following response:

((Originally celebrating Maulid is an innovation (bidah) which has not been reported from any of the pious predecessors al-Salaf al-Salih from the first three generations of the Muslim Ummah. But all the same it contains some good and some bad things. So whoever pursues the good things in performing it, and avoids its opposite, it will be considered a good innovation (bidah hasanah). Otherwise it will be (a bad bidah).

It appears to me that celebrating the Maulid can be deduced from an established source, that is the authentic Hadith in al-Bukhari and Muslim that the Prophet (S.A.W) came to Madina and saw the Jews fasting the day of Ashura. He asked them about that. They said: this is the day on which Allah Taala drowned Pharaoh and rescued Musa. So we fast it to show our gratitude to Allah Taala.

This infers that one can show gratitude to Allah for a favour He bestows on him, whether that favour is in the form of a blessing He granted him or for rescuing him from a hardship or trouble on a specific day. And that he repeats that celebration on the return of the like of that day every year. Thanking Allah can take the form of various types of ibadat like prostration, fasting, voluntary alms and reciting (the Quran). And what kind of blessing is greater than the advent of this Prophet – the Prophet of mercy on that day?
Based on this, the exact and specific day ought to be pursued for the observance of Maulid in order to correspond to the story of Musa on the day of ‘Ashura. He who does not take note of this will not care to observe the Maulid on any day of the month. Some people even widened the matter and claim that the Maulid should be observed on any day of the year. This of course entails some meanings that are unbecoming. This is as far as its initial observance is concerned.

But as regards what should be done in observing the Maulid, people should confine themselves to what really gives the impression of showing gratitude to Allah. Like the aforementioned things: reciting the holy Quran, feeding the needy, voluntary alms giving and the recitation of some poems intended to praise the Prophet (S.A.W.) or that encourages religious devotion, and that draws the mind towards the performance of good deeds. But as for the things which follow that, like the (sufi) samaa (songs joined with beating drums) and other types of entertainment, what we ought to say is that there is nothing wrong in permitting whatever is lawful from those activities such that it enhances happiness in respect of that day, and to prohibit whatever is known to be unlawful or disliked or is known to be non-preferable Khilaaf al-Awlaa).

This is also mentioned by Al-Zurqani (d. 1122H) (1996: 1: 140).
From the above quote, one may infer the following:
1. That Ibn Hajar confesses that Maulid is bidah;
2. That none of the pious predecessors observed it;
3. That what made him permit it is that it entails some good things;
4. That he endorses the categorisation of bidah into good and bad;
5. That stand is based on analogical deduction (Qiyas) between Maulid and the observance of the fasting of Ashura;
6. That he was the first to draw this analogy;
7. That Maulid and the day of ‘Ashura share a common feature, i.e. both are ways of showing gratitude to Allah;
8. That Maulid contains some negative and bad activities which, if avoided, will be a good bidah.
9. That the exact date of the birth of the Prophet (S.A.W) should be pursued in observing the Maulid. And this is something impossible, for one thing not known by many people (I dont mean Ibn Hajar) is that the exact date of his birth is not known, at least through an authentic narration. There are several views on this date. Some say it was on the 2nd of Rabi al-Awwal, while most of the scholars of Hadith say it was on the 8th. Other views are that it was on the 10th or 12th or 17th or 18th. Some even claim that it was in the month of Ramadan and there is no authentic narration from the prophet himself (S.A.W.) to support any of these views. The only thing established is that it was on Monday as mentioned by the pProphet himself. But it is also established that he (S.A.W.) died on the 12th of Rabi al-Awwal.

That is why Ibn al-Haaj (a famous Maliki scholar (1981. 2: 15-17) said:

The most surprising thing is that how can they rejoice with drumming and other means of happiness because of his birth in this month (Rabi al-Awwal) even though he (S.A.W.) died in the same month, and the Ummah was inflicted with a great calamity not comparable with anything. Why didnt they weep over his death. Even though if they do that and continue to observe it every year it will all the same be a bidah.

There are of course more to deduce from his statement.
The Ashura Hadith is not the only proof on which the Maulid is based. Suyuti (2004), on his part has other arguments to support the claim of the lawfulness of Maulid. After quoting the aforementioned argument from Ibn Hajar, he said:
And it appears to me that celebrating Maulid can be deduced from another established source. And that is what al-Baihaqi reported from Anas (R.A.) that the Prophet (S.A.W.) performed an aqiqah for himself after becoming a Prophet, even though it was reported that his grandfather Abdul Muttalib had done that for him on the seventh day of his birth. And it is known that it is not a normal practice to repeat the aqiqah.

This should therefore be taken to mean that the Prophet (S.A.W.) performed that to express his gratitude to Allah Taala for creating him and making him a mercy to the world. It should also be regarded as a legalization of that same action to his Ummah, just as the Prophet (S.A.W.) used to recite the salat al-Nabiyy. So it is recommended that we also express our gratitude over his birth, by joining up in congregations, feeding the needy and other types of Ibadat to demonstrate our happiness.

Another argument forwarded by Ibn al-Jazari in his book Urf at-Tareef Bi al-Maulid as- Shareef and Shamsuddeen Ibn Nasir ad-Deen al-Dimashqi in his al-Maurid as-Sadi Fi Maulid al-Hadi is that Abu Lahab was seen in a dream and was asked about his situation in Hell. He replied: I am in the hell fire. But the torment is lightened on me every Monday night and I suck some water from the tip of my finger. And this is because I freed Thuwaibah when she announced to me the good news of the birth of the Prophet (S.A.W.) and for suckling him. This is also mentioned by Suyuti in the aforementioned reference.

The saying of Allah Taaala: ((Say: In the bounty of Allah and in His mercy therein let them rejoice. That is better than what they amass (of wealth)) Yunus: 58, is yet another argument.
Al-Alawi al-Maliki (n.d.: 10) says:
To be happy with the Prophet (S.A.W.) is demanded by the Quran, as seen in this verse. Therefore Allah orders that we rejoice in His mercy, and the Prophet (S.A.W.) is the greatest mercy.

These are the strongest arguments, at least which are traceable from the Quran and Hadith. There are others drawn from a more distant point of view, and others based on the fact that many people amongst whom some Ulama participate in the observance of the Maulid. Some of these are:

1. That the first person to innovate the Maulid was a renowned just ruler; he was al-Malik al-Mudhaffar Abu Said Kaukabri bn Zain al-Din, one of the so-called Fatimid rulers in the seventh century of the hijrah, as mentioned by Ibn Kathir (1986. 3:136), and al-Suyuti (2004)

2. That Ibn Batuta, in his travels, praised Muhammad ibn Muhiyiddin al-Tabari, one of the judges in Makkah at his time, for his observance of the Maulid; (Suyuti: 2004).

3. That the Maulid is a way of remembering the most important personality ever created;

4. That the Maulid is recommended by many Ulama and that it is one of the good things introduced in Islam; (Suyuti: 2004).

5. That it is a congregation of alms giving and praising and extolling the Prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam).

In addition to the various Ahadith with some ambiguous meanings they cling to. Some of these are:

1. Whoever initiates a good sunnah (practice), he will be rewarded for that and will be rewarded with the same reward gained by anyone who follows him; (Muslim: 1334H).

2. Ibn Masuuds saying (Whatever the Muslims consider good is good in the sight of Allah); (Ahmad, 1983. 1:367).

3. The categorisation of bidah by some scholars into good and bad or into Wajib, Mustahab, Mubah, Haram and Makruh;

Before responding to all these arguments, It is imperative we note some points.

1. The term ibadah (worship) is defined as anything loved and pleased with by Allah, either in the form of a saying or action, explicit or implicit. (Ibn Taimiyyah (d. 728H) (2005: 44).

2. The term bidah (innovation/aberration) denotes anything that possesses the following characteristics:

Being an innovation
(One) Claimed to belong to the deen of Islam

(Two) Not having any legal origin. This is in line with the hadith of the Prophet (S.A.W.) : (Whoever innovated into this affair of ours (Islam) what does not belong to it, will not be accepted). (Bukhari & Muslim). (See Ibn Rajab: 2001.1: 177).

By this definition, worldly affairs like scientific and technological advancements, are not considered as bidah even though they are innovated. For, even though, they are innovations, but they are not centred at gaining reward from Allah in the name of Ibadah. Bidah only concerns aspects of Ibadah

3. The Hadith of the prophet (S.A.W.) (Every innovation is a bidah) is a generalization comprising all kinds of bidah as far as the aforementioned definition is concerned. So there is no bidah that is good in Islam.

4. Drawing near to Allah through any Ibadah must be in line with the Shariah in two basic points:

(a) Establishing the origin of that ibadah by authentic legal evidence. Therefore it should not be deduced from a false hadith or based on the saying of someone whose saying or action is not a binding hujjah.

(b) Preserving the original mode of performing the ibadah as taught by the Prophet (S.A.W.).(al-Jizani. 2004: 66).

5. Any act of worship originating from mere reasoning, desire or sentiment, like the saying of an alim, some devoted Shaikhs, or customs of some countries or communities, or some tales or dreams, is considered a bidah. (al-Shatibi. 1992: 1:.212-219).

6. Any act of worship abandoned by the Prophet (S.A.W.), that is, he did not perform it, even though the factors necessitating its performance were established to prevail, and all obstacles preventing the performance were nonexistent, the performance of that act by somebody else is a bidah. E.g. the outward expression of the niyyah (intention) to enter into prayer, pronouncing the call to prayer (al-adhan) in prayers other than the five daily prayers and praying two rakats after performing the saay between Safa and Marwa. (al-Shatibi 1992. 1:.361-364).

7. Any act of worship not performed by the pious precessors (al-Salaf al-Salih) of the first three generations, that is the Sahabah, the Tabiin and the Atba al-Tabiin or not reported by them, or not written in their books, or not mentioned by them in any of their gatherings, even though the factors necessitating its performance prevailed and there were no obstacles to prevent the performance, is considered a bidah on the part of later generations to perform that act. This is clear in the saying of the famous companion of the prophet (S.A.W.) Hudhaifa ibn al-Yaman (R.A), when he said to some of the Tabiin: Any Ibadah not practiced by the companions of the prophet, do not practice it. The first did not leave any saying for the last. So fear Allah O you people, and cling to the path of those before you. (See: Suyuti 2006: 62), and (Bukhari).

Examples of these acts are the performance of the prayer known as Salat al-Ragaib performed by some people in the month of Rajab, and the observance of Maulid in the month of Rabi al-Awwal. This is because the factors necessitating the performance of these acts were not only found in the days of those predecessors, but were even more effective, and there were no obstacles to prevent them from performing these Ibadat. Ibn al-Haaj (1981: 2: 11-12), said:
If the Maulid will be free from Samaa (Sufi songs and drumming) and what that entails and is confined to feeding relatives and friends, it is all the same a bidah from its mere intention. Because that is an addition to the deen and it is not among the works of the past Salaf.

And following the Salaf is better, nay more incumbent than introducing an intention contrary to their own, because they are the best in following the sunnah of the Prophet (S.A.W.), best in honouring and extolling him and his sunnah. They precede the whole mankind in embarking upon his sunnah. It has not been reported from any of them that he intended performing the Maulid. And we follow their steps. Whatever sufficed them should suffice us .

He further said that some people substitute the samaa and other activities performed in the Maulid, with the reading of Sahih al-Bukhari. He said:
Even though the reading of hadith is in itself a great act of bringing one near to Allah, and an act of ibadah in which there is blessing and much goodness, one should perform that according to its laid down rules, but not in the name of Maulid. Dont you see that the prayer is one of the greatest means of getting near to Allah, but if one will perform a prayer before its specified time he will be blamed and be considered as violator of the law. So if this is the situation of prayer, what would be of something else.

For information, Ibn al-Haaj is one of the famous Maliki scholars. Shaikh Uthman dan Fodio depended intensively on his writings especially this al-Madkhal. This is known to anyone conversant with the writings of Dan Fodio (rahimahullah). See for example Bayan al-Bida and Ihya al-Sunnah Wa Ikhmad al-Bidah. Another Maliki scholar al-Fakihani (d. 734H) (1998) wrote on the subject of Maulid. When he was asked about it, he out-rightly condemned it in totality. Suyuti (2004: 1: 294) quoted it completely and responded to the arguments raised but in vain.

8. The deen of Islam had been completed totally by Allah before the death of our noble Prophet (S.A.W.). No ibadah is left out without being explained by the Prophet (S.A.W.). Allah Taala says:
{This day, I have perfected your religion for you, completed My Favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion}. Al-Maidah: 3.

In elaborating this meaning, Imam Malik (d. 179H) in al-Shatibi (1992: 1: 49) says: Whoever innovates a bidah which he considers good, has really accused Muhammad (S.A.W.) of betraying the message given to him. Because Allah Taala says: ((This day I have perfected your religion for you)). So whatever is not part of the deen at that time, will not be part of the deen today.

As-Shatibi (1992: 2: 52-53) also reported that al-Qadi Abu Bakr Ibn al-Arabi narrated from al-Zubair bn al-Bakkar that he said: I heard Malik ibn Anas, when someone came to him and asked: O Abu Abdullah, from where should I enter my state of Ihram? He said: From Dhul Hulaifah (the Miqaat of the people of Madina) from where the Prophet (S.A.W.) entered his state of Ihram. The man said: I want to do it from the mosque. Imam Malik said: Dont do that!

The man said: I want to do it from the mosque, from the grave of the Prophet (S.A.W.). Malik said to him: Do not do that, for I am afraid that a fitnah may afflict you. He said: What fitnah is in this? It is just some miles I am adding. Malik said: What fitnah is more than to consider yourself ahead of the Prophet in attaining a virtue he could not reach? I heard Allah Taala saying: ((And let those who oppose the Messengers commandment beware, lest some Fitnah should befall them or a painful torment be inflicted on them)). An-Nuur:63.

As-Shatibi, after quoting this story, said: The fitnah mentioned by Imam Malik in explaining the verse is true of all Ahl al-Bidah, and it is their base on which they erect their building. For they view that what Allah mentioned in his book and what the Prophet (S.A.W.) enacted in his Sunnah is less (in quantity or quality) than what their reasoning leads them to. That is what Ibn Masud said when he met some people performing dhikr in congregation and in one tune: You have really been guided to what your Prophet was not guided to, or that you have clung to a violation and a deviation.

Another Maliki scholar of great repute, al-Wansharisi (d. 914) (2003: 11: 116) also strongly rejected the idea of celebrating the Maulid. He says:
“My master Ahmad al-Qabbab was asked about the lightening of candles on the occasion of the Maulid al-Nabiyyi and gathering children to recite the Salat al-Nabiyyi, and some of the children with beautiful voices and tunes would recite some parts of the Qur’an (one-tenth) and read out some Qasaid (poems) in praise of the Prophet (S.A.W.), and men would mix up with women in the congregation for this purpose. Are the candles received by the teacher lawful?…..”

In his answer the scholar (Ahmad al-Qabbab) said : ((All that you described is among the muhdathat) innovated bid’ahs which must be discarded. Whoever performs this or helps in performing it or pursues its perpetuation, is really a pursuer of bid’ah and deviation. He assumes, with his ignorance, that with this action he honours and extols the Prophet (S.A.W.) by observing his birthday, while he is really contradicting his Sunnah, committing what the Prophet prohibited, boastfully and openly doing that, and innovating into the religion what is alien to it. Had it been he really extols the Prophet (S.A.W.) he would have obeyed his orders and would not have introduced into the religion what is not part of it, and would not have subjected himself to what Allah warned against in His saying : ((And let those who oppose the Messenger’s commandment beware, lest some Fitnah (trials and afflictions) shall befall them or painful torment be inflicted on them)) Al-Nur:63.

Having laid down this, let us return to the above arguments and take them up one after the other.
One: On Ibn Hajar and the Ashura hadith

1.Ibn Hajars explanation of Maulid based on the Ashura hadith after confessing that it is a bidah is something that cannot be put together. Shaikh Rashed Rida (n.d. 2112-2113) dismissed this assertion. He said this is enough evidence to render the Maulid unlawful, because how can Ibn Hajar affirm that it has not been reported from any of the salaf, and then claim to have an origin. Imam Malik says: Nothing will reform the later generation of this Ummah but what reformed the first generation.

Had the ‘Ashura Hadith been a proof to the observance of the Maulid, the first generation of this Ummah would definitely have deduced that from the text of the hadith. But having been abandoned by them, even though the factors necessitating the performance of Maulid were found at that time, that is their love for the Prophet, their love for honouring him, their love for feeding each other and for dhikrullah, it is not proper for someone in the later generations to use that same text in a meaning different from what they understood from it.

As-Shatibi (1997: 3:71) has spoken comprehensively on this general rule, that is, whatever interpretation to a text not established to have been practiced by those early generations, should not be practiced by later generations in any form of worship. This is because their abandonment of this practice is a consensus that the Prophet (S.A.W.) did not mean that by the text, and it is not proper to violate an Ijmaa (consensus). As-Shatibi (1997: 3: 71) said:

Whatever is practiced by later generations from this type, is really against the Ijmaa of the first generations. And whoever violates an Ijmaa is in clear error, for the Ummah of the Prophet (S.A.W.) will never agree collectively on anything astray. So whatever they practiced or abandoned is the Sunnah, and is what ought to be given consideration, nay it is real guidance. There are only two things: something right and something in error. Whoever goes against the salaf is in error, and this is enough. This is also true of the weak hadith with which the ulama did not work. That is why the claim of the Rafidah (Shiite) that the prophet (S.A.W.) explicitly said in a clear text that Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) should be the Caliph immediately after him, was not entertained. Because the practice of the whole Sahabah was against this claim and shows its falseness, for the Sahabah will never be collectively and as a whole astray.

He further said:
Many at times you find the people of bidah and deviation use the texts of the Quran and Sunnah to forcefully make them bear their mazhabs. And they use the ambiguous words contained in those texts in the presence of the general public, assuming that they have something to cling to (in respect of their bidah). This has many examples He then cited some examples relevant to the matter. One of those examples is the claim of some people of the lawfulness of reciting the Quran and saying the dhikr in congregation by the saying of the prophet (S.A.W.) (No group of people will join up in a mosque, reciting the Quran and taking lessons from it , unless the angels surround them, and the hadith: Maj tamaa qawmun yadhkuruunallah. Another example is the claim of the lawfulness of dancing in the mosque based on the hadith that the Ethiopians once played with shields and spears in the mosque of the prophet (S.A.W.). And the claim of everyone who innovated or endorsed a bidah that the salaf also innovated some things not in existent in the days of the prophet (S.A.W.) like putting the Quran in the form of a book, writing different books on various subjects, keeping records in registers and so forth. He said: All this is an error to this deen and an imitation of the path of the deviated. He further explained that what these people mention is mostly part of al-Masalih al-Mursalah. And it is known that al-Masaalih al-Mursalah has no connection whatsoever with Ibadaat (acts of worship).

2. Shaikh Rashid Rida added that the good things contained in the Maulid as mentioned by Ibn Hajar are not in themselves bidah, but the bidah is the special congregation in that special mode and style, in the specified time, and considering that to be part of the Shaair al-Islam which is never established but with a nass from the Quran or Sunnah.

3. He also said that observing the Maulid reached a stage where those who abstain from performing it are considered infidels. This makes it one of the basic foundations of aqeedah necessarily known from the deen, and this is clearly an addition to the foundations of Islam, and any addition to the foundations of Islam nullifies that particular addition and renders it alien and disowned by the Islam brought by the seal of the Prophets (S.A.W.)

This statement from Shaikh Rashid Rida was a response he gave when he was asked about some people in the Jawa area of Indonesia who claimed that whoever does not attend the Maulid is a kafir, and whoever does not stand up on hearing the word Marhaban’ (welcome), at the time of reading the story of Maulid is a kafir. And if they were asked whether this order is from Allah and His Messenger? They say: You are an unbeliever.

The proponents of Maulid are of the opinion that it is haram for one to fast on the day of Maulid. Al-Hattab (d. 954H) (1992: 2: 407) quoted an event that occurred in respect of one Ibn Abbad who said that he came out on the day of Maulid and met one Alhaj Ibn Ashir and some other men, and they brought some dishes of varieties of food. And when they invited him he told them that he was fasting. The man (Alhaj Ibn Ashir was very much annoyed to hear that and ordered him to break the fast, and told him that it was a day of eid, so it is unlawful to fast.

Two: Suyutis Argument with the Hadith of Aqiqah

This is simply refuted by the fact that the hadith is not authentic. When asked about whether the prophet (S.A.W.) really performed aqiqah once more for himself, Imam Malik in Ibn Rusd (n.d. 2: 15) answered: Tell me about the Sahabah for whom the aqiqah was not performed in Jahiliyyah, have they done that themselves after embracing Islam? This is sheer false.

The Hadith in question is reported through one Abdullahi bn al-Muharrar, who is termed by many scholars of hadith as: Daeef Jiddan, Munkarul Hadith or Matruk. Ibn Hibban (1396H. 2:.22-23) said in respect of Abdullahi ibn Muharrar: He was one of the most devoted people but he used to tell lies without knowing, and used to twist narrations without understanding.

An-Nawawi (n.d. 8: 431) states: As for the hadith mentioned by As-Shiraazi that the prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam) performed aqiqah for himself, it is reported by al-Baihaqi through Abdullahi ibn al-Muharrar that the prophet (sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam). This is a false hadith.

One surprising thing is that al-Baihaqi (1344H. 9: 300) himself after quoting the hadith stated that it is Munkar, but all the same Suyuti dwelled on the hadith to legalise Maulid without mentioning the ruling of Baihaqi on it.
But Az-Zarqaani (1996. 1: 140) after quoting Suyutis deduction from the Hadith commented: al-Nawawi said this Hadith is false. So deducing (Maulid) from it is out of place.

Three: On the Story of Abu Lahab

1. The text as narrated by Al-Bukhari (n.d. 9: 48) is not as Ibn al-Jazari and Ibn Nasir al-Deen put it. Al-Bukhari narrated from al-Hakam ibn Nafi from Shuaib from al-Zuhri, he said Urwatui bn al-Zubair told me that Zainab bint Abi Salama told him that Umm Habibah bint Abi Sufyan said: I said: O Allahs Messenger, marry my sister, the daughter of Abu Sufyan. The Prophet (S.A.W.) said: Do you like that? I replied, Yes, for even now I am not your only wife and I like that my sister should share the good with me.

The Prophet (S.A.W.) said, But that is not lawful for me. I said: We have heard that you want to marry the daughter of Abu Salamah, He said: You mean the daughter of Umm Salamah? I said, Yes He said, Even if she were not my step-daughter, she would be unlawful for me to marry as she is my foster suckling niece. I and Abu Salamah were suckled by Thuwaibah. So you should not present to me your daughters or your sisters (in marriage). Urwah said: Thuwaibah was a freed slave woman of Abu Lahab. Abu Lahab freed her, and she suckled the Prophet (S.A.W.). When Abu Lahab died he was seen in a dream by one of his relatives in a terrible situation in hell. He said to him: What did you meet? Abu Lahab said: I did not meet (anything but torment), except that I was given water in this (in Abdur Razaqs narration: He pointed to a dot on his finger) for freeing Thuwaibah.

From this text you will find that:

(a) The part of the text containing the issue of freeing Thuwaibah is from the saying of Urwah without mentioning who told him that. This is what the scholars of hadith call hadith mursal, and it is part of the weak hadith which is not accepted. (Ibn Hajar (n.d. 9 : 49).

(b) There is no mention that the reason for freeing Thuwaibah is that she brought Abu Lahab the good news of the birth of the Prophet (S.A.W.).
(c) There is no mention of the word every Monday as asserted by Ibn al-Jazari and as-Suhaili (Ibn Hajar (n.d. 9 :.48).

(d) Moreover what is confirmed by the scholars of Sirah (Biography of the Prophet (S.A.W.) is that Thuwaibah was not freed until after the Hijrah of the Prophet (S.A.W.). Ibn Saad (d 230 h) says: When the Prophet (S.A.W.) was at Makkah he used to send her (Thuwaibah) some gifts, and Khadijah also used to be generous to her. At that time, she was a slave to Abu Lahab. Khadijah made some efforts to buy her from the hands of Abu Lahab so as to free her, but Abu Lahab refused that. But when the Prophet (S.A.W.) migrated to Madina Abu Lahab freed her (Ibn Saad 2001. 1 : 88). This is confirmed by Ibn Abdil Barr (1992 1: 28), Ibn al-Jauzi (n.d. 1: 61), Al-Muhibb At-Tabar (1356H: 259) and Ibn Hajar (n.d. 4 : 250).

(e) One other thing is that a kafir will never benefit in the hereafter from any deed he performed in this world, for Allah Taala says: ((And We shall turn to whatever deeds they did, and We shall make such deeds as scattered floating particles of dust)) Al-Furqaan:23. That is because the condition for accepting a deed is that it should be with a perfect intention, and this not found in the case of a kafir. So freeing Thuwaibah by Abu Lahab as shown in this Mursal Hadith is insignificant. This is not like the case of Abu Talib which is established by an authentic hadith. (Ibn Hajar 1379H:.9 :49).

(f) Moreover this case is based on a dream we do not know who saw it. And even if we know it is known that legal rulings such that prohibit or make something lawful are never based on dreams.


The argument based on the verse of Surat Yunus, is also out of place. That is because interpreting the mercy mentioned in the verse to mean the prophet (S.A.W.) is something none of the scholars of the first generation of Muslims claimed. And we have mentioned from the statement of al-Shatibi, when discussing Ibn Hajars deduction of Maulid from the ‘Ashura Hadith, that any meaning not mentioned by the salaf in their interpretation of the Quran, is not accepted, especially when that interpretation is meant to buttress the validity of an innovated Ibadah.

Al-Imam al-Tabari, (2000: 15: 105-110) quoted eighteen separate narratives from the Salaf on interpreting this verse. None of them interpreted mercy to mean the person of the Prophet (S.A.W.). al-Shatibi is not the only alim to make this bold warning. Al-Imam al-Tabari who is known to be the author of the best and more comprehensive book of Tafsir, even though, he lived in the last part of the third century and died in the beginning of the fourth century of Hijrah, he denied himself the right to interpret the Quran contrary to the interpretations narrated from the salaf.

In his Tafsir (2000: 15 :188), when interpreting the verse: ((And offer your prayer neither aloud nor in a low voice, but follow a way between)) Al-Israai:110, he preferred the saying of Ibn Abbas on the meaning of prayer, aloud and in a low voice. He then mentioned another interpretation of his own, but said: If not for the fact that I have already mentioned the statements of scholars of tafsir and I do not consider it permissible to oppose what is reported from them, I would have said that it is good to interpret the verse as follows. But we do not regard it proper, because the consensus of the masters of tafsir is contrary to that. In his commentary (2000: 16: 151) on another verse he said: I have preferred this interpretation because it is in agreement with the interpretation of the Sahabah and Tabien, because we do not allow going contrary to what is reported from them.

But this is not to say that the prophet is not a mercy because this is confirmed by an independent verse. Allah says: ((We have not sent you but as a mercy for the whole creation)). But in the verse under discussion, there is nothing to necessitate this interpretation. And moreover the word rahmah independently or in the genitive form came in the Quran about 116 times, and no reasonable person will claim that it means the person of the prophet (S.A.W.) in all these places and in its different contexts. The fact is therefore that the proponents of observing the Maulid festival only cling to this particular verse because of the mention of the word: fal yafrahu (let them rejoice), and this is exactly what al-Shatibi outlined previously that one of the methodologies of the people of bidah is that they cling to some words with ambiguous meanings to claim the validity of their mazhab. This affirms the need to go back to the interpretation of the first generations. May Allah guide us all.


Celebrating the Maulid has not been the practice of the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) or his companions or those that came after them among the first three generations. It was initiated by some Muslims in later generations in a sincere effort to show reverence and love to the person of our noble Prophet and Messenger (S.A.W.), even though this effort, being an aspect of Ibadah needs to be substantiated by strong evidences from the Quran and Sunnah and the practice of the pious predecessors. Having failed to have this support, later generations of ulama did really try to give the Maulid a legal bearing from ambiguous texts of the Quran and the Sunnah, but those texts are of no help to the idea. This is not to say that those scholars have gone astray and can be condemned in person. Rather our discussion only concerns the practice of celebrating the Maulid and from the foregoing statements of the ulama this practice has no basis in the teachings of the Prophet (S.A.W.)


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Dr. Abubakar Muhammad Sani
Islamic Studies Section
Department of Arts and Social Science Education
Faculty of Education
Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria


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