Celebrations and commemorations

Q84 :Some people celebrate certain anniversaries, such as the birthday of a child or death of a relative. What I would like to know is whether such celebrations are acceptable or not from Islamic point of view. I may add that when death anniversaries are marked they often include certain activities such as a gathering to read the Qur'an and providing food to those who are present. Some religious people suggest that such food may only be given to poor or needy people or to orphan children. Please comment.

A84 : It is important to know a basic rule in Islam that everything begins as permissible unless something is introduced so as to make it forbidden. This may be a clear verdict of prohibition stated in the Qur'an or in a Hadith or it may be a particular aspect of that thing which takes it out of the realm of what is permissible in order to make it forbidden. Moreover, the authority to prohibit anything belongs to God alone. No one may slam a verdict of prohibition on any matter without supporting his view with clear evidence from the Qur'an or the Prophet's statements or practices. If we take the two practices that you have mentioned and say that either or both of them are forbidden we need to support our verdict. If we cannot produce such evidence whatever we say is without foundation. Let us begin with birthdays. We have nothing in the Qur'an or the Sunnah to say that the marking of the birthday of children is forbidden. Therefore, we have to look at the action itself in order to find out whether it includes anything contrary to Islamic teaching or principles. If it does, then it will be forbidden on the basis of what it includes, not on the basis of what it is. Bearing this in mind, we can say that if parents celebrate the birthday of their children to imitate non-Muslims, feeling that the practices of such non-Muslims are better than those Islam encourages, then such a celebration is forbidden. Similarly, if adults mark their own birthday by organizing a function in which un-Islamic practices are condoned, then that is also forbidden. However, if parents organize a birthday party for their young child in which children gather to have some games, sing and have some food and enjoy themselves generally, then there is nothing wrong with that. Commemorating the death anniversary of any person is not acceptable because it is borrowed from the practices of other religions. While it is permissible, and indeed encouraged to pray God to have mercy on those of our relatives who are dead and that He may forgive them all their sins, and also to read the Qur'an and pray God to credit the reward of our recitation to the deceased, what is done in some communities where death anniversaries are common practice does not win Islamic approval. To start with, the practices themselves are worship practices, but they were not practiced or approved by the Prophet. Hence, they are innovations. That is sufficient to make them unacceptable. The Prophet says: "Whosoever introduces into this matter of ours (meaning Islam) something that does not belong to it shall have it rejected." Secondly, the provision of food into these functions is done in a way that Islam rejects. While giving food to poor people or orphans is highly commendable, the way it is done in these functions makes it totally different. To start with, the food is placed at a certain place and the rituals are then made in a way so as to suggest that this food is special. Besides, the notion that this food may only be eaten by the poor is alien to Islamic thinking. We may recall here that when a pilgrim slaughters a sheep in pilgrimage or when the Eid sacrifice is slaughtered, we are expressly advised to "eat of it and feed the needy poor." It is only when the sacrifice is offered in compensation for a missed duty that we are not allowed to eat of it. In this case it is a penalty for an omission. If the person offering it were to eat of it, the purpose of the sacrifice will be missed and the offender will be rewarded rather than penalized. All innovations in matters of religion are unacceptable, which means they are forbidden.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )