Celebrating Birthdays

By Moulana Abdul Hamid Ishaq
Posted: 11 Rabi-ul-Awwal 1422, 3 June 2001

Q.) What is the Islamic ruling regarding celebrations of birthdays and anniversaries? Some people say that celebrations like giving a party or cutting a cake is prohibited, while just wishing the person (Happy birthday etc) and reciting Qur'an and making dua is permissible. [Safeer]

A.) The tell-tale sign that the birthday celebrations in our times are a western development are the song words without which this function is not complete viz. "Happy birthday to you." No one says, "Happy birthday celebration" or "Happy Blessed birthday" or any other words of this kind. This disease of celebrating birthdays was never prevalent among Muslims before, but it was brought to them, like other cultural influences, during the period of colonialism.

Birthdays are celebrated to mark the completion of another year in one's life. Now just ponder, what wisdom is there in celebrating and showing happiness when a year has decreased in one's life. During a birthday celebration, candles are lit on a cake, amounting to the years of the one's life. He extinguishes these candles by blowing them out and all present clap their hands. Hands are clapped at two occasions only, one at the time of joy for some achievement of his. Secondly, when someone acts foolishly, then to mock at him. Here a person is extinguishing the rays of the years of his life by blowing them out himself. Then this is no happiness, nor is it any achievement. So the clapping of hands--- though the participants do not realize it --- is only for mocking at this person's stupidity.

To understand the nature of this foolishness, consider the example of a king who sent a few people to a room full of his treasures saying that shortly he will call them back. At that time whatever they will be possessing will be their property. Inside the treasure room, on one side there are heaps of gold and silver, on another side are laying pearls and jewels, then at another place in the room, delicious food and soft beds are arranged. Now some people think that the king may send them out any minute. They quickly gather the gold, silver, pearls and gems. They feel they will go out from there and organize the food and beds for themselves afterwards.

There is another group of people who think that they have just arrived. They say to themselves, "Let us enjoy the food, and then lay down to rest. After that we will take from the treasures. There is ample time." So they eat, sleep and pass their valuable time without taking from the treasures. Suddenly the king sends everyone out. Now those who had collected the valuables can enjoy their lives eating and sleeping while those that wasted their time and did not accumulate anything will begin to regret.

Birthdays are celebrated to mark the completion of another year in one's life. What wisdom is there in showing happiness when a year has decreased in one's life?

Every moment of this worldly life is very valuable. Here we have to earn for the long and everlasting life of the Hereafter. Rasulullah Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam has said that after entering into Jannah, the people of Jannah will not be sorry about anything of this world, except for that moment which was spent without the remembrance of Allah. It is apparent that when reward will be granted for remembrance of Allah in this world, which is a place for actions, then one must surely feel very regretful, that if they should have spent more time in the remembrance of Allah, they could be worthy of more rewards. How can it be permissible to waste time by celebrating birthdays and becoming happy that a big slice of one's life is gone?

This world is a prison for the believer and a Jannah for the disbeliever. Allah has bought the life and wealth of the believers for Jannah. This life is a trust of Allah with us. Rasulullah Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam said, "A person will not be able to move from his place, until he replies to five questions:

  1. How did you spend your life?
  2. How did you spend your youth?
  3. Where did you earn your wealth from?
  4. Where did you spend your wealth?
  5. How much did you act upon your knowledge?"

A person who is concerned with replying to these questions, how can he show happiness for the decrease in the remaining years of his life?

Besides, Islam does not permit waste. This is the reason that the poor of this Ummah will enter Jannah 500 years before the wealthy, because the wealthy will be delayed as they will have to first give an account of their wealth.

By spending on birthday parties, there is no benefit to Islam nor to the poor. It is stated in a Hadith, the worst Valima feast (wedding party) is the one in which the poor and destitute are left out and the wealthy only are invited.

Another object of the birthday parties is showoff. Islam encourages simplicity. By this attitude of showoff, the poor feel inferior and deprived and the rich have a superiority complex. Also, in these gatherings, music, singing, video filming and the taking of photographs and other un-Islamic and forbidden acts take place.

May Allah Ta„la guide us and protect us from all these evils.

Moulana Abdul Hamid Ishaq is principal of Madrasah Arabia Islamia, Azaadville, South Africa. This answer was edited by Albalagh.