Unhappy Birthday

As someone born and raised in Saudi Arabia, I am quite familiar with the kind and amount of hostility Wahhabi teachings hold against the display of joy in most aspects of daily life because they view such display in contradiction with the piety and solemnity that is required in a Muslim. This can be explained by their obsession over superficialities and their disregard of all things mortal. The hostility is clearly seen in their attitude towards celebrating occasions such as birthdays, anniversaries, etc.

So when I heard Sheikh Salman al-Awdah speaking on his TV show last week on the permissibility of such celebrations I was sure that he would get a lot a of heat for that statement. Al-Awdah, a former poster boy of Sahwa, has been increasingly distancing himself from the official religious establishment of the country, promoting more tolerant fatwas and opinions that obviously deviates from orthodox Wahhabism. His new approach gained him some popularity with the public, but not much from the old guard who seemed to ignore him.

This time, however, they think that he has gone too far. The matter of birthdays and anniversaries, silly and insignificant as it may sound, was just too much for them that the Grand Mufti himself came out saying “such a call is against righteousness.” Other scholars such as Sheikh Abdullah Al-Manie said al-Awdah made a mistake and urged him to retract what he had said.

The Wahhabis’ rationale (if you can call it that) for their contempt of celebrating birthdays and anniversaries is because they consider it to be in imitation of non-Muslim practices, but they don’t go out of their way to explain what is exactly so un-Islamic about it. The lame excuse of imitating others is xenophobic, but that is of course not surprising because xenophobia is very characteristic of Wahhabism.

Although the official religious establishment here is disturbingly zealous when it come to such trivial matters, they don’t mind twisting and zigzagging for political gain. For instance, until recently, marking the national day which falls on the 23rd of this month, was a big no-no. Then, and for reasons that I leave to your imagination, they said it is ok to dignify the day provided you won’t call it “Eid.” It seems to me like a mere technicality, but what do I know?

23 thoughts on “Unhappy Birthday

  1. I know we had this discussion on Omanforum and found it of intense interest because I was very close to an Omani Muslim and he did not practice celebrating his birthday until I made “his” day special…telling him that his presence in this world was truly a gift. Now back in Oman he misses those special days.

  2. When I was reading about the holidays in SA, I came across National Day too, and was thinking the same thing (that celebrating anything but Eid is not allowed, so how come they celebrate this day).

    Wahabbism is wierd sometimes…(all the time?)

  3. Al-Awdah is one of the very few Saudi scholars whose knowledge and moderate opinions I personally highly trust. It doesn’t surprise me at all when these hardliners lash out against him for simply stating that celebrating joyous occasions is actually permissible (which is common sense, ofcourse).

    Afterall, isn’t this what these extremist religious figures in SA are really good at! Oppressing people, resisting reformists’ efforts and molding Islam according to their own personal preferences is basically what they really do best.

    Sad, very very sad!

  4. Regarding the excuse that celebrating such occasions is forbidden because it imitates those that practice other faiths, excuse my limited knowledge but I’m not sure that Jews or Christians have anything specific stated about birthdays and wedding anniversaries! Don’t atheists too celebrate these occasions?

    And who said that it has to be called “eid” if that is the issue… I will not celebrate “eid milady or eid zawajy!” I’ll celebrate my birthDAY and weddingDAY !

  5. Far be it of me to defend the backwards teachings of Wahabism, but I think Islamic religious zeal is what you should blame. Islam clearly speaks against ” imitating infidels “.

    Prophet Mohammed instructed to fast a day before or after ashora just to make the practice a little different from the Jewish practice.

    So you’re being a little dishonest in singling out Wahabis and calling them xenophobes {even though you are completely justified in labeling them as so} for subscribing to a concept accepted by all major Islamic schools of jurisprudence.

  6. If someone’s birthday is celebrated by throwing all nite long party in a super luxury way, that contradict Islamic teachings, even if you can easily afford for that. However, if that occasion makes contemplating of yourself, thinking what good deeds have been done and whether it is worth your life the last one year. This thoughts showering with a simple cakes and drinks shared joy with our loved ones. What’s wrong with this?

  7. I think the logic is that anything at all that might make this life seem to be enjoyable is forbidden, because one should be constantly focussed on the next life. The plan is to sit around in a state of permanent gloom, praying at frequent intervals, in the hope that you will have lots of fun after you die. Why God would want a bunch of these old miseries in His Paradise, I don’t know. ______ They resent anyone else having fun because they might be tempted to join in, and because they do enjoy bullying people. The Puritans in England in the 17C were jusat the same.

  8. I agree with abu-dahim. since it’s a matter of difference of opinion..and since it’s an area of doubt, we should leave it.(as our Prophet salAllahu’alaihee wasallam said in a hadith). there are bigger things in life (and in saudi arabia)to worry about.

  9. I don’t celebrate birthdays or wedding myself NOT for Islamic reason but due to their commercialization. They have been turned to reasons for gift buying and constant commercial advertisements that has just made me sick.
    In all it’s just another day really no big fuss please.
    But so what if it makes others want to celebrate it, lets stop acting like bunch of sheeps and lets start using our own minds. If we had a daughter or a son who loves to be happy then why beat them over the head.
    If Muslims took a look at other religions they would soon realize that they have FAR TOO in common with them than they think.
    For example: Jewish women cover their hair, and are instructed to cover their entire body and Jewish people don’t eat Pork!!!! aren’t Muslims acting like Jews then?

  10. Good post, but feeble against a tide of rising conservatism destined to take us back to the dark ages. As long as the government keeps supporting these mouthpieces of fanatism, then there really is no light at the end of the tunnel.

  11. The longer I stay in KSA the more adamant I am becoming to fight religious (Christian) extremism back home in North America… Why not take the energy aimed against birthdays and clean up the trash in KSA or help poor Muslims? Silly…

  12. is this even something worth arguing over?
    two major scholars gave their opinion. follow whoever you want. but pls dont look down upon others who dont take the opinion you follow. like muslims dont have enough problems already. sheesh.

  13. YoungMuslimah,

    While you accept that there are two opinions and you follow what you like. This whole topic, is just about how one side doesn’t agree with the permissible view and believes it’s the only side that is right.

    How about we give credit for Evelyn Beatrice Hall when she paraphrased Voltaire’s attitude into “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

  14. Boyd R. Jones, I hear you -but why would they spend less time on incidentals when the whole issue of cleaning the environment and caring for the poor is a social interaction they frown upon? You’d be celebrating a person’s right to live clean, healthy, and safe.

    If you lack the civil mindedness and social education to care for anothers’ welfare; you couldn’t care two hoots what another person feels when they are in abject poverty and can’t go beyond mere existence; you would be oblivious to how the smell and sight of garbage assaults the senses – people faint and “they” would walk right by you- unless of course you are showing a leg, an arm, a face or a wisp of hair in your “inconsiderate” fall to the ground as you choked from the offal or tripped over the refuse- that would stop them in their tracks- “they’d” then spin into action and haul you off to prison!

    Being social and civil goes beyond the act of birthdays and such- it goes to the reaches of dignifying another human their existence..but what do I know I am just another Homo Sapien Sapien…

  15. Sparky needs someone to tighten the loose screws in her head…OM OM OMMMMMM (Meditation in tought times)

    God have mercy on us and Guide us to the truth! Wherever that may BE

    Help us to be kinder and more loving even when it is difficult

  16. i totally agree with AlAwdah, and personally admire his opinions and lectures.
    did i see the attack from society coming? of course i did. since the majority of our society are narrow minded or dare i say blocked minded.

  17. The worst aspect of this case is the ritualistic way of arguing, “we are imitating other religions”, whether it’s true or not ( and it isn’t) doesn’t matter, if you use (excuse me) the magic words, then you can’t argue against it.
    If you do you are a heretic.
    It’s also deeply antagonistic in relation to other religions. But okay some muslims don’t need friends

  18. I’m not religous, neither is my husband and we celebrate birthdays and our anniversary. I don’t consider it religous. We do it small. I like having dinner with him and letting him know how much I love having him in my life, what a good husband and father he is, and that he is appreciated. I guess I know less about Islam than I thought because I don’t understand why telling someone they’re important to you would go against the religon. You’re not worshipping them and it’s not vanity. It doesn’t have to be big or cost money. No group/religon/part of the world owns appreciating or loving the people in your life. Do the religous leaders really not want people to have joy and happiness in their life? I never knew that. Wouldn’t that be a precious gift from Allah? I don’t mean to offend anyone or push my opinion on someone, I simply don’t understand why it would be opposed to Islam.

Comments are closed.