Question: I know that in Islam it is not allowed to celebrate secular holidays, in particular, a birthday. Howtobein this case if my relatives are non-Muslims and they want to congratulate me with my birthday? Can I, in turn, congratulate them with their birthdays and give them gifts in this day? They’ll take offense at me if I don’tmakeit. (Anonim)
Assalamu Alaikum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakaatuh
To deliberately imitate disbelievers is prohibited in Islam. Sayyiduna Abdullah Bin Umar (RadiyallahuAnhu) reports that Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alaihi Wa sallam) said:
من تشبه بقوم فهو منهم
“Whoever imitates a nation is considered to be part of them”
(Abu Dawood, Hadith #: 4031)
It should be noted that the Tashabbuh (imitation) of non-Muslims that has been prohibited in the Hadith refers to imitating them in aspects that are specific to their religion and customs. Sheikh Jameel bin Habib al-Luwayhiq al-Mutayri (Hafizahullah) has summed up the principle comprehensively in his book “Prohibited imitation in the light of Islamic Jurisprudence”:
لا يكون التشبه بالكفار إلا بفعل ما اختصوا به من دينهم أو عاداتهم
“Prohibited imitation of the non-Muslims is only in those matters that are specific to their religion and customs”(Pg: 8-12)
In other words, Tashabbuh that is prohibited is that type of imitation of the non-Muslims that the observer immediately associates that act to their religion or customs. For example, to shave the beard and lengthen the moustache. This is a salient feature of polytheists and is thus prohibited as recorded in the Hadith in Sahih al-Bukhari. Similarly, if a person has to spike his hair and dye it orange, an onlooker would immediately associate him to people loose and immoral people. Thus, to fashion one’s hair in this manner is impermissible due to the element of Tashabbuh.
I recall reading the similar explanation in the Malfoozaat (anecdotes) of HakimulUmmahMoulana Ashraf Ali Thanwi (Rahimahullah).
On the contrary, merely congratulating a person on his birthday is not associated to any religion in particular nor is it the custom of any specific nation. It is a general worldwide practice. This is because the date of birth of a person is a noteworthy day amongst people in general. It is not specific to any religion or cult. We also find in the Qur’an where mention is made of the date of birth of SayyidunaYahya and Eesa (Alaihimas Salaam).
وَسَلَامٌ عَلَيْهِ يَوْمَ وُلِدَ وَيَوْمَ يَمُوتُ وَيَوْمَ يُبْعَثُ حَيًّا
Peace on him the day he was born, the day he dies and the day he will be raised alive
(Qur’an, 19: 15)
وَالسَّلَامُ عَلَيَّ يَوْمَ وُلِدْتُ وَيَوْمَ أَمُوتُ وَيَوْمَ أُبْعَثُ حَيًّا
And peace is upon me the day I was born, the day I shall die, and the day I shall be raised alive again (Qur’an, 19:33)
It is obvious that these verses do not prove that it is recommended to celebrate birthdays and no one can actually adduce this as proof for the same. However, what can be understood from the verses is that the date of birth is a noteworthy day. Hence, people usually have the habit of congratulating a person on his date of birth.
Yes, to celebrate birthdays in a way that is specific to the norms and customs of disbelievers is prohibited. For example, to light candles on the cake and sing the birthday song etc.
In short, to wish a person well on his birthday is not prohibited. However, to celebrate the birthday in the ways and customs of disbelievers is prohibited. Allamah Rashid Ahmed Gangohi (Rahimahullah) has mentioned a similar Fatwa is his Fatawa Rashidiyyah.
As far as giving gifts on the occasion of birthdays, This is discouraged as this has a strong resemblance to ways and customs specific to non-Muslims. You should abstain from giving gifts on a person’s birthday. However, if someone presents you with a gift on your birthday and you feel that if you feel that they will be offended if you refuse it, you should accept it in order not to hurt the person’s feelings. Some scholars recommend that this gift should then be given away to another person, but there is also no harm if you keep the gift for yourself.
And Allah Knows Best.
Mufti Suhail Tarmahomed