Bint Ahmed Sulaymaan – Cii Radio | 15 Rabi uth Thani 143606 February 2015

“Spoiler Alert – Children’s birthday parties are getting more and more extravagant.” A heading from an article recently read after a five year old British boy was sent an invoice to cover the cost of his nonappearance at a friend’s birthday party.

Alex Nash’s dad had RSVP’d on his behalf for the friend’s birthday party at a local ski and snow resort, but his son preferred to keep a previously scheduled visit with grandparents instead and without notice didn’t attend the celebrations. The furious mom throwing the birthday party quickly sent the Nash family an invoice for 15.95 pounds (about R280). While everyone else debated about whether the parents should pay, the writer asked the prized question, “Since when do moms and dads host birthday parties for children at ski resorts? And why do we think that’s OK?”

Cii Radio’s Safeera Kaka asked listeners about their thoughts on the extravagant parties Muslims are hosting for all kinds of celebrations, birthday parties, weddings, bridal showers and baby showers. Most of the responders expressed disapproval for the new customs. “Sometimes I think these young mums are crazy. It’s all about keeping up with the Joneses, from branded clothes, branded shoes, branded prams to branded parties,” said a caller.

Another said, “The Mufti says that we cover and drape the hall, tables and chairs at our weddings so well yet we attend half naked. I think we need to cut down. We love the dunya too much. We need to bring more Sunnah into our lives.”

While we question how far we should go in these celebrations and what our alternatives are, the answer is actually very simple. Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) ordered his companions to limit their formal celebrations to the two Eids, Jumu’ah and the occasion of Nikah . Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) prohibited them from celebrating the other festivals that they used to celebrate and commemorate before Islam, “When I came to you, you had two days which you used to celebrate in Jahiliyyah. Allah has replaced them for you with better days, the days of slaughter (Adhaa) and the day of fitr.”

And while the two Eids have been given to celebrate, Islam discourages extravagance and waste and spending beyond one’s means.

Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) has also warned in several Ahadith about following the customs and ways of people of the Scripture. Ibn Umar (radiallahu anhu) is narrated to have said that Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) said, “Whoever imitates a people is one of them.”

Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) is also reported to have said, “You will imitate the nations before you very closely hand span by hand span, cubit by cubit, to the extent that if they went into a lizard’s hole, you would enter it as well.” The companions (radiallahu anhum) inquired, “(Do you mean) the Jews and Christians, O Messenger of Allah?” He *sallallaahu alayhi wasallam) said, “Who else?” [Bukhaari & Muslim] Entering a lizard’s hole is said to means the extreme imitation of these people in sin and disobedience.

And this is not far-fetched. Muslim communities have adopted the dress, manners, customs and even lifestyle of the disbelievers to such an extent that Muslims don’t even question its origin. Yet practicing a Sunnah is done with less effort and excitement. Whenever someone is told of a new Sunnah, the sad response is, “It’s just a Sunnah, not a Fardh”.

We aren’t meant to celebrate birthday parties in Islam but it is something that exists in the Muslim community. Young children, from their first birthday, are given the spotlight at themed parties that seem to cater to the desires of adults. Young minds in the stage of development are being indoctrinated with things far from Islam.

Islam is pure, concise and simple but we complicate matters, with some families putting themselves into financial and emotional distress in order to host a celebration that will meet everyone else’s approval.

In one of his talks, Mufti Ismail Menk said of these celebrations, “It’s so difficult to talk today because you are talking to a secular world. They will pick on a small point of yours and make it a big issue for nothing not realising that we do believe you are free to choose whether you are Muslim or not. But the fact that you chose to be a Muslim, you are not free to change Islam. You cannot say Islam needs to be modified. Then tell yourself you’re a modified Muslim. If you want to call yourself a Muslim you’ve surrendered.”

Many of these celebrations have pagan origins. The different aspects of a birthday party, the cake, the candles and the merry making are all part of traditions rooted in customs originating in Ancient Greece. The Greeks made round cakes to honour Artemis, the goddess of the moon. They often decorated it with either one lit candle or several to represent the glow of the moon. They also believed that the smoke from the lit candles carried their prayers and wishes to their Gods who lived in the skies. Other references do not attribute these to the Greeks. Some believe it started in Germany, where a candle was supposedly placed on the cake to represent “the light of life”.

“The ancient world of Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Persia celebrated the birthdays of gods, kings, and nobles.” Authors Ralph and Adelin Linton reveal the underlying reason for this. In their book The Lore of Birthdays, they write, “Mesopotamia and Egypt, the cradles of civilization, were also the first lands in which men remembered and honoured their birthdays. The keeping of birthday records was important in ancient times principally because a birth date was essential for the casting of a horoscope.” There is a connection between the Pagan practice of birthday celebrations and astrology.

Yet people think nothing of the customs mimicked at these celebrations. Our best role model is Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) and will continue to be Rasulullah (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) even in Jannah. Allah SWT said in this regard, “There indeed has come a Messenger from amongst you. It grieves him that you should receive any injury or hardship. He is very anxious for you to be rightly guided. For the believers he is full of pity and mercy.” [Surah Taubah, verse 128]