Islamically speaking, we have heard time and again why we should NOT celebrate birthdays. How instead we should be using the time for self-reflection and realize the fragile nature of life. Well, that’s one way of looking at it. The other way is to thank Allah for giving you an extra year to live. In which you have the chance to make amends as it were, for the previous year’s sins, rebelliousness or disobedience. If not that, then to increase in you good deeds.
In life there are always two ways of looking at things. You choose the way you want to look at things. This post is not about the pros and cons, the plus and negatives of celebrating birthdays. We have heard plenty of it. Even a 5 year old knows he where or she stands on this issue.
Hardly any, if not a few, know if the actual origins of the celebration of birthdays, i mean historically. We have heard all the religious customaries/reasons there is to hear about the innovation of birthday celebrations. What i will like to bring to the discussion is the historical origins of the celebrations of birthdays. Then leave it up to you to decide whether we should or should not celebrate birthdays.
Almost everybody, today, celebrates birthdays. Around the world, friends and relatives hold birthday parties, give gifts to the one being honored, and wish “Happy birthday!” to the one whose birthday is being celebrated. But why? Where did this universal custom originate?
In the World Book — Childcraft International says regarding “Holidays and Birthdays,
“For thousands of years people all over the world have thought of a birthday as a very special day. Long ago, people believed that on a birthday a person could be helped by good spirits, or hurt by evil spirits. So, when a person had a birthday, friends and relatives gathered to protect him or her. And that’s how birthday parties began.”
“The idea of putting candles on birthday cakes goes back to ancient Greece. The Greeks worshiped many gods and goddesses. Among them was one called Artemis.
“Artemis was the goddess of the moon. The Greeks celebrated her birthday once each month by bringing special cakes to her temple. The cakes were round like a full moon. And, because the moon glows with light, the cakes were decorated with lighted candles.”
This authority goes on:
“More and more, though, people the world over attach a certain magic to their actual date of birth. . . We may wear a ring with our birthstone in it for good luck. And when we blow out the candles on our birthday cake, we are careful to keep what we wished a secret. If we tell, of course, our wish won’t come true.
“In other words, we follow many of the old birthday beliefs. We pay attention to the meanings of old-time birth symbols. And we carry on the old celebrations. We don’t necessarily take them seriously. We do these things mainly for fun. But it is also possible that there is something deep inside us that wants to believe.”
Why do people say, “Happy birthday!” to each other? Says this authority, “For the good wishes of our friends and relatives are supposed to protect us from evil spirits.”
Noise making was employed as an additional measure for warding off the bad spirits. The working of magical spells was an integral part of living in ancient times. Giving birthday greets was a way of working a spell for protection as further shielding from evil spirits. They believed that the recipient was surrounded by his personal spirits, therefore more exposed to the power of the spell.
Party snappers, horns, bursting balloons, firecrackers, and other noisemakers are just one more way of trying to scare off any bad-luck spirits that may be hovering about. Although many would argue the celebrations of birthdays are now done purely for fun and not as a ritual. It is to wish the person good luck for the year to come. – If this is the sole purpose for celebrating birthdays, to wish good luck and to have fun, then can we not do this in other ways? Instead of adopting a pagan ritual act? Must we borrow ideas of ‘fun’ from pagan rituals? Now, many would also say, ‘most, if not all our religious traditions and customaries come from pagan origins. Take for example the kabah, the circumambulation of it, and Ramadan’. Frankly, this is absurd! In the original scheme of things. These acts were not pagan. It is the pagan religions which adopted these traditions into their rituals. Birthday celebrations, Christmas, Olympics and the like, originate from pagan religions. They do not go beyond the first emergence of paganism. That is, pagans did not adopt them from divinely revealed religious traditions. In other words, birthday celebrations, Christmas and Olympics were manufactured by paganists.
If a person MUST celebrate his birthday, then the best way of doing it is to keep a fast on that day. Just as the prophet (saw) used to do every Mondays – the day in which he (saw) was born. Any act can be turned in a worship, even celebrations. So, if anyone wishes to celebrate his birthday and earn reward for doing so. then there is no better way to do it than keeping a fast on that day. Thanking Allah for the gift of another year in which you can get to worship him and live life. For the younger ones, to help them mold into the Islāmic way of life and the sunnah. A person can encourage them to learn a dua, and as a reward take to them to an amusement park.
Lastly, remember to have a balanced approach. Many Muslims do not know of the origins of celebrating birthdays. They have simply, like many others have adopted this custom blindly. The only way to enlighten people about issues such as this, is by applying wisdom. When or if you get invited to a birthday party, do not go there and start shouting ‘celebrating birthdays are haram!. You are gonna burn in hell. That child of yours is going to grow up and be the devils advocate!’. kindly, let them know why you cant attend your nieces, nephews or even a friend’s birthday party. Let them have all the facts and then let them decide why it is wrong to celebrate birthdays in the way they are doing it. Leave them a way to come out. Don’t leave them in the dark and say ‘celebrating birthdays is wrong. Give them an alternative, tell them the prophetic way of celebrating for instance.