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(89): Why I Don’t ‘Celebrate’ Birthday

Muhsin Ibrahim

A few years back, I barely noticed the passing of my birthdays. A few years later, during my postsecondary school days, I began to get a lone reminder of the days: SMS from my bank. That is no longer the case. The day comes with a lot of buzz and fuss. A plethora of “Happy Birthday” messages trickle into my phone, email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc inboxes and timelines. Some close friends call; others walk into my office to express their wishes and prayers. What a change! I am heartily grateful, ladies and gentlemen. But that was not my (our?) culture. It gradually becomes so due to the “sameness” effect of globalization, which conjoins cultures. Today, people go to the extent of writing “Happy birthday to myself” on the social media!

Celebrating birthday that way is rather a new culture, at least so I believe. It is a novel culture we are willingly adopting today; it was not imposed on us by anyone, lest you think that. Therefore, I don’t outright look down upon the tradition of throwing a party to celebrate a birthday. It’s a choice. However, it’s not my culture as I didn’t grow up seeing anyone’s birthday being celebrated in my home nor in our neighbourhoods. My memory can only recall seeing “Birthday Celebrations” on the TV screen, in books, or hear about it. I could be wrong due to the vagaries of the brain, but I cannot remember anything like birthday celebration within my immediate environment in my childhood.

My early youth – and I am still a youth – coincided with the popularity of what some people describe as “orthodox” version of Islam, the Izala Movement, within Kano city. Following their exegesis, I began to consider birthday celebration as Haram, i.e. forbidden in the religion I profess and practice. A number of scholars have preached against Maulud – the birthday celebration of the Prophet Muhammad, may Allah exalt his mention. They are unmistakably convincing, for, to me (us), the common pictures and stories of birthday celebration were, by and large, only of and by the non-Muslims. I, therefore, concluded that if celebrating the Prophet’s is, at worst, Haram or, at best, Bidi’a, i.e. innovation, what of celebrating others’? It kind of merits capital punishment!

I am not, in any way, trying to reopen the dull debate on the acceptability or otherwise of Maulud here. I am only narrating a personal experience and opinion. I partially share Malam Ibrahim Khalil’s view on Maulud. The controversial scholar popularly advocates that those who do it should continue, while those who don’t should not start. To me, Maulud is of different categories. Some I consider wrong, others I frown at, and less than few others I feel indifferent towards. But I do not do it, and I will not start. That is why I feel psychologically contemplative to, at the moment, celebrate even my own birthday. Luckily for me, the day fell on vacation days while I was in India. Else, my very jovial Indian friends would have forced me to celebrate it lavishly the way they normally do.

I crossed three decades yesterday. I am so very grateful to Allah, the Exalted, for His countless blessings upon me. A few Facebook friends have noticed that they couldn’t access my timeline to post their wishes and prayers. I actually intentionally locked it down. I learned a lesson from the last years’. I received a deluge of messages – thanks to all for that. I received slightly less than that this year. As mentioned already, I am equally very grateful to whoever sent me message via whatever means. This was alright; it was a low key 'celebration' if you like. May we witness many more years to come in peace and prosperity, amin.

I have nonetheless observed how some jokers celebrate their own birthdays in style but berate those celebrating the Prophet’s. In all honesty, I think that is hypocritical. I am sorry if this hurts, but I can’t find a better adjective. I had intended to take on such a practice since but I thought otherwise to avoid any misunderstanding. Sincerely speaking, I cannot reconcile between their argument and action; they are contradictory.

As Maulud as Birthday Celebration; my view doesn’t change. I don’t celebrate it, for I have yet to discover or understand its signification. I age every day, not on a particular yearly day. Yet, I don’t blame those who do it, particularly the Christians in whose religion birthday is a rewarding ritual. The Hindus, Sikhs, etc too attach great importance to it. In fact, birthday is like a daily ritual in India as they have millions of gods, goddesses, demigods and saints. They celebrate almost all of these.

I eagerly send birthday wishes to those friends who wholeheartedly believe in it, and send the same to a few non-Hausa and fewer Hausa-Muslim friends. The celebrant feels happy and grateful. I want to make everyone happy, but I detest double standard. I am also not conservative; I am receptive to change, perhaps intransigently though. Thanks, once again, for the well wishes and prayers.

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