Actually, celebrating the Prophet’s birthday is a controversial issue among Muslim scholars. The most correct opinion is that there is nothing in celebrating this occasion by acts such as introducing the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and infusing vigor among Muslims as well as non-Muslims to study his sirah (biography).
There is a heated debate raging in the Muslim community on this issue. People are divided into two warring camps based on their definitions of bid`ah and Sunnah. One group condemns commemorating anything to do with the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) as a bad innovation.
Another group often sanctions all kinds of practices, some of them bordering on shirk (Arabic for: paganism), under the pretext of expression of love of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). It is best that we keep to the middle path. Let the words of Imam Hasan Al-Basri serve as a guiding principle for us: “Religion of Allah stands midway between extreme rigidity and extreme veneration.” It is rigidity to be obsessed with the letter of the law to such an extent that one neglects the spirit. It is equally wrong to venerate the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) excessively as the Christians did with Jesus (peace be on him) thus deifying him. We must shun both extremes.
We have room in Islam for expressing our genuine love and reverence toward the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him), our guide and perfect role model. We may, therefore, commemorate events of his life as the Prophet’s Companions did as long as we stay clear of excesses. We know from the sirah (Arabic for: Prophet Muhammad’s biography) that the Companions celebrated the Prophet’s arrival in Madinah with fanfare and singing.
Anas ibn Malik said, “I witnessed the arrival of the Prophet in Madinah. I never witnessed a brighter and a happier day. I also witnessed the day of his death. I witnessed no darker or a more inauspicious day!” We also know that `Umar ibn Al-Khattab, the second caliph, commemorated the hijrah (Arabic for: the immigration to Madinah) by starting the Islamic Calendar accordingly. He considered the option of using the Prophet’s birth or Prophetic call for the same and turned them down for practical reasons only.
So, there is nothing wrong in commemorating the event of the Prophet’s birth to express our love for the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). We can use the month of Rabi` Al-Awwal to inspire our new generations and educate people of his great life and character. It is permissible to praise the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) through speeches, nashids (songs), etc., as long we do so within the limits of the Shari`ah.
Several scholars, both the past and the present (such as Ibn Hajar Al-`Asqalani, Jalal Ad-Din As-Suyuti, `Atiyyah Saqr, `Abdullah As-Siddiq Al-Ghimari, and Faisal Mawlawi) have ruled: We cannot consider the celebration of Prophet’s birthday as a bad innovation simply on the ground that it was not practiced in the early times. There is no harm in instituting new customs in areas other than the strict acts of worship, if there are benefits. Obvious benefits associated with this commemoration include: Inspiring the new generations and educating the people by the great examples of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).
Nations celebrate memorable events of their history in order to connect them with their past. No one can deny that for Muslims nothing can be more significant than the coming of the Messenger of Mercy. It was for this reason that Caliph `Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) chose Hijrah to mark the Islamic Calendar after consulting the Companions.
Nowadays where Islamic consciousness is on a steady decline among Muslims, such a commemoration may go a long way in rekindling the fire of love of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).
It is ironic that many of those who condemn such a celebration as a bid`ah, nevertheless, express no qualms in celebrating jubilees of various kinds (silver, gold, or diamond) associated with their institutions, movements, or nations. One fails to see how the former is condemned while the latter is tolerated.
May Allah grant us rectitude in judgments, and may He inflame our hearts with love of Allah’s Messenger, and may He gather us all under his banner on the Day of Resurrection, amen.
Allah Almighty knows best.