Some people prefer to shun all forms of enjoyment, labeling them as useless pastimes of this world; others believe that as long as they are observing basic religious rituals, they are free to lead their lives as they wish.
Sparkling lights, bright clothes and the sound of laughter bring to mind a scene of joy and celebration. Mouth-watering food, tasty desserts and singing and dancing complete the picture. However, sadly, in the merriment and gaiety we often forget Allah’s (swt) pleasure and exceed all limits of decency and moderation prescribed by Shariah. Contrary to what most people would think, piety is not the opposite of gaiety; rejoicing does not have to be un-Islamic; and most importantly, you can be a pious Muslim and yet be a source of cheerfulness, liveliness and joy to those around you.
To become such a Muslim, it is imperative to know what Allah (swt) and His Messenger (sa) tell us about celebrating our moments of happiness.
Why do people celebrate?
A look at the festivals throughout the world gives us three major reasons for celebrations. Firstly, many people celebrate the change of seasons – Hindus, for instance, celebrate Holi and Basant at the onset of Spring. Secondly, there are those, who celebrate the birth of gods and goddesses – for example, the Romans celebrated the Feast of Lupercalia to honour Juno, the guardian of women and marriage. And thirdly, yet others celebrate historical events – for example, former Allied nations celebrate the Armistice Day as a reminder of victory against Germany and the Russian and Ottoman Empires in World War I.
Islamic celebrations, on the other hand, are not pinned down by the changes of seasons, or regional and local events. In fact, the two Islamic festivals (Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha) are not related either to the Prophet’s (sa) life or any important victories in the Islamic history. Instead, these celebrations are deeply-rooted in the message brought to this world by the Prophet (sa). Eid-ul-Fitr is celebrated after the month of Ramadan in gratefulness to Allah (swt) for having been able to complete a month of fasting. Eid-ul-Adha marks the Hajj rites and reminds Muslims of the sacrifice of Ibrahim (as) and Ismail (as). Rejoicing on these days becomes an act of worship, for the Prophet (sa) has said: “Indeed, for every nation there is a day of rejoicing, and this is our day of rejoicing.” (Bukhari)
Islam encourages rejoicing
According to a famous saying, “variety is the spice of life.” Therefore, it is but natural that we need some change in our daily lives for feeling refreshed and energized. Since Islam is a Deen that gives us guidelines on leading a natural life, it does not ignore this important aspect of human existence. Far from merely allowing celebration, Islam encourages rejoicing.
Allah (swt) says regarding the revelation of the Quran: “Say: ‘In the Bounty of Allah, and in His Mercy (i.e. Islam and the Quran); – therein let them rejoice.’ That is better than what (the wealth) they amass.” (Yunus 10:58)
Furthermore, at another point in the Quran, Allah (swt) asks the Prophet (sa) primarily, and the believers on a secondary level to proclaim the blessings that He has bestowed:
“And proclaim the Grace of your Lord (i.e. the Prophethood and all other Graces).”
Islamic celebrations and recreational activities
Apart from the two Eids, personal and national occasions also serve as permissible reasons to celebrate. Such personal occasions as marriage, the birth of a child, getting a new job, moving to a new house or getting a new car are some occasions for celebration. For young children, the starting of the recitation of the Quran and the completion of its recitation can also be reasons for celebration. Celebrating of such national occasions as the Independence Day also reminds us of the blessings of Allah (swt) granted in the form of an independent land where Islam can be practiced freely.
In a wider context, we find that Islam allows picnics, competitions and meaningful vacations. Prophet Yaqub’s (as) children, for example, went for a picnic, while the Companions of the Prophet (sa) engaged in dueling, camel-racing and archery – the Prophet (sa) even awarded prizes to the winners.
Meaningful vacations are also encouraged: “So travel through the land and see what was the end of those who denied (the truth).” (An-Nahl 16:36)
Etiquettes of celebration
Some of the encouraged etiquettes of celebration are exchanging of gifts, singing, reciting of good poetry and indulging in good humour.
Concerning gifts, we know from Aisha (rta) that Allah’s Messenger (sa) used to accept gifts and gave something in return. (Bukhari) In a Hadeeth narrated by Abu Hurairah (rta), we find the Prophet (sa) advising Muslim women: “O Muslim women! None of you should look down upon the gift sent by her female neighbour, even if it were the trotters of the sheep (fleshless part of the legs).” (Bukhari)
From Ahadeeth we know that singing on joyful occasions is also permitted.
Aisha (rta) has narrated: “Allah’s Messenger (sa) came to my house, while two girls were singing beside me the songs of Buath (a story about the war between the two tribes of the Ansar, the Khazraj and the Aus, before Islam). The Prophet (sa) lay down and turned his face to the other side. Then, Abu Bakr (rta) came and spoke to me harshly, saying: ‘Musical instruments of Satan near the Prophet (sa)?’ Allah’s Messenger (sa) turned his face towards him and said: ‘Leave them.’ When Abu Bakr (rta) became inattentive, I signaled to those girls to go out and they left.” (Bukhari)
Al-Rubayyi Bint Muawwidh reports: “The Prophet (sa) visited me on the night of my wedding, sitting not far from me. We had a number of maids playing the tambourine and singing poems in praise of my people, who were killed in the Battle of Badr. One of them said in her singing: ‘Among us is a Prophet who knows what will happen in future.’ The Prophet said to her: ‘Do not repeat this, but continue with what you were saying earlier.’” (Bukhari, Ahmad and Abu Dawood)
In the Prophet’s (sa) life, we find instances of good fun and humour. For example, we find him being playful with his wives.
Once, Aisha (rta) was talking very boldly with the Prophet (sa). Abu Bakr (rta) happened to come, and he grew so angry at his daughter’s behaviour that he wanted to beat her, but the Prophet (sa) prevented him. After Abu Bakr (rta) had left, he remarked: “See, how I saved you.” (Abu Dawood)
Limits set by Allah (swt)
Rejoicing and fun without limits is very likely to make harmless celebrations a source of worry and burden. Our beautiful Deen gives us guidelines regarding the boundaries that must be kept. Dr. Mahmood Ghazi, former president of the International Islamic University (Islamabad), highlights three major factors that need to be considered when rejoicing: modesty, moderation and keeping in mind the basic objectives of Shariah.
According to Imran Ibn Hussain (rta), the Prophet (sa) highlighted the excellence of modesty: “Haya (modesty, bashfulness, self-respect) does not bring anything except good.” (Bukhari)
Contrary to general understanding, modesty does not merely refer to an outward expression of chastity. Although codes of conduct regarding proper dress and interaction with the opposite gender are important, they are not the be-all and the end-all. Modesty should be entrenched in one’s nature, which is most apparent through body language and conversation. If properly dressed girls are singing lewd songs or dancing in an obscene manner, it cannot be called modest behaviour.
Ibn Abbas (rta) has narrated (on the authority of Abu Hurairah (rta)) that the Prophet (sa) said: “Allah has written for Adam’s son his share of adultery, which he commits inevitably. The adultery of the eyes is the sight (to gaze at a forbidden thing), the adultery of the tongue is the talk, and the inner self wishes and desires and the private parts testify all this or deny it.” (Bukhari)
Allah (swt) has asked the believers not to be wasteful or extravagant: “O Children of Adam! …eat and drink but waste not by extravagance, certainly He (Allah) likes not Al-Musrifun (those who waste by extravagance).” (Al-Araf 7:31)
Spending on permissible acts beyond what is necessary constitutes extravagance, while squandering wealth or any other blessing of Allah (swt) would mean spending on what Allah (swt) has prohibited, even if it means spending only a rupee. In the latter case, one can seek a scholar’s help to understand what is allowed, while in the former situation, one has to decide subjectively, what is necessary and what goes beyond that.
Being mindful of Shariah objectives
While celebrating, we have to consider the five basic objectives of Shariah, namely, the protection of life, wealth, honour, mind/sense and Deen. For instance, if rejoicing results in the loss of innocent lives, delay or abandonment of obligatory acts of worship, then such activities would not be in line with the objectives of Shariah. At the same time, however, cultural traditions that are not based on polytheism, do not result in disunity among the Muslims and do not exceed the limits prescribed by the Shariah are permissible. For instance, in Morocco pigeon’s soup is served at Iftar time during Ramadan, while Iftar in Pakistan would be incomplete without the traditional Pakoras. Such cultural traditions conform to the above guidelines.
We must also remember that as Muslims we have a distinct identity and culture – we must not fall prey to an inferiority complex which results in copycat behaviour. The Prophet (sa) has said: “Whoever imitates a nation (in its ways and culture) becomes one of them.” (Abu Dawood)
Obtaining Allah’s (swt) blessings
Aligning our special occasions of rejoicing with the above principles will make our celebrations not only memorable, but also deserving of Allah’s (swt) blessing and mercy. May Allah (swt) give us the wisdom for making our celebrations a source of happiness for all those around us, Ameen.