Miladunnabi, the celebrations of the prophet’s birthday, is annually commemorated these days with such strong religious fervour that someone newly introduced to the Muslim world could be excused for assuming that such celebrations were very much a part of Islam, the message of God brought by the prophet. And if an impression of that kind is possibly created in the minds of even a few people, when the reality was that the prophet himself never celebrated that occasion nor desired it to be done by his followers, then such celebrations do qualify to be criticized for being a religious innovation, bid‘ah.
The prophet, God’s mercy be on him, is reported to have criticized bid‘ah as a misguidance that would lead to the hell. The reason why a bid‘ah was a misguidance was that it created a false impression about the message of Islam by including in its package what was not designed by God to be a part of it. The reason why the so-called Eid Miladunnabi was a bid‘ah was that it most certainly created that false impression in the minds of many people, both Muslims and non-Muslims. Such is the impact of this occasion in the minds of people that some Muslims exchange Eid greetings on that day. In actual fact, some of the text books taught to Muslim children mention that there were three Eids which Muslims celebrate, one of them being this later entry into the list.
The irony of the matter is that even though historians are unanimous in their understanding that 12 Rabiul Awwal, the day when the prophet’s birthday is celebrated, was the day when he died, they do not likewise agree that the same day was his day of birth as well. Shibli Naumani, for example, in his famous book on Sirah, quotes the opinion of an Egyptian mathematician, Mahmud Pasha Falki, who showed through his calculations that the prophet was born on 9 Rabiul Awwal. Had it been a part of the divine plan to include these celebrations as a part of the package of Islam, the day when such celebrations were to be held should have been authentically preserved, like has been done in the case of the other two Eids.
The fact of the matter is that Muslims have resorted to celebrate Miladunnabi either in response to the Christian celebrations of Christmas or within the Muslim world, the Sunni Muslims have responded by these celebrations to the commemoration of the tragedy of Karbala by the Shia Muslims. Whatever be the reasons of these celebrations, they have not been initiated by the prophet of God and therefore have no place in Islam.
The prophet of Islam most certainly used to celebrate his birthday, although in a very private way. He made it a routine to fast on Mondays to thank God because he was born on a Monday. His birthday celebrations were therefore done not on an annual but weekly basis. And they were marked by a sense of deep gratitude to the Creator which was expressed through act of fasting.