How Birthday Parties Started

The tradition of birthday parties started in Europe a long time ago. It was feared that evil spirits were particularly attracted to people on their birthdays. To protect them from harm, friends and family would to come be with the birthday person and bring good thoughts and wishes. Giving gifts brought even more good cheer to ward off the evil spirits. This is how birthday parties began.

At first it was only kings who were recognized as important enough to have a birthday celebration (maybe this is how the tradition of birthday crowns began?). As time went by, children became included in birthday celebrations. The first children's birthday parties occurred in Germany and were called Kinderfeste.

The Greeks believed that everyone had a protective spirit or daemon who attended his birth and watched over him in life. This spirit had a mystic relation with the god on whose birthday the individual was born.

The Romans also subscribed to this idea.  This notion was carried down in human belief and is reflected in the guardian angel, the fairy godmother and the patron saint. The custom of lighted candles on the cakes started with the Greeks. Honey cakes round as the moon and lit with tapers were placed on the temple altars of (Artemis). Birthday candles, in folk belief, are endowed with special magic for granting wishes. Lighted tapers and sacrificial fires have had a special mystic significance ever since man first set up altars to his gods. The birthday candles are thus an honor and tribute to the birthday child and bring good fortune.

These birthday celebrations also involve imitation of the Jews and Christians in their birthday celebrations. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, warning us against following their ways and traditions: “You would follow the ways of those who came before you step by step, to such an extent that if they were to enter a lizard’s hole, you would enter it too.” They said, “O Messenger of Allah, (do you mean) the Jews and Christians?” He said, “Who else?” (Reported by al-Bukhari and Muslim). The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) also said: “Whoever imitates a people is one of them.” (Fataawa Islamiyyah, 1/115)

Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allah have mercy on him) said in his commentary on the ayah (interpretation of the meaning), “And those who do not witness falsehood (al-zoor)” (al-Furqan 25:72): As regards the festivals of the mushrikeen: they combine confusion, physical desires and falsehood, there is nothing in them that is of any religious benefit, and the instant gratification involved in them only ends up in pain. Thus they are falsehood, and witnessing them means attending them.

This ayah itself praises and commends (those who do not witness falsehood), which has the meaning of urging people to avoid taking part in their festivals and other kinds of falsehood. We understand that it is bad to attend their festivals because they are called al-zoor (falsehood).

It indicates that it is haram to do this for many reasons, because Allah has called it al-zoor. Allah condemns the one who speaks falsehood (al-zoor) even if no-one else is harmed by it, as in the ayah forbidding zihaar (a form of divorce in which the man says to his wife “you are to me like the back of my mother”), where He says (interpretation of the meaning): “And verily, they utter an ill word and a lie (zooran)” (al-Mujadilah 58:2). And Allah says (interpretation of the meaning): “So shun the abomination of idols, and shun lying speech (false statements) (al-zoor)”. (al-Hajj 22:30). So the one who does al-zoor is condemned in this fashion.

In the Sunnah: Anas ibn Maalik (may Allah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) came (to Madinah) and they had two days in which they would (relax and) play. He said, What are these two days? They said, We used to play (on these two days) during the Jahiliyyah. The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: Allah has given you something better instead of them: Yawm al-Duha (Eid al-Adha) and Yawm al-Fitr (Eid al-Fitr). (Reported by Abu Dawood).

This indicates clearly that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) definitely forbade his ummah to celebrate the festivals of the kuffar, and he strove to wipe them out by all possible means. The fact that the religion of the People of the Book is accepted does not mean that their festivals are approved of or should be preserved by the ummah, just as the rest of their kufr and sins are not approved of. Indeed, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) went to great lengths to command his ummah to be different from them in many issues that are mubaah (permitted) and in many ways of worship, lest that lead them to be like them in other matters too. This being different was to be a barrier in all aspects, because the more different you are from the people of Hell, the less likely you are to do the acts of the people of Hell.

The first of them is: The hadith “Every people has its festival, and this is our festival” implies exclusivity, that every people has its own festival, as Allah says (interpretation of the meaning): “For every nation there is a direction to which they face (in their prayers) (al-Baqarah 2:148) and to each among you, We have prescribed a law and a clear way” (al-Maaidah 5:48). This implies that each nation has its own ways. The laam in li-kulli (for every, to each) implies exclusivity. So if the Jews have a festival and the Christians have a festival, it is just for them, and we should not have any part in it, just as we do not share their qiblah (direction of prayer) or their laws.

The second of them is: one of the conditions set out by Umar ibn al-Khattaab (may Allah be pleased with him) and agreed upon by the Sahabah and by all the fuqaha after them is: that those of the People of the Book who have agreed to live under Islamic rule (ahl al-dhimmah) should not celebrate their festivals openly in Daar al-Islam (lands under Islamic rule). If the Muslims have agreed to prevent them from celebrating openly, how could it be right for the Muslims to celebrate them? If a Muslim celebrates them, is that not worse than if a kafir does so openly?


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