12 Rabi ul Awal – The birth of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW)
We have been told that the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was born on the 12 of Rabi ul Awal, and this is the commonly known date. Yet the fact of the matter is that our early historical textbooks mentioned a number of dates, and there is no unanimous agreed upon decision regarding the dates of the Prophets’ Muhammad (SAW) birth.
In the famous hadith of Sahih Muslim, a man asks the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), “Why do you fast on Mondays?” Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said, “This was the day I was born on.” “And this was the day that revelation began to me.”
i.e. Iqra’ came down on Monday. So we know for a fact that He was born on a Monday.
In which Year Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was born?
There’s a beautiful narration in which “Uthman ibn Affan” asks one of the oldest Qurashies, his name was “Qubash ibn Ashyam” after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). He asks him,
“A anta akbaru min rasuulillah (SAW)?”
Are you Akbar, meaning older, because he’s an old old man? But of course, Akbar also means bigger or grandeur. Qubaith smiles and he goes, “The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is Akbar than me, but I am older than Prophet Muhammad (SAW).”
He changes the question because the question is alluding to the fact, “Are you bigger than the Prophet (SAW)?” So he said, “No, the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is bigger than me, but I am older than him.
Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was born in the year of the elephant
Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was born in the year of the elephant, and as for me, I remember my mother taking me outside of Makkah as a child, and I saw the dried up green dung that the elephants had left. That he remembers the elephants’ dung, which is basically the same year as the year of the elephants, right? And the Prophet (SAW) was born that year. So he is a little bit older than the Prophet (SAW), and the Prophet (SAW) is bigger than him.This hadith is narrated in Tirmidhi.
Somebody asks another sahabi, Suwaid Ibn Ghaflah, about the Prophets’ (SAW) birth and he said, “The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and I were both born on the same year, in the year of the elephant.” So from both of these narrations, we can pretty much verify that the Prophet (SAW) was born in the year of the elephant.
The vast majority of early historians said Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was born in the year of the elephant. Arabs did not have a calendar at that time, that they would have a calendar based upon events.
what is the year of the elephants?
The majority of historians say this corresponds to 570 of the Christian Era, 570 CE the Prophet (SAW) was born.
Prophet Muhammad (SAW) really born on 12 Rabi ul Awal?
How about the month and the day of the month? Ibn Ishaq says without any chain of narrators, he’s writing from himself that the Prophet (SAW) was born on a Monday the 12 of Rabbi ul Awal, in the year of the elephant. So this explains why this opinion is present.
However, between him and the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) almost 200 years, because remember going back to the birth of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is 53 before the hijrah. And he doesn’t tell us where he gets it from, who’s narrating this to him, what is the chains of narrators.
Opinions about Prophet Muhammad (SAW) date of birth
When we look at the second earliest book, and this is called the Tabaqat of Ibn Sa’d which is written around 220 or so hijrah, It is said that the prophet (SAW) was born on a Monday. Some people say Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was born on the 10th of Rabi ul Awal. Others say he was born on the 2nd of Rabi ul Awal.
Ibn ‘Abbas also said the 10th of Rabi ul Awal. Ibn Kathir in his Al bidayah Wan Nihayah says that the majority opinion is that the Prophet (SAW) was born on Rabi ul Awal, and then scholars differed with regards to the date of this birth.
One group said Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was born on the 2nd of Rabi ul Awal. Ibn Kathir says this was the opinion of Abu Mashar al Sindhi, a famous scholar of history who died 171 H, it was also the opinion of Ibn Abdul Barr, a very famous scholar of Andalus, died 463 H. It was also the opinion of al Waqidi, died 207 H.
Al Waqidi is one of the most famous historians in early Islam. Ibn Kathir goes on, another opinion is that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was born on the 8th of Rabi ul Awal.
He says this is the opinion of Ibn Hazam, a famous scholar of Andalus, Imam Malik ibn Anas, the scholar of Madinah, and the opinion of Az Zuhri and the opinion of Muhammad ibn Jubair ibn Mut’im.
Ibn Kathir moves on, a third opinion is that Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was born on the 10th of Rabi ul Awal. He says this was the opinion of Ibn As Shakir, and the opinion of Ja’far As Sadiq, Ja’far As Sadiq was the descendant of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), and the Shia considered him to be one of the Imams.
Ibn Kathir says the fourth opinion is that he was born on the 12 of Rabi ul Awal, and this is the opinion of Ibn Ishaq.
But there is no isnad on this matter. Ibn Kathir does say that this is the most popular opinion in his time. Ibn Kathir died seven hundred seventy-something. Way after.
In medieval Islam, 12 Rabi ul Awal is the most popular opinion, and from medieval Islam up until our time is the most popular. But in early Islam it’s not the most popular.
The fifth opinion the 17th of Rabi ul Awal, the sixth opinion, the 22nd of Rabi ul Awal, the seventh opinion is that prophet Muhammad (SAW) wasn’t even born Rabi ul Awal, he was born in Ramadan, and this was the opinion of Az Zubair ibn Bakar, who was the first scholar to ever write history on Makkah, and he died 256 H. And there are other opinions as well.
To summarize there are over 10 opinions in the earliest book of Islam about the exact day that the Prophet (SAW) was born, none of them have solid evidence. All of them are the opinions of early authors and narrators, and to be very academic the opinion of the 12 of Rabi ul Awal seems to have much less weight than the 2nd, and the 8th, and the 10th. Because these three have tabiuun, tabiut tabiuun. They have descendants of the Prophet (SAW).
12 Rabi ul Awal According to history
Whereas the opinion of the 12, it is by Ibn Ishaq, who is 200 after the birth of the Prophet (SAW) and he doesn’t have any chain. Why then is the opinion of the 12 of Rabi ul Awal the most popular so much so that for many of you it’s shocking that I’m daring to go against this fact of history. Right? Very easy to respond.
90% of authors who wrote about seerah, they only rely on ibn Ishaq. They just take ibn Ishaq and summarize it, redo it, translate it, do this and that. That’s what they do. And it’s a good book but it’s not the only book.
The 2nd reason why the 12 of Rabbi al Awwal becomes so popular, and this leads us to a controversial issue – is that the 1st time that the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) birthday was celebrated as a public event. i.e. the maulidun nabi or the milaadun nabi as we call it, the authority who’s celebrated it chose the 12 of Rabi ul Awal. Now that’s it. It’s just spread like wildfire. The day, and the event, and the custom.
When first time milaadun nabi (eid milaadun nabi) was celebrated?
The 1st recorded instance that we have of anybody celebrating milaadun nabi is around 517 H. i.e. 6th century of Islam.
So for 500 years, the concept of celebrating the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is simply unknown to the Muslims. Celebrating a birthday is not a custom that comes from Islam,
I’m not saying it’s haram, by the way, I’m saying it’s not something that the Arabs would do. The concept of celebrating it, it is a very late addition.
Who first time celebrated 12 Rabi ul Awal?
The 1st group that celebrated it was the Fatimids of Egypt, they are an extreme Shi’i dynasty. And of course, there’s a reason why rulers have festivals, distracting economy, people come and buy and sell, the popularity of the ruling family and the Fatimids had over 30-40 public festivals. So every few weeks there were major events and festivals. And they celebrated Ghadir Khum, they celebrated the 10th of Muharram, these are all Shi’a festivals. They celebrated the birth of this Imam, the death of that Imam, and of those celebrations it is said, they celebrated the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW).
This is the 1st time in Islamic history that we come across the celebration of the birthday of the Prophet (SAW). When it was done in Fatimid Egypt, then 150 years later some Sunni governors thought it was a good idea, and they imported this particular festival, to Mosul, which is outside of Baghdad, it is a place in Iraq.
1st Sunni governor who celebrated Prophet Muhammad (SAW) birthday
The 1st Sunni governor – who was not the Khalifah -, the 1st Sunni governor who celebrated the Maulid, celebrated it around 670 or so hijrah. So for 670 years, this was unknown in the Muslim world. So it became literally a national festival. In Sunni land initially, some scholars opposed it, some scholars said, “Well if you do it with these conditions it’s okay.”
After a while, under public pressure, just the flood gate’s opened, and it became a very-very common festival.
How to celebrate 12 Rabi ul Awal ?
And you all know my opinion on this is that the way to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet (SAW) if you really wanted to celebrate it is to fast on Mondays because that’s what he would do.
We also know that – there’s a chain of narrators back to Said ibn Musayyib – who died 95 hijrahs, so there’s a gap, he didn’t see the Prophet (SAW). But he said that it has been narrated to me that the Prophet (SAW) was born at high noon. Said ibn Musayyib died 95 H, his father is of the age of the companions. And this is the only narration that we have about the timing of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) birth.
The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is saying that my mother saw a light either in a dream or a physical light, coming from her that came all the way and illuminated the palaces of the city of Busra in Syria. Allah knows best but there’s something that has been derived here, that Syria is a blessed land, and that is why Allah says in the Qur’an,
سُبْحَـٰنَ ٱلَّذِىٓ أَسْرَىٰ بِعَبْدِهِۦ لَيْلًۭا مِّنَ ٱلْمَسْجِدِ ٱلْحَرَامِ إِلَى ٱلْمَسْجِدِ ٱلْأَقْصَا ٱلَّذِى بَـٰرَكْنَا حَوْلَهُۥ
(Surah Al-Isra verse 1). There’s barakah around Masjid ul Aqsa. Sham, there’s barakah over there. and the Prophet (SAW) predicted that Sham will remain a fortress of Islam. And Sham was the 1st province that was conquered after the Arabian peninsula. And we also believe as Muslims that ‘Isa ibn Maryam will come down in Sham.
For more Islamic stories click here