By Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani
KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 18 — Several Islamic academics in Malaysia have agreed that the Prophet’s birthday procession is not mandatory as it is not stated in both the Qur’an and the Sunnah (Prophetic tradition) but just a local custom.
A controversy over holding the march erupted when Umno leaders accused Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng of being anti-Islam by cancelling the procession. Lim has denied cancelling the march and invited his critics to join the Penang-level celebrations on Feb 25.
Assistant Professor Dr Mohd Shah Jani explained to The Malaysian Insider that there has been no “consensus of opinion” or agreement by renowned Islamic scholars that the celebration of the Prophet’s birthday must be practised.
“We did not know actually when this Maulidur-Rasul (the Prophet’s birthday) started but I think there is no actually consensus of opinion among the ulamak (Islamic scholars) that we can celebrate the mawlid (birth) of the Prophet or not.
“Some of them say it is okay because it is to commemorate the Prophet and his contributions and teachings especially when we celebrate to revive his sunnah (tradition) to make people aware that his teachings are Universal. I think there is no objection in this regards,” he said.
However the Head of the Qur’an and Sunnah studies department said that Prophet’s birthday procession should not be an excuse for excessive spending.
“But if we do that as a customary display to people that we are Muslims but in the process of doing it, we might commit so many bad things. Such wastage of money and government allocation. I don’t think there is any good in it. So you should not use the celebration of the Prophet as an excuse to commit waste of time, money and resources.
“That is why when you doing something which is not a necessity or obliged by the syariah (Islamic law) and then commit against the commandments then I think it is a bad thing,” he said.
The University of Birmingham alumni also stressed that the procession is not compulsory.
“However I think the procession is okay because it is symbolic. Every religion has its symbol to show to other people that this is part of our tradition. Like a minaret which is a symbol, once you remove it then people can’t distinguish if it is a mosque or an ordinary building. So the same could also be said with the procession.
“It is not wajib (compulsory) at all. In fact, to some extent it might be haram (forbidden) once it involves the spending or wastage of money. So why not we spend the money for something else which is more beneficial like orphanages and schools.
“There are many ways to celebrate the Prophet’s birthday and the procession is not the only way,” he said.
Dr. Mek Wok Mahmud added that each state has the right to decide to hold the procession based on public interest.
“It is not stated in the Qu’ran and Sunnah (Prophetic tradition). It means that we must see the purpose of the procession. If it will lead to bad then it is better to not hold but if it lead to good result then it better to hold it because then we will be able to remember the sacrifice made by the Prophet. It should not have any agendas behind it.
“The procession is not necessary because we can celebrate the Prophet’s birthday in many different ways. If we say that there is no consensus of opinion then it is not binding. This means Penang government has the right to decide because according to Islamic law, every state has the right to determine based on the objective of the maslaha (public interest) of the people,” the Head of the Fiqh and Usul al-Fiqh department said.
Umno leaders made the accusation against the Pakatan Rakyat-ruled Penang after Malay daily Utusan Malaysia last week reported that the Penang government was planning to cancel this year’s procession.
Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, the deputy president of Umno, had commented on Utusan’s report of the cancellation, saying it may have been prompted by security concerns in light of the “heated political situation” there following the feud between the DAP and several PKR leaders there.
Umno has been intensifying its effort to drive the wedge between them further by depicting the split as antagonism between a Chinese government and frustrated Malay leaders.
Former prime minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had also weighed in on the controversy, saying the cancellation of the procession gave a picture that the state government presumed that the procession would cause harm.
Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin uploaded on his personal website, www.rembau.net a scanned copy of one letter that bore the letterhead of the state secretariat which showed that they had decided on Feb 5 to cancel the procession.
Khairy wrote in his blog that the cancelation of the procession is an “insult to Islam and Muslims in Penang”.
The Rembau MP also demanded explanation from Lim and asked the DAP secretary-general to verify the authenticity of the letter.
However the Penang government claimed that the scanned copies of such letters were merely new ideas outlined by government officials.
The alleged cancellation of Prophet’s birthday procession in Penang is seen as a sensitive issue by some Malay groups.
In 1964, a racial riot broke out during the procession in the Chinese-majority Singapore, then part of Malaysia.