BY DR. MAROOF SHAH
What is the greatest event, an event that grounds possibility of all events and therefore is celebrated by everyone? In fact all celebrations of beautiful and good things or events are forms of this celebration. It is the advent of being out of Nothing that saints and sages call Meelad. Meelad is to exist, to live, to flourish, to beautify, to celebrate, to create.
Nothing unifies Muslims better than their love for Muhammad (S.A.W). All the theological schools seek to prove their credentials in terms of this criterion. But how sad to note that today Muslims are divided on the question of Meelad. I don’t want to adjudicate either way in juristic terms as that is not my mandate as a student of philosophy and religion and I am not a jurist. But I want to invite attention on few points that, I think, are enough to show pointlessness of heated debate over the issue. I argue that all Muslims love Muhammad(SAW), that there can be no point scoring on the issue, that Meelad is not a monopoly of khosh aetiqaad people and that despite apparent differences all are united in functionally if not formally celebrating Meelad. I will also point out that Meelad is not a ritual, an event but something deeper that defines Muslim attitude. I plead for existential and more or less mystical approach to ground theological-juristic approach and question sectarian politics on the issue.
All Muslim schools including hard core Salafis celebrate Meelad though in different ways. It may be, inadequately though, compared to celebrating birthdays that many do though in their own ways but what is common or unifying element in all of them is welcoming/joy and some symbolic expression of that joy. Some cut cakes, some share a feast, some burn candles, recall that day when their odyssey of life began and thank God. Some may not formally or even informally seem to be celebrating it but a heartfelt joy for the gift of life (or sometimes a remembrance of the fact that much has been missed and life is slipping off as sins are piling may also be part of this celebration) is there deep down somewhere. And that is its essence. My point is that the essence of Meelad is celebrated by all Muslims regardless of opposition by certain schools to certain formal mode of celebrating it. Who is not happy that the greatest man of history was born on earth? Who doesn’t wish to send choicest blessings to the Prophet everyday including Meelad day? Who doesn’t want to be part of seerat conferences or similar events on the Prophet anytime, especially around Meelad time? Who doesn’t at least in theory, hold love of the Prophet above the love of his own self? Who opposes paying tribute to the Prophet or would not love to follow Prophet or reaffirm his commitment to follow the wont of Prophet on Meelad day? Aren’t all these different modes of celebrating Meelad? Who can claim to prove that Islam has recognized only a certain mode of celebrating Meelad or delegitimized a particular mode that doesn’t violate any principle of Islam? So where is the real divergence? Standing up, burning candles, carrying a procession are symbolic expressions of the love/awe/reverence of the Prophet are external formal expressions of the formless love for the Prophet and as forms may not be absolutized or zealously defended and one should be open to a criticism that is able to demonstrate conflict between intended meaning of symbolic form and its failure to be adequate symbol. Symbols change though the symbolized object remains. But one wonders what becomes an issue – a particular form, a symbol – for both defenders and critics. One is astonished at the poverty of imagination that gets stuck up in incidental details, in the husk or form and loses sight of the deeper meaning on which both defenders and critics are united. We have more weighty things to debate in connection with Meelad day and for that we may need to understand deeper metaphysical/esoteric significance of the Meelad.
For understanding Meelad (celebration of Prophet’s coming to the world) we need to understand what the Prophet stands for. He stands for the fact that there is something and not nothing, that there is a universe of beauty and meaning, of form and colour instead of nothingness of zero. As the Principle of Manifestation he stands for life and all its grandeur and beauty. He stands for the fact that you and me are here to contemplate, to wonder, to celebrate life. He is, to appropriate words of a saint in a different context, “the smile on the face of the innocent child and the power that sits on the brow of the king. He is the love that bubbles in the heart of the saint. He is the radiance that shines upon the whole creation. Who can describe his greatness? Why talk of him in terms of abstract philosophy, while he is the very nectar which you can drink and enjoy? He permeates your physical frame and tingles in every atom of it. …. How sweet, how charming is his constant company! …Enrich your life by his light, love, and joy. How sweet and great he is! Seek the Beloved. Feel his presence. He is thy own Self. Have him at any cost. Find him and enjoy eternal felicity. That is why you are here.” Nothing expresses the deeper meaning of the Prophet better than understanding how 99 names of the Prophet encompass all things grand, all things noble, all things edifying, all things beautiful, all events sanctifying, all lovely expressions, all attributes worthy of cultivation by all humans. Who can claim to celebrate Meelad in this deeper sense? Who can claim ethical and intellectual perfection that the Prophetic ideal calls for? Who has the tongue that can claim to have uttered the praise due to the Prophet? Let us read zouq-o-shouq of Iqbal to have an idea of deeper meaning of the Prophet. I quote only a couplet:
Aaye Kainaat ka maineyae daeryab tu
Niklae teri talaash mei aflae haay rang-o-bu.
Celebrating Meelad means we celebrate relationships, we have no grudge against anyone, we forgive everyone, we love unconditionally, we see nothing but the reflection of his face in all things in their essence, we have smiles to share, sorrows to lighten, we live for others, we create and celebrate beauty in art, we live and let live, we have humility to question all our conceptions and constructions or opinions and are open to new experiences, to truth and wisdom wherever it is found, to attempt to imitate prophet in all of his virtues. Let us debate and ask ourselves to what extent are we able to live to the prophet’s ideal of perfection of character in every choice we make every day and that is what Meelad would demand. I wonder how can a Muslim who is conscious of his failings in relation to the Ideal set by prophetic example be so arrogant as to claim that he celebrates Meelad and loves the Prophet better than his fellows. All hearts are enraptured by the love of the Prophet consciously or unconsciously and differ only in the degree of it. One can’t live in total denial of the dazzling beauty of the Sun called Muhammad (SAW) though some bats do imagine so. If the Prophet stands for light, for life, for clarity of intelligence, far treasures of Spirit, who doesn’t participate or seek to participate in these things all the time? Those who claim to deny the Prophet only deny themselves and that is why it can’t be excused by the very logic of things. The Prophet is not an abstraction but concrete value experiences. Kafir-i-Muhammad is one who in his blindness refuses to choose light or truth or beauty or totality and opts for counterfeits or fragmentary images of them.
With Wittgenstein I would invite attention to the grammar of Meelad celebration and this will dissolve the controversy for good. We all praise the one who has been the most praised in virtue of the fact that things exist against anonymity or darkness of nothingness. Let us not claim who praises more or ours is the best mode of praising him. Snowflakes carpeting the earth, birds chirping, flowers blooming all are forms of praise of Muhammad (SAW) and celebrations of Meelad. God blesses existence and that is his praise for Muhammad (SAW). Ghalib has said it best in his verse that states it is God alone who can truly praise Muhammad (SAW). Who are you and me to claim that ours is the most excellent form of praise or others are denied deedar-i-nabi because they don’t conform to a particular definition when in all forms it is his formless essence (as Hubbi put it suraten menz chawayae)?
Dr. Mohammad Maroof Shah is an author and Columnist, interested in the the interface of philos¬ophy, literature, religion and mysticism