By Yakubu Musa

In light of the perennial but exasperating debate about the religious position of Maulud, celebrating the birthday of the Prophet, PBUH, I find what Dilip Hiro, the author of Cold War in the Islamic World, striking.

Hiro, in the introductory chapter of the book where he brilliantly draws parallels between Saudi Arabia’s and Iran’s nationalism– gives us an insight on how it took the former 70 years before it started marking its national day. The influential clerics of the Kingdom, according to him, had always opposed it, based on extrapolation of a hadith of the Prophet, PBUH.

“For more than seven decades the Saudi regime failed to celebrate the kingdom’s founding date, 23 September, as the National Day holiday. The powerful Wahhabi ulema would not allow it. They argued that only Allah could grant holidays to Muslims. They made repeated references to the widely known Hadith (Sayings and Deeds of Prophet Muhammad) that the Prophet rebuked his followers when, on arriving in Medina, he noticed them celebrating two local, secular holidays dating back to the Age of Ignorance, the term used for the pre-Islamic era,” he wrote.

Hiro went further to quote the injunction thus: “Allah has substituted what is better for you: the Eid al Adha [festival of sacrifice at the end of the Hajj] and the Eid al Fitr [festival of breaking of the fast at the end of Ramadan],”

Continuing, the writer observed that the Wahhabi ulema were opposed to even declaring Prophet Muhammad’s birth day as a national holiday. Yet, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, “resolved to forge a distinct Saudi identity, overruled them” soon after ascending the throne on 1 August 2005. The King decreed 23 September as a national holiday starting in 2006.

From the foregoing, one can easily deduce the fact the controversy and the general tittle-tattle about Maulud and those who celebrate it could have been part of our history if Saudi monarchs had ever felt differently about it. In the case of the national day anniversary, it took a simple decree to make what was unlawful, for 7o years, lawful.

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