Secular Holidays and the Example of al-Ateerah al-Rajabiyyah

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Originally posted in July 2010

Since we are in the month of Rajab, I thought it would be timely to discuss an event from life of the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him). The average, educated Muslim and even many scholars have little to no knowledge about this subject. It is an established part of the guidance Allah revealed and preserved for us and carries much divine wisdom. Since the 4th of July just passed, I’d like to research this issue and see what we kind of fiqh (jurisprudence) we get from it.

In looking at this issue, we must acquaint ourselves with a common practice among the Arabs during the times of Jahiliyyah (the times of ignorance before the Qur’an was revealed). According to the major Arabic dictionaries and historical encyclopedias, al-Ateerah was an occasion in which Arabs would slaughter animals during the first 10 days of Rajab seeking to fulfill their vows (al-nathr) and to receive the favor of their gods. Then, according to the well-established biography of the Prophet ﷺ, the Prophet ﷺ was guided to Islamicize this tradition.

In Islamicizing these traditions, the Muslims were commanded to slaughter in the name of Allah alone and give the meat to the poor, family and friends, just as we do the udhiyyah (slaughter for Eid al-Adha). The proof for this is in the hadith (narration) that states, “The Prophet was asked about al-Ateerah and he said it was haqq (truth).” The Prophet ﷺ also said, “Indeed every year, each household is responsible for the slaughter of al-Udhiyyah and al-Ateerah.” In the following set of authentic ahadith, the practice was allowed or seen as sunnah (established tradition of the Prophet ﷺ). Abu Razeen al-Uqaylee asked the Prophet ﷺ, “We used to slaughter animals in Rajab. We would eat from its meat and give it to those who came to us.” The Prophet ﷺ responded, “Laa, ba’s” meaning “no problem” or “that’s fine.” At his farewell pilgrimage three months before he passed away, the Prophet ﷺ said, “…Whoever wishes let him slaughter…and whoever wishes not [to] then let him not…”

On the other hand, there is another hadith, which is the most common and authentic of all, that says, “No far and no Ateerah.” To a layman, this seems to be a contradiction, but it is far from that. Imam Shafi’i and his students hold that this hadith combined with the aforementioned ahadith only abrogates the obligation of al-Ateerah. So their position is that al-Ateerah remains a sunnah and thus the meaning of the vague hadith is “No far or Ateerah is an obligation.” This was the position of Ibn Seereen and Imam Ahmad as well as many of the Scholars of Hadith.

Some Malikis, as noted by Ibn Rushd in al-Bidayah, took this hadith as a full abrogation,  thus making it makrooh (disliked) to take part in al-Ateerah. Al-Allamah ash-Shawkani disagrees with the Malikiyyah based upon solid usool (method used to derive fiqh). He said, in agreement with the Shawafi’, “In combining the hadith it must be said that the meaning is ‘there is no obligation of Far or Ateerah’ thus making it a sunnah which the Prophet ﷺ allowed. This can be the only opinion because we don’t know the exact chronological order of these texts except that they are all within the last couple years of the Prophet’s life… There is no doubt that the hadith ‘No Far and No Ateerah’ by itself indicates prohibition. That can’t be the case after we combine this hadith with the other ahadith and the fact that full abrogation cannot be established except with knowledge of the order of the statements or by a clear claim that it is abrogated.”

The majority of scholars from the Hanafi and Hanbali schools of thought said that this hadith came as an abrogation of the legislation of these practices as a sunnah, and thus it was replaced by al-Udhiyyah. They hold that this abrogation was not that of prohibition but rather that of negating it as an Islamic practice like the Udhiyyah, yet it still remains an acceptable and permissible cultural act. Ibn al-Qayyim said, “If it we gather these ahadith then we see that this hadith of abrogation is that of it being a sunnah (Islamic practice) without there being a prohibition or dislike in it. So if a person wanted to slaughter an animal in Rajab for whatever reason and he wanted to give the meat to the poor, then that would not be disliked

I decided to do this research after seeing a forum where some modern Saudi scholars and Salafi brothers were demeaning the honorable Shaikh Abdullah ibn Bayyah for using this issue as a proof in allowing Muslims in the West to take part in non-religious holidays or occasions. The fact is that it is solid proof indeed. The Saudi scholars and their followers contended that the hadith “No Far and No Ateerah” is a case-closing hadith which is – as we have seen in this article – far from the majority position of ahle Sunnah (Sunni Muslims). When doing this research, I read many modern scholars  from the Muslim world claiming that this issue is a clear cut abrogation that led to the prohibition of this act and any others like it. They make a point to mention that celebrating any day other than the two holidays revealed to our beloved Prophet ﷺ would be an innovation rejected by the masses. The fact is that I believe they’re seeking to hide the legitimate majority opinion based in the established schools of fiqh in order to serve their expression of political frustration. I believe they are frustrated that not only are the Muslims nowhere near becoming a superpower, but we have also become very weak in the world today. Our scholars see our governments as cowardly and unable to stand up to Western injustices, and they feel like they must stand up as representatives of this deen (religion) and do something. The problem, however, is that the “don’t be Western in any way, shape, or form” attitude has only alienated us more and weakened our  ability to articulate our message to the masses.

These are indeed noble intentions, but the act is against very harsh injunctions of the Qur’an. Allah said, “Indeed those who conceal what We have sent down of clear proofs and guidance after We made it clear for the people in the Scripture – those are cursed by Allah and cursed by those who curse,”(Qur’an, 2:159). There are numerous more Islamic and practical ways to deal with the political frustration we all face.

Before concluding, I will have to clarify a couple issues to our readers who, like me, were brainwashed with this un-Islamic anti-Western rhetoric that keeps us segregated and reclusive and not “Western.” We should be seen as a unique, integrated (not assimilated), positively-contributing identity in Western society. The hadith that says “whoever acts like or imitates a people is one of them” is not usable in this context because the Prophet ﷺ “Islamicized” al-Ateerah by making the slaughter for Allah alone. The fact is that the explanation of this hadith, according to the consensus of commentators, is that we are prohibited from looking like or imitating the disbelievers in matters that represent shirk (associating partners with Allah) or sin or that specifically identify them as disbelievers.  This does not include what clothes you wear or how you eat, as the Prophet ﷺ did these things just like any other polytheist of his time. Another hadith relates, “Whoever innovates something in this affair of ours (Islam) something that is not from it then they will be rejected.” Again this hadith, according to all the commentaries, means a religious matter, not a secular one that is common to all peoples of faith and atheists alike.

In conclusion, I stand with our Shaykh, the distinguished Abdullah ibn Bayyah, by saying that according to these texts, there is nothing wrong with celebrating occasions and holidays which are customary and are not representing a certain religion. This is as long as Muslims conduct themselves in an Islamic manner and do not participate in acts that can lead to sinful behavior.


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