Answered by Ustadh Sharif Rosen
Question: Assalam alaykum
On my birthday, if I want to pray for my well being or give charity will it be counted as an innovation?
What is the best etiquette to follow for my birthday?
Should we treat our birthdays like any other day?
Jazakum Allah khayran for your question.
While the recommended Islamic practices associated with the birth of a new child are well known, regarding what may be undertaken on birthdays — whether for one’s own or for others — there appears to be little to nothing transmitted from our Sacred texts on the matter, nor from the traditional schools of Islamic law based on both my research and consultation with the fuqaha. (Readers should note that the issue of celebrating the Maulid of the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, falls outside the scope of this specific question.)
For a general rule of thumb, however, one should avoid celebrations or gatherings where conduct at odds with Sacred law are probable. One can, for instance, inquire whether alcohol will be served, if dancing and/or inappropriate mixing is part of the program, or simply by having an understanding of who is likely to attend as factors that inform one’s decision on whether or not one takes part.
What is encouraged without reservation, year-round, is that one undertake the practice of du’a for all of one’s needs, especially for ‘afiya or comprehensive well-being. When the Prophet, Allah bless him and give him peace, was asked by one of his companions for a supplication that he might make, Allah’s Messenger, Allah bless him and give him peace, said, “Ask Allah for ‘afiya in this world and the next.” [Tirmidhi]
Making a plea for ‘afiya was encouraged by the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and give him peace, not on one occasion, but multiple times — including when he was asked about what to ask for during the moments of accepted du’a, as in the period between the adhan and iqama. Also, the practice of serving the needy in one’s community or locale constitutes less of an action specified for a given time — apart from those clearly designated by Sacred law — but should be intrinsic to the giving nature of a Muslim in all their times.
So, in summary, while there are no clear Islamic prescriptions for birthdays, there is every encouragement in our faith to care for oneself and others through asking for, and actualizing the quest for well-being. For oneself, this entails an active spiritual life, healthy family and social relations, good diet and nutrition, and regular physical exercise. One strives to do this while promoting opportunities for others to also access the blessings Allah has placed in these means. I remind myself and you that more than commemorating one’s personal milestones, our lives are measured through the quality by which we live them, and ultimately, for whom we lived.
And Allah knows best.
May Allah increase us in iman and ‘afiya.
wa-Salamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatulLah.
[Ustadh] Sharif Rosen
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Ustadh Sharif Rosen is the Muslim Chaplain at Williams College (in the Northeastern United States). His formative Islamic studies in Amman, Jordan for five years, and ongoing, have been at the hands of scholars connected through unbroken transmission to the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings.