The Deobandi view on Mawlid consists of the following ingredients:
1. To discuss, commemorate and mention the birth of Rasulullah (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wasallam) is in itself rewarding and recommended just as commemorating any other aspect of his person (sallAllahu ‘alayhi wasallam).
2. The commemoration that is observed at the time of Rabi’ al-Awwal is customarily attached to, and inseparable from, a number of innovated or unlawful conditions, like specifying it to the date of the 12th and narrating fabricated reports.
3. In principle, it is these conditions, and not the birth-commemoration itself, that make the Mawlid functions impermissible, bid’ah or makruh.
4. As this commemoration-with-unawful+innovated-conditions is the common and widespread (murawwaj) form of Mawlid functions held in Rabi’ al-Awwal, a general fatwa of impermissibility ought to be given, based on the principle of preventing the ‘awamm (common people) from falling into evil. This is known as “Sadd adh-Dharaa’i” (blocking the means), a principle proven from rulings of Hanafi fiqh.
Such a position is self-consistent. There is nothing inherently contradictory in this position. If all these ingredients are kept in mind, then one will be able to make sense of all pronouncements on mawlid made by the Akabir of Deoband.
It is often insinuated by Barelwis that Deobandis are inconsistent, or even coy and deceptive, in their views about Mawlid. For instance, it is claimed that there is a contradiction between what Mawlana Khalil Ahmad as-Saharanpuri wrote on the Mawlid in al-Muhannad (in 1325 H/1907), after the death of Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi, to the Arabs, and what he wrote in al-Barahin al-Qati’ah (in 1304 H/1887 CE) with the approval of Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi, to the Indians.
In fact, what was mentioned in Muhannad is almost identical to what is found in al-Barahin al-Qati’ah.
On p. 8 of al-Barahin al-Qati’ah, it clearly states:
نفس ذكر ميلاد فخر عالم عليه السلام كو كوئى منع نہیں كرتا بلکہ ذكر ولادت آپ ص كا مثل ذكر دیگر سير وحالات مندوب ہے چنانچہ يہ امر فتوی مولوی احمد علیصاحب محدث سہارنپوری میں صراحۃ مذکور ہے
“We do not consider commemoration of the birth of the Pride of the World, upon him peace, itself, prohibited. Rather, commemorating his birth, just like commemorating his other conditions and states, is praiseworthy. Thus, this matter is mentioned explicitly in the fatwa of Mawlawi Ahmad ‘Ali Sahib Muhaddith Saharanpuri.” (Al-Barahin al-Qati’ah, p. 8)
In Muhannad, he says, reiterating this same message: “Commemorating the states which have the least connection with the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) is from the most desirable of recommended acts (ahabb al-mandubat) and the greatest of preferable acts (a‘la l-mustahabbat) according to us, whether it is the commemoration of his noble birth or commemoration of his urine, faeces, standing, sitting, sleeping and waking as is stated clearly in our treatise called Al-Barahin al-Qati‘ah at various junctures therein.”
He also refers to the fatwa of Mawlana Ahmad Ali Saharanpuri in Muhannad. The fatwa states that if the commemoration of the birth is free of impermissible activities, like narrating fabricated narrations, missing obligatory prayers, introducing polytheistic and innovated practices, giving it greater importance than it has, restricting its timing, then it is a rewardable practice. Mawlana Saharanpuri adds to the impermissible activities: free-mixing, extravagance and the belief in its obligation.
However, in Muhannad, he adds that the mawlid gatherings of India are rarely found to be free of these impermissible practices. Therefore, based on the principle of Sadd adh-Dhara’i, , the fatwa will be of general impermissibility. For details on this, one may refer to the 2nd and 3rd principles discussed here: http://www.deoband.org/2010/02/fiqh/miscellaneous/mawlid-deoband-and-hanafi-fiqh/ and this article: http://www.deoband.org/2011/12/general/principles-of-fiqh/the-principle-of-blocking-the-means/.
The Hanafis have put a stop to acts which are originally mubah or mustahabb if it is feared they will lead to innovated or impermissible ends. For example, the Hanafis regard specification of a particular Surah to a particular rak’ah impermissible, as it may lead to the ‘awamm believing that that Surah is masnun in that rak’ah. And there are other such examples. Al-Halabi mentioned a general principle in Sharh al-Munyah, based on these rulings, that every mubah that leads to the ignorant people (juhhal) believing it is Sunnah or Wajib, renders that act makruh tahrimi. And it is certainly a reality that many juhhal believe that to commemorate the Prophetic birth on the specific date of the 12th of Rabi’ al-Awwal is sunnah or even necessary. Hence, the fatwa would be of general impermissibility.
Al-Barahin al-Qati’ah says:
البتہ امور غير مشروعہ جو اس کے ساتھ ضم ہو گئے ہیں اس كي وجه سے حكم مجموعہ پر بدعت ومنكر ہونے كا يا شرك وحرمت كا لگايا جاتا ہے اور يہ حكم باعتبار ان قيود غير مشروعہ کے ہے نہ بوجہ نفس ذكر کے
“However, due to the unlawful things that have become attached to them (the Mawlid functions), a ruling is given to the combination of it being bid’ah and abomination, or of shirk and prohibition. And this ruling is by consideration of those unlawful restrictions, not because of the commemoration itself.” (p. 8)
Keep in mind that these are passages from al-Barahin al-Qati’ah, the book written by Mawlana Khalil Ahmad Saharanpuri and approved by Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi.
It is clear from this passage from al-Barahin and the answer in al-Muhannad, that there is essentially no difference in what they say.
From reading all of Mawlana Rashid Ahmad Gangohi’s fatwas on this issue, and not looking at only some of them selectively as Barelwis usually do, we get the same message. Thus, in one fatwa, he explicitly says:
نفس ذكر ولادت مندوب ہے اس مين كراهت قيود کے سبب آئي ہے
“The birth-commemoration itself is recommended, and its reprehensibility is a result of the [innovated] restrictions [in the general Mawlid functions].” (Fatawa Rashidiyyah, p. 258)
Furthermore, in several places of the Fatawa, Mawlana Gangohi clearly qualifies the prohibition with the “widespread” (murawwajah) Mawlid functions. For example, on p. 174, he says: “The widespread mawlud function is bid’ah, and because of being mixed with reprehensible matters it is prohibitively disliked.” On p. 270, it explicitly states that because most mawlid and ‘urs functions are not free of bid’ah (innovated restrictions) and unlawful practices, all of them should be avoided.
There are other fatwas that give the general ruling of impermissibility. This is not a contradiction as one who understands the above-mentioned principles will appreciate. This ruling reflects the general condition of the Mawlid functions of that time for which the fatwa of impermissibility was given, regardless of whether the unlawful aspects are present in the specific function in reference or not. Those that are free of the impermissible activities are not excused from the fatwa for the principle of blocking the means (sadd adh-dhara’i’); that is, to prevent the public from falling into the impermissible aspects that such functions could could lead to.
Hence, there is no inconsistency between what is found in Fatawa Rashidiyya, al-Barahin al-Qati’ah and al-Muhannad on the issue of the Mawlid, if all are read in context.
In sum, Barahin and Fatawa Rashidiyyah clearly state that the essence of the birth-commemoration is permissible and desirable. Mawlana Gangohi’s fatwas in general opposition are based on the principle that even those gatherings free of the impermissible activities that have become associated with them could eventually lead to them.
There is, therefore, no contradiction in the Deobandi view regarding the Mawlid as expressed by Mawlana Gangohi and Mawlana Saharanpuri.
One may summarise the Deobandi position in one sentence as follows:
The birth-commemoration in its essence is praiseworthy, but because the Mawlid functions held in Rabi’ al-Awwal have become inseparable from impermissible and innovated aspects, the fatwa is given of general impermissibility, to prevent the masses from falling into sin and to block the means to these evils.