Saturday, September 6, 2008

No more Happy Birthdays in The Kingdom?

Yes, more wackiness from the country that banned the sale of red roses on the 14th of February. Saudi and the Islamic establishment are now wasting their time debating whether or not it is haram to celebrate little kids’ birthdays with a party.

Rather than addressing real issues, such as perhaps Palestine, the damaging schism between Sunni and Shia, the equitable treatment of women, how to more effectively combine rule by theology with political representation, etc etc etc, it seems of late that re-arranging the intellectual deck chairs is the main preoccupation of senior clerics in the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia debates birthday parties
September 05, 2008
Riyadh: When Hala Al Masa'ad invited her girlfriends over to celebrate her 18th birthday with cake and juice, little did the high school student know that she was stepping into an unusual public debate. Is celebrating birthdays un-Islamic?

Saudi Arabia's most senior Muslim cleric recently denounced birthday parties as an unwanted foreign influence, but another prominent cleric declared they were OK.

That has left Al Masa'ad with mixed feelings about her low-key celebration last month. She says she loves birthday parties because they make her feel that she has "moved from one stage in life to another."

"But I sometimes feel I'm doing something 'haram' [banned]," she said sheepishly.

The Saudi ban on birthdays is in line with the strict interpretation of Islam followed by the conservative Wahhabi sect adhered to in the Kingdom. All Christian and even most Muslim feasts are also prohibited because they are considered alien customs that the Saudi clerics do not approve.

The latest controversy started when a prominent Saudi Arabian cleric, Salman Al Audah, said on a popular satellite TV programme last month that it was OK to mark birthdays and wedding anniversaries with parties as long as the Arabic word "eid", meaning feast, is not used to describe the events.

That prompted a quick denunciation by Saudi Arabia's grand mufti and top religious authority, Shaikh Abdul Aziz Al Shaikh, who said such celebrations have no place in Islam and produced a list of foreign customs that he suggested were unacceptable.

Thank goodness Oman is above such silliness. This country really lucked out to have been the cradle that saved the Ibadhi Muslim sect. I only wish it would slowly replace the Wahhabi/Sunni/Shia versions globally as soon as possible. The key differences with Ibadhi is, as I am led to understand, Ibadhi not only have a more democratic vision for who the Imam should be, but also are allowed to “follow a method of allegorical interpretation of anthropomorphistic expressions in the Qu'ran.” IE Apply some common sense. Common sense seems to be something totally lacking in Saudi Arabia’s religious discussions.

For a more detailed and, IMHO, very reasonable description of Ibadhism and Omani religious history, I'd recommend interested readers check out this commentary by Valerie J. Hoffman, Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Illinois. [It may also be a more appropriate read than the links on one of my previous posts recently on a subject perhaps somewhat Haraam given that this is the Holy Month of Ramadan! Sorry about that BlueChi.]


  1. There are a *minority* of people who say that this is Haram, but I really personally do not see anything wrong in finding a reason to celebrate and get together.

    I don't think that the majority of people in Oman have anything against birthdays. In Arabic newspapers we have a section for birthday wishes at the last page for young kids. Celebrating a kid's first birthday is also part of traditional Omani culture and is called 'Holl Holl' (means "Year Year").


    (BTW, why a special apology for me? I thought that you post was amusing so I even linked to it! :P)

  2. Blue Chi
    Thanks for the comment. And the astute observation that, indeed, Oman's National day is celebrated on HM's birthday.

    What's the chances for Oman spreading the word on Ibadhi to counteract the wackos in Saudi and Iran?

    [As for the personalised apology, I just noticed your post on non-Ramadanian posts, and figured, hey, possibly it was a post that was less than appropriate.]

  3. If 'happy birthday' was banned it would make all the Flippers very, very sad. And me.


  4. Oh god, I think their next step will be enforcing men to never shave their beards.


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