by Fudia Muhammad
The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan once said that the only thing that makes the date of our birth significant is if during our life we accomplish something significant. Going further, he said, “People expect that when they have a birthday, somebody’s supposed to give them something—a life that has done nothing, expecting something. When your birthday rolls around, remember your mother. Because she’s the one who bore you with fainting and pain. And every year that you are blessed to be alive, thank her.”
Interestingly, the early Christians did not celebrate birthdays; and presently, Orthodox Jews, traditional Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses and many others do not participate in this practice. So, what is the origin of birthday celebrations? Why do we have parties, give gifts, eat cake, light a candle, make a wish and sing that song? But before we get into that – what do the scriptures say about birthdays?
There is no mention of birthday celebrations in the Holy Qur’an; but the Bible does in-fact mention birthdays four times – what’s recorded may surprise you! The first reference to a birthday celebration was that of Pharaoh’s (Genesis 40:20-22). Pharaoh, as we know, was not a servant of God and actively worked to oppose Him. Consequently, being the man that he was, by the end of Pharaoh’s birthday feast, he had hanged his chief baker, hmm. The second reference is found in the Book of Job (1:4-5). In the King James Version the phrase “every one his day” is used, but the New International Version translates this to “birthdays.” Here, there is a description of Job’s sons who would also have feasts on their birthdays, inviting their sisters to join them. After the birthday feast, Job – a faithful servant of God – would arrange for his children to be purified because he feared that they had sinned, wow. Lastly, the final two references to birthdays are two accounts of the same celebration – Herod’s birthday – another man who did not serve God. Similarly, at the end of Herod’s birthday supper a man dies – John the Baptist – he was beheaded at the request of the daughter of Herodias (Matthew 14:6-10 and Mark 6:21-28).
So, according to the Bible, birthday celebrations involved feasts, large suppers or banquets – modern-day parties. Emerging from this is a pagan-rooted practice that continues to this day. Pagans were spooky. They believed that on the date of someone’s birth they were more susceptible to being attacked by evil spirits, so the more people they had around them with presents, the more protection they had to ward off these spirits. Pagans also believed the candles were “endowed with special magic for granting wishes.” Other scholars claim that we have the early Greeks to thank for the round cakes that represented the Goddess of the Moon, adding the candles was symbolic for moonlight. Modern rituals now include singing the “Happy Birthday” song and even giving birthday spankings or licks equivalent to the age of the recipient (and one to grow on).
The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan teaches that all of this is rooted in a bigger practice of the enemy’s attempt to mark time. His time is linear, it begins and ends; while ours is cyclical. He asks Allah (God) in the Holy Qur’an to respite him until the day they (the righteous) are raised (in consciousness). Birthdays, anniversaries, New Year’s Day, and many holidays are an attempt for one who knows his end is near to keep track of how much more time he has left to cause havoc on the earth, while keeping the people of God distracted and engaged in foolishness.
We are not saying that there is anything wrong with simply wishing someone well on the anniversary of their birth – that’s fine. And if we so choose, we are certainly also free to give our children gifts. Just don’t get carried away. Perhaps consider giving them a gift because they pleased us; or because they accomplished something great; or just because we felt like being generous – not because they expect a gift on their birthday. The only reason they have that expectation is because we taught them to have it.
Allah (God) is the Giver of Gifts and the ultimate gift He gave us was the gift of life. We should show Him gratitude and be reflective when He permits us to gain another year; committing to represent His Greatness even better as we add a year of maturity. The Minister’s sentiments are also clear – a wonderful display of appreciation for our birth would be to show love, reverence and gratitude for our mother, whose womb God used to bring us forth – she is worthy of receiving gifts DAILY!
How we choose to go forward from this day forward is our prerogative, but it is always more empowering when our actions are informed and made with a conscious mind. Keeping up traditions and rituals without understanding the root is unworthy of us in this age of easily accessible information.
We close with a beautiful and profound perspective from Mother Tynnetta Muhammad: “Normally, we are not enjoined to celebrate birthdays because they accent the aging process. According to the Divine Teachings of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Allah came to reverse the aging process and not to emphasize age in our evolution to be ever young. The idea of getting older makes you think older as opposed to getting younger because you are what you think. Every time we say, ‘How old are you,’ we are emphasizing the aging process and not the youthful, blissful days of our lives. We must celebrate our birth into the Work and Mission of our Nation’s Resurrection into the New Life of the Hereafter in which we will be rejuvenated and made forever young.” All praise is due to Allah (God)!
(Sister Fudia Muhammad is a member of Muhammad Mosque No. 64 in Austin, Texas. She is married to Student Minister Robert L. Muhammad and they have been blessed with four children. Sister Fudia holds a Master’s degree in Education – she is a writer, an educator and an advocate for God-centered child-rearing.)