Is it okay to celebrate birthdays?
Egypt’s Dār al-Iftāʾ (the authority that issues fatwas for all Egyptians and is peopled by qualified scholars from al-Azhar University) has issued a fatwa that says it is permissible to celebrate birthdays as long as they do not involve anything forbidden by Islam.1 The popular Egyptian caller to Islam Amr Khaled has published this fatwa on his website.2
It is also the opinion of Dr. Ali Gomaa (Egypt’s chief mufti from 2003 to 2013) that celebrating birthdays is permissible, but he recommends that Islamic elements should be introduced into it to make it a spiritual occasion.3
Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, one of the most respected living scholars today, also supports celebrating birthdays and says Muslim can do it and turn it into a beneficial Islamic occasion. Dr. Amina Naseer, a professor at al-Azhar University, also has this opinion.4
In Arabic, a birthday is called “ʿīd al-mīlād” (literally “eid of birth”). Since it has the word “eid” in it, a minority of Muslims thinks it is a false innovation in religion since it is trying to instate a new eid in Islam. They also say that since all Muslims should replicate the way of life of the earliest Muslims, and since the earliest Muslims did not celebrate birthdays, we should not either.
The majority of Muslims do not accept their thinking, whose view is that in Islam all celebrations are permitted unless there is a reason to prohibit them (for example if it is a celebration of a pagan deity, then that is clearly forbidden). Since a birthday celebration does not necessarily contain anything that is forbidden in Islam, the default ruling about it is that it is permitted.