With Ramadan on its way, is it allowed for us to send congratulatory messages to our family and friends? I have been told this is an innovation.
باسم الله والحمد لله والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله وعلى آله صحبه أجمعين
I will answer this question in two parts as follows;
Firstly: Was it a practice of the Messenger (Peace, salutations and blessings be upon him) to share congratulatory messages when Ramadaan started?
Secondly: Is the act of congratulating others when Ramadan arrives permissible?
In terms of the first part; we have narrations that allude to the presence of congratulatory messages being shared from the Messenger (Peace, salutations and blessings be upon him) to his companions upon the month of Ramadan arriving, however these narrations have been deemed as weak in terms of being attributed to the Messenger (SAW).
From these narrations is the narration of Salman alFaarisi (May Allah be pleased with him), as reported by Imam Ahmed (May Allah shower His mercy upon him) in his collection of hadeeth narrations known as alMusnad, and by ibn khuzaymah (May Allah shower His mercy upon him) in his collection of hadeeth known as Saheeh ibn Khuzaymah, in which the Messenger (Peace, salutations and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said:
“The blessed month of Ramadan has arrived! A blessed month in which Allah has made fasting compulsory upon you….”
This is a translation of the Arabic text, and in the context of the Arabic language, the style of message provides the impression that a congratulatory message is being shared.
However, the scholars of hadeeth have said that in the chain of narrators of this hadeeth is a narrator by the name of Zaid bin Ali alJud’aan, and he is considered ‘weak’ as a narrator, which in turn affects this narration being attributed to the Messenger (Peace, salutations and blessings be upon him) in an authoritative manner.
A similar explanation has been offered by the scholars of hadeeth for another narration of a similar nature which has been reported by Abu Hurayarah (May Allah be pleased with him), as found in the compilation of hadeeth by Imaam atTirmithi (May Allah shower His mercy upon him) known as Jaami’ atTirmithi. This narration also has a narrator within the chain of narrators that has been considered ‘weak’ which in turn affects the authority of the narration.
In terms of the second part of this answer, and in answer to the question: ‘Is the act of congratulating others when Ramadan arrives permissible?’
I would say that despite these narrations being weak, it would still be permissible to offer messages of a congratulatory nature to others when Ramadaan arrives for the following reasons:
Firstly: Because the month of Ramadaan is a blessed month which brings along with it countless blessings for the believers, such as fasting, taraweeh (Ramadaan night prayer), sadaqah (voluntary charity), laylatul-qadr (the night of virtue, decree & power), freedom from the hell-fire, the day of Eid after the month of Ramadaan ends and much more.
Secondly: Because the act of sharing congratulatory messages is not observed as an act of worship by those who share these messages, but rather as a form from our norms & customs in which we congratulate one another with the intent of encouraging one another towards goodness as well as instilling happiness in the hearts of each another.
This concept, as described above, is one which Islamic law permits generally and in fact encourages!
The Messenger (Peace, salutations and blessings be upon him) has taught us that the concept of sharing glad tidings and bringing happiness to others is in fact from Islam, and his companions acted this lesson out for us in numerous instances in the seerah.
The Messenger (Peace, salutations and blessings be upon him) advised his companion Muaadh bin Jabal (May Allah be please with him) by saying:
“Make things easy and do not make things difficult. Give glad tidings and do not repel people. Cooperate with each other and do not become divided.”
(Reported by Abu Burdah (May Allah be pleased with him) and recorded by Imaam alBukhaari amd Imaam Muslim in their hadeeth compilations known as the two Sahihs, (may Allah shower His mercy upon them both.)
And in the seerah, we have the famous incident of Ka’b bin Maalik (May Allah be pleased with him). Upon Allah forgiving him, we find the companions of the Messenger (Peace, salutations and blessings be upon him) rushing to deliver the good news and glad tidings to him and congratulate him.
And Allah Almighty knows best.
With regards to this act being described as an innovation; this has been declared by some contemporaries (May Allah preserve them in His obedience) who have answered on this topic based on their understanding of such messages constituting a religious practice. However given that this practice is from our norms and not an act of worship, the concept of innovation in religion would not apply.
In terms of scholars from our recent past who have ruled the messages in question to be permissible; we have Imaam asSa’di and the former grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh ibn Baaz (May Allah shower His mercy upon them both) who both opine the permissible nature of sharing congratulatory messages at the beginning of Ramadaan.
And Allah knows best.