Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas
Question: I believe it is appropriate for a Muslim to show gratitude to Allah for all things, including the blessing of a pregnancy. I have seen little of this spirit in baby showers which are usually concerned with games and anticipation of the unborn child. Are baby showers reprehensible?
Answer: assalamu `alaykum
There is nothing in our tradition in the way of textual evidence or legal principles to justify deeming baby showers as being interdicted or reprehensible.
Regardless of its purpose, the baby shower is essentially a social and customary event as opposed to being a religious event. This distinction is important to recognize in order to determine whether the practice of baby showers falls within the parameters of “imitating” the practice of non-Muslims. Since it is a social event not specific to a particular religion or a distinctive feature of a particular community, it would not fall within the purport of the prophetic traditions that disapproved of imitating other communities. [Ibn Abidin, Hashiya; al-Nahlawi, Durar al-Mubaha]
The purposes you have identified for the hosting of baby showers does not negate it being a social gathering. The celebration of birthdays is also a primarily gift-giving event but this does not mean that a birthday is no longer deemed a “neutral social gathering.” Rather, as you will note from the preceding paragraph, the identification of baby showers as social gatherings is primarily done as a point of nuance in order to distinguish it from events of a primarily religious character.
The approach when it comes to determining the legal ruling for events that are primarily social/customary is to look at the various elements that go into that event. If these elements incorporate the impermissible or reprehensible, the event itself will be deemed to be impermissible or reprehensible to the extent that such practices are present. If not, then they will not.
Gift Giving is a Sunna
The primary purpose you identified for baby showers is gift-giving. There is nothing impermissible or reprehensible about this practice even if it is done with an underlying intention of gathering gifts especially if there is a mutual understanding between those who attend and the host that this will be the case. This is a customary expectation just as the customary expectation in weddings, birthdays, and numerous other social events is to give gifts.
Further, there is a difference between an individual hosting a party with the intention of gathering gifts and between an individual hosting a party where gifts are customarily given. Neither is impermissible, but it is worth noting that they are not one and the same. For example. I will host a birthday gathering for my daughter primarily because it is an opportunity for me to make her happy and spend time with family and friends. Just because birthdays have become customarily associated with gift giving does not mean I as a host am doing it with the active intention of gathering gifts. There is a realization on my part that gifts will be given, but this is because this is a social norm and not what you are describing.
is such a social norm problematic in itself? No. The giving of gifts is in fact highly stressed in our tradition. The Prophet (God bless him) said, “Exchange gifts for this will increase your love for one another.” [Bukhari] If a society has certain customs that involve gift giving, then it would fall under the general permissibility of giving gifts and would be rewarding if done with a sound intention.
Leisurely Activities are Permitted
The second potential contention mentioned was that the practice of a baby shower is to celebrate a pregnancy and this entails games and anticipating the birth of a child as opposed to thanking God and celebrating his blessing.
While it is correct to state that people are encouraged to utilize such moments to reflect more deeply on the blessings they have been given, the fact that they celebrate baby showers with games and anticipating birth would not render the event impermissible or reprehensible in a legal sense.
Clearly, anticipating some future good is something that comes natural to an individual and there is nothing inherently reprehensible about it. Further, playing games is also considered permissible, and it would only be deemed otherwise if it distracts an individual from what he has been called upon to do, such as prayer, or if the games themselves are not permitted. But even if a baby shower incorporated impermissible games and the like, all we can say is that that baby shower is problematic, not that the whole practice is.
Additionally, a crucial point being missed here is thankfulness, gratitude, and the like towards God is manifested in different ways. An individual giving a gift to someone or playing a game with a child or even attending such an event with a positive intention, such as to reconnect with family, fulfill the sunna, bring joy to others, support one’s family, is doing an act of worship. His act is a form of shukr (thankfulness) since thankfulness is described as using the blessings one has for the purpose it was meant for.
From a legal perspective, there is nothing wrong with a baby shower. The elements that are commonly identified as constituting a baby shower are not intrinsically impermissible or reprehensible. Rather, some of these elements, like gift giving, is highly desirable in our tradition. What people should be called upon to do is to take note of this, make high intentions, and hope that events that are merely customarily become praiseworthy in the sight of God through such intentions.
Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani