The Maliki scholar and sufi, Ibn Abbad (May Allah have mercy on him), in his “ar-Rasa’il al-kubra” writes:
As for the mawlid, it seems to me that it is one of the holidays and festivals of the Muslims, and everything that is done on it out of joy and pleasure in that blessed birth, including the lighting of lamps, the gratification (imta‘) of the sight and the hearing, adornment with fancy clothes and the riding of swift steeds, is a permissible thing for which no one should be censured (layunkaru ‘ala ahad), based on the analogy with other times of rejoicing (qiyasan ‘ala ghayrihi min awqat al-farah). To judge that these things are an innovation at this time when the secret of existence appeared, the banner of witnessing was raised, and the darkness of unbelief and denial was dispersed, to claim that this time is not one of the legitimate festivals of the people of the faith, and to compare it with [the Iranian festivals of] Nawruz and Mihrajan, is a distasteful thing from which sound hearts recoil, and which sound opinions reject.
Once in the past I had gone out on the mawlid to the riverbank, and I happened to find there Sayyidi al-Hajj ibn ‘Ashir(1) and a group of his companions; some of them had brought out different foods to eat them there. When they were ready to eat they wanted me to share their food. I was fasting at the time, and I told them, “I’m fasting.” Sayyidi al-Hajj looked at me disapprovingly and said something to the effect that “today is a day of joy and delight (farah wa-surur), on the likes of which it is not considered appropriate to fast, equivalent to an ‘id.” I considered what he said and found it true; it was as if I had been sleeping and he woke me. (2)
In another letter Ibn ‘Abbad responds to his followers, who have forbidden the boys in the Qur’anic schools from participating in mawlid festivities. He advises them to allow the boys to engage in “permissible entertainment or play” (lahw mubah aw la‘b) on the occasion of the mawlid. He cites the narration, that a woman once came to the Messenger of God (صلى الله عليه وسلم) on his return from one of his military expeditions and said to him, “I had vowed that if God returned you safely, I would beat a drum before you.” The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) replied that she should fulfill her vow. (3) He writes:
There is no doubt that her beating the drum is a kind of entertainment (lahw). The Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) directed her to fulfill her vow to do so because its cause was joy (farah) at his safety, at which it was obligatory for her to rejoice (allati tajib ‘alayha al-farah biha). He did not equate that to vowing something that is [merely] permissible (mubah) or sinful, in that it is not obligatory to fulfill [such vows]. The same applies to someone who introduces (ahdatha) a permissible entertainment on the occasion of his rejoicing at the time of [the Prophet’s] birth, [even] without a commitment (iltizam) or vow. (4)
(1) Abu’l Abbas Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Umar ibn Ashir al-Andalusi who died in 764 or 765H.
(2) Ibn ‘Abbad, al-Rasa’il al-kubra, p. 180.
(3) Recorded by Abu Dawud (3:237 #2880), Tirmidhi (#3623), Imam Ahmad (5:353 #21911, 5:356 #21933), Ibn Hibban (#4386), Bayhaqi (Sunan, #20681), and Tabarani (M. Awsat , 4:191)
(4) Ibn ‘Abbad, al-Rasa’il al-kubra., pp. 218–9
[Translated by Marion Holmes Katz, with slight mod by me]