Mawlid Festival – The Prophet’s Birthday
Mawlid Festival – Many people disagree on whether Christmas is a religious holy day or a commercial secular holiday. There is no shortage of disagreements in Islam, and Muslims are no exception. No, I’m not referring to the yearly squabbles over whether Muslims in the West should celebrate Christmas.
Rather, I’m referring to the debate over whether Muslims should commemorate the birth of Muhammad. Muslims begin celebrating Muhammad’s birth on Friday night, January 2nd.
Could you stick with me? “
Muslims have traditionally observed the Mawlid, or celebration of Muhammad’s birth, to commemorate the prophet’s arrival on earth. Festive occasions, often accompanied by city-wide decorations and tents where sweets and candy are distributed, are commonplace in these customs. Celebrations linked to these festivities include devotional songs that portray Muhammad as a cosmic figure, a conduit for divine mercy, and a means for us sinners to plead our case to God.
Muslims’ devotion has been and continues to be directed toward this Muhammad — the cosmic Muhammad who was the catalyst for creation, the Muhammad whom God cherished to the point that creation would not have occurred without him. In the same way that the moon reflects the sun’s light, Muhammad serves as a cosmic reflector for the light of God.
Islam’s holy day of Mawlid al-Nab, or the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (Mawlid al-Nab), is known as Mawlid al-Nab.
It wasn’t until the 13th century that most Muslims began celebrating Muhammad’s birthday on the 12th day of Rabi al-Awwal—i.e., the day of Muhammad’s death. The ruling Shiite F’imids observed Mawlids for Muhammad, Ali, Fatimah, and their caliph in Egypt at the end of the 11th century (the descendants of Ali through his wife). Three short sermons (khutbahs) delivered by the caliph in his majesty were the main feature of the festivals, rather than elaborate procession of court officials.
As the largest branch of Islam, Sunnis believe that a mawlid celebration held in 1207 was the first. At Erbil, near Mosul, Saladin’s brother-in-law, Muzaffar al-Dn Gökburi, organized the event (Iraq). Its shape is strikingly like that of the modern mawlid. This year’s birthday celebrations began a full month before Muhammad was born on March 10. People came from as far away as Baghdad and Nibn to see the musicians, jugglers, and other performers (modern Nusaybin, Turkey). Arrivals from Muslim countries began two months before the conference. Two days before the official mawlid, many camels, sheep, and oxen were slaughtered for their meat. On the eve of Mawlid, a torchlight procession passed through town. On the day of the mawlid, the faithful and soldiers gathered in front of a specially constructed pulpit to hear the sermon. Everyone was invited to eat free at the prince’s expense, and religious leaders received special robes to honor their service.
The Mawlid is an excellent opportunity to observe the wide variety of Muslim interpretations and practices. It’s all about the love, even the disagreement, as paradoxical as that may sound. Muslims who celebrate Muhammad’s Mawlid do so out of sincere affection for Muhammad and his teachings. Suppose you’re a Salafi and you want to follow the example of Muhammad and the teachings of the Qur’an. In that case, this is a way to honor Muhammad’s desire for us to practice Islam the way he would have wanted us to, free of what you consider to be later accretions and possibly questionable practices. Disagreement among the scholars is a blessing, as the Prophet himself is alleged to have said.
The mawlid festival quickly spread throughout the Muslim world due to the current fascination with Sufism. A closer relationship with Islam was possible because of this. Even in Arabia, where the Prophet’s birthplace and the tomb had been places of pious but non-mandatory pilgrimage before the celebration, Mawlid celebrations were held. On the other hand, many Muslim theologians viewed the new celebrations as sinful and forbidden. The mawlid celebration, observed by Christians and Muslims alike in Muslim countries, has a Christian influence. It is still considered idolatrous by the Wahhbiyyah and another fundamentalist Muslims to celebrate the mawlid festival.
For centuries, mawlids have been celebrated and extended to saints and Sufi brothers. Aside from the regular feasting times, the poems related to mawlids, which tell the life and virtues of Muhammad, are very popular. Mawlids are also recited to honor deceased family members’ memory in the community.