Muhammed was born in Mecca, now in Saudi Arabia, in the year 570 of the Gregorian calendar. The precise date of his birth is unclear. However, Sunni Muslims observe Muhammed’s birthday on the 12th day of the Islamic month of Rabi’ al-awwal, while Shi’a Muslims mark it on the 17th day of this month. The 17th day of Rabi’ al-awwal commemorates the birth of the sixth Shi’a iman, Ja’far al-Sadiq.

The word Mawlid, or Milad, depending on the method of transliteration used, comes from the Arabic word for birth and usually refers to the anniversary of Muhammed’s birth. Mawlid, or Milad, is celebrated with large street parades in some countries. Homes and mosques are also decorated. Some people donate food and other goods for charity on or around this day. However, many Muslims also do not participate in celebrations on this day. Instead, they may mark the occasion by spending more time to read the Koran.

The history of this celebration goes back to the early days of Islam when some of the Tabi`in (the successors of the Companions of the Prophet) began to hold sessions in which poetry and songs composed to honor the dignity and the righteous example of the Messenger of Allah were recited and sung to overflowing crowds in the major cities of Islamic Civilization.

There are mixed beliefs on how one observes Muhammed’s birthday. Some people see the Prophet’s birthday as an event worthy of praise. Others view the celebration of birthdays as contradictory to Islamic law.  Both sides cite the Hadith (narrations originating from the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammed) and events from Muhammed’s life to support their views.

Historically speaking, many Muslims have honored the birth of Muhammad in a ritual, Mawlid.

Connected to these festivities is a whole tradition of devotional songs that portray Muhammad not simply as the deliverer of the last divine dispensation (the Qur’an) but as a being of cosmic significance, an opening of a channel of divine mercy onto this world.

It was this Muhammad — the cosmic Muhammad who served as the cause of creation, the Muhammad that God so loved that were it not for him creation would not have been (according to the Sacred Hadith, “Wa law laaka…” )  who was and remains the object of Muslim devotion. Just as the moon reflects the light of the sun, so does Muhammad reflect the light of God onto the cosmos.

The Mawlid gives a useful chance to see the range of interpretations and practices marked as Muslim. As paradoxical as it sounds, it’s all about the love, even the disagreement. For the Muslims who honor Muhammad’s Mawlid, it’s the deep love for Muhammad that brings them closer to God. For those who identify as Salafi, and wish to abide only by practices that they believe originate in the Qur’an and the example of Muhammad, it is a way of honoring the desire to practice Islam as Muhammad would have wanted them to do, without what is deemed to be later accretions and potentially dubious practices.

Among the reprehensible innovations that people have invented is the celebration of the birthday of the Prophet, in the month of Rabi’ al-Awwal. They celebrate this occasion in various ways:

Some of them simply make it an occasion to gather and read the story of the Mawlid, then they present speeches and qasidah (odes) for this occasion, Some of them make food and sweets etc., and offer them to the people present, Some of them hold these celebrations in the mosques, and some of them hold them in their houses.

On ther other hand some say it is forbidden and is to be rejected for a number of reasons like :

As It is not part of the sunnah of the Messenger, or of the Caliphs who succeeded him. Since this is the case, then it is a forbidden innovation, because the Prophet, said, “I urge you to follow my sunnah and the way of the rightly-guided Caliphs after me; adhere to it and cling to it firmly. Beware of newly-invented things, for every newly-invented thing is an innovation (bid’ah) and every innovation is a going-astray.”[Narrated by Ahmad, 4/126; at-Tirmidhi no. 2676] and Celebrating the mawlid is an innovation introduced after the three best centuries.

Some think that Celebrating the birthday of the Prophet is an imitation of the Christians, because they celebrate the birth of the Messiah.

And it is also a means that leads to exaggeration and excess in venerating him, which even goes as far as calling upon him (making du’a’ to him) and seeking his help, instead of calling upon Allah, as happens now among many of those who observe the bid’ah of the mawlid, when they call upon the Messenger instead of Allah, and ask him for support, and sing qasidah (odes) of shirk praising him, like Qasidat al-Burdah etc.

Observing the innovation of the Prophet’s birthday opens the door to other kinds of bid’ah and being distracted by them from the sunnah.

And for those celebrating the holiday, it is a spiritual and social occasion for the Muslims who are so inclined to celebrate it. It is a memorial day when the Sirah (the life story of the Prophet) is revisited and scholars and singers in the Sufi tradition remind the members of the Ummah about the teachings of the Prophet (s) and the successes and challenges of the young Muslim community in Mecca and Medina.

Addis Insight wishes you a happy holiday.

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