This past Saturday, February 4th, Muslims around the world celebrated the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday or as it’s known in Arabic, Mawlid al-Nabi. While the exact day is not known with certainty, the Prophet’s birthday is usually celebrated on the 12th day of Rabi Al-Awwal, the third month of the Islamic calendar. Even though this day is a holiday in many Muslim majority countries, Muslims do not agree on whether this day should be celebrated at all.
The earliest celebrations of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday were in the 8th century in Mecca and the first official public celebrations occurred in Egypt in the 11th century. Shia Muslims were the first to celebrate the Prophet’s birthday. Sunni celebrations later began around the 12th century. Celebrations now include carnivals, special sweets, and distributions of food. Also, stories of the Prophet Muhammad are told and poetry about him recited. One poem, called Qasida al-Burda, is specifically recited. This poem was written by the 13th century Sufi Al-Busiri.
Muslim scholars disagree over the legality of celebrating this holiday. Those who oppose celebrating the Prophet’s birthday argue that there are no accounts of the Prophet Muhammad or his early companions celebrating his birthday. Moreover, they argue that Muslims are instructed not to do the same to the Prophet Muhammad as other communities have done with their prophets. Therefore, to celebrate the holiday is a bid’ah, or innovation in the religion, and thus should be prohibited. Other scholars maintain that while there is no precedent for the holiday that spending the day remembering the Prophet Muhammad is something positive.
Despite the disagreement, one thing that all Muslims agree on is the importance of the Prophet Muhammad in the Islamic worldview. He is considered to be the example that all Muslims strive to emulate and for this reason his life is remembered and commemorated in some way by all his followers, whether they celebrate his birthday or not.
Do you celebrate the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday? How do you celebrate this day? Do you think that celebrating his birthday is permissible or prohibited? Why? Why do you think that the Prophet’s birthday has generated so much disagreement? Please share your comments below.