On the twelfth day of the third month, many Muslims commemorate the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). In many predominantly Muslim countries, Mawlid al-Nabi is a major public holiday. In more conservative country like Qatar, the practice is forbidden as there is no record of the Prophet observing the day whereas Saudia Arabia for the very first time officially announced this celebration as a Public holiday. Muslims view this festival as a means to teach their communities about the Prophet Muhammad’s way of life, which all Muslims seek to emulate.
Every year, when the month of Rabi al-Awwal comes around once again, bringing in its train the night of the twelfth, it seems to us as if the whole world is perfumed by the memory of the birth of the Final Messenger, may Allah’s blessings and peace be upon him. Countless millions of Muslims in every corner of the earth fix their thoughts on his birth, by re-reading his biography and learning from his unique values and qualities. For he was the Unlettered Prophet, in whose human essence were combined and perfected every noble and generous trait of character: the best of all role-models, of whom Allah Himself has said: “Truly, yours is a tremendous character.”
Without the slightest doubt, the best way of commemorating this most noble of all birthdays is in reciting the story of his life, to adults and to children, in order to accustom them to the love of Allah’s great Messenger.
No-one could deny that gathering to listen to the career of the Master of the Messengers is one of the most desirable of all activities. It can yield a whole range of blessings and benefits, as long as it takes place in a proper Islamic atmosphere without any reprehensible innovations or distortions. Needless to say, the life of the Prophet, upon him be blessings and peace, can and should be commemorated at any time of the year. Nonetheless, when he is remembered in Rabi al-Awwal , people’s attachment to him grows even stronger, for the simple reason that it was in this month that he was born. At this special time, when the impulse to gather for this purpose is at its strongest, one feels an overwhelming sense of connection between our time and his, as the present reminds us of the past, and helps us to bring to mind and relate to events which took place many centuries ago.
The love of the Prophet, and the joy which his birth and career have brought to us, bring every imaginable kind of good thing to a true Muslim. Even an unbeliever can benefit from his birth. The idolator Abu Lahab, one of the greatest enemies of Islam, was pleased when one Monday he heard the news that Muhammad had been born: and he freed his slave-girl Thuwaiba who had brought him the news. We are told that because of this deed his punishment in the grave is reduced every Monday. This hadith, which is narrated by Imam Bukhari, inspired Imam Shams al-Din al-Dimashqi to write:
If an unbeliever, condemned by the Quran to eternal pain,
Can be relieved every Monday through his joy at Ahmad,
Then what must a true servant of God hope to gain,
When with the truth of Tawhid he felt joy at Ahmad?
The Prophet himself, may Allah bless him, used to commemorate his birthday, thanking his Lord for His great kindness to him. He would express this commemoration by fasting, as we are told in a hadith narrated by Imam Muslim. The methods by which his birthday may be celebrated vary widely, but the objective is the same: whether in fasting, giving food to the poor, gathering for the remembrance (dhikr) of Allah or calling down blessings upon His Messenger, and listening to the story of his virtues and mighty achievements.
Allah has commanded us Muslims to rejoice at the things by which His grace and mercy comes to us. In the Holy Quran we read: ‘Say, by Allah’s grace and mercy; and let them be made joyful by this!’ (Yunus, 58.) And we have never received any mercy greater than the Prophet himself: ‘We sent you only as a mercy to the worlds.’ (Anbiya, 107.)
Throughout the world, there are a variety of expressions for the observance of the birth of the Prophet: some celebrations take place simply in private homes; other Muslims decorate their local masjid with lights and hold large festive gatherings. Celebrations of Mawlid al-Nabi include sharing food, attending lectures, participating in marches, and reading the Qur’an and devotional poetry. In some countries, such as Pakistan, the entire month of Rabi’ al-Awwal is observed as the Prophet’s “birth month.” In Singapore, the observance of Mawlid al-Nabi is a one-day festival which often includes special “birthday parties” for poor children and orphans in addition to the regular prayers and lectures in local masajid. Azhar Square in Cairo is the site of one of the largest celebrations, with over two million Muslims in attendance.
Celebrating Prophet (SAW) birth promotes community engagement along cultural and ethno-religious lines, lessening segregation through what may be extended contact in preparation for the event and establishing relationships and communication between groups. In order for public engagement to have greater positive impacts and reach, it needs to be “scaled up”, to borrow Robert Hefner’s word, by involving broader community participation. Scaling up public engagement requires integrating diverse groups into more religious and cultural festivals and other regular community programs.
What has not been sufficiently developed globally is formal or informal encounters at the grassroots level which involve all community members regardless of their ethnic and religious affiliations. Religious cultural events or festivals help resolve this problem because almost everyone is welcome to participate and engage. Through such festive celebrations, people interact and engage intensively, establishing channels of communication and relationships. The lack of positive exposure to diverse people is a major concern for efforts to eradicate intolerance.
In my opinion very country should have inter-religious harmony forum that holds regular meetings with state officials, the intelligence service, the police, community leaders, as well as other secular and religious authorities about the religious social dynamic, security, and intolerance. Those assembled seek to formulate the best mechanism to curb intolerance or violent conflict. Last but not least, one can argue that the Mawlid an Nabi will become interestingly a moral and social bridge linking many diverse Muslim groups who may be light years apart in terms of doctrine but neck to neck in their race to honor and celebrate the birthday of the Prophet (SAW).
For all these reasons, every year during the month of the Mawlid we should devote our time to the great books of the Sira, spending some time enjoying their shade and cool breezes. We should recall to our mind the episodes and events of his unique career from the time when the light of Muhammad first shone upon the world: the Arbitration at the Ka’ba, the Beginning of Revelation, the trials and sufferings endured while calling men to Allah, the Hijra, the great and heroic battles against paganism and misguidance, the creation of the Islamic State, the Farewell Pilgrimage, and finally, the moment when revelation to earth came to its conclusive end with the demise of the Blessed Prophet and his passing-on to the Highest Companion in Heaven.
To sum up what I have been trying to say: celebrations of the Mawlid are nothing other than a revival of the memory of the Chosen One. When this is done in the context of an Islamically-learned circle of knowledge and remembrance, in which the manners of our Islamic religion are observed, it is something which the great scholars approve of strongly. It provides a superb opportunity to link us to the Sira, to his miracles and beautiful character, and to the magnification of the Prophet whom Allah has commanded us to follow and emulate in all things.
Only by knowing his virtues and good qualities can we have perfect faith in him.
Only by listening to his life-story will we acquire a true and deep love for him.
As Allah Himself has stated: ‘We tell you the stories of the Messengers, in order to make firm your heart.’
O Allah, make firm our hearts in Islam! Make our faith true and deep, and bestow upon us real love for Your Prophet!