The Diversity of Prophet Mohammed’s Birthday

Featured, Festivals, Photo Essays
February 16, 2011 13:32

Just like all natural things, religions are also part of an evolution process that undergo series of change during the course of the history. The face of any religion, when founded, starts changing when it assimilates different ideas, culture, people and traditions. What the shape of Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism or Christianity was thousands of years ago may not be the same today as countless historic events moulded them and preserved their modern identity. The same goes with Islam that was introduced in Arabia more than 1,400 years ago.

Akin to the annual Christian festival celebrating Christ’s birth on 25 December, many Muslims around the world celebrate the birthday of their prophet Muhammad every year. The 12th day of the third month of Islamic calendar, Rabi-al-Awwal, is marked as the birthday of Islam’s last prophet. Though the event was never celebrated during Prophet Muhammad’s life or by his successors, the descendants of Prophet Muhammad called Fatimids introduced the festival in 8th century to boost their support among the masses and undermine the role of the clergy.

Prophet Muhammad’s birthday was arbitrarily fixed by tradition as the 12th day of the month of Rabi-al-Awwal which incidentally is also the day of his death. Many historians and scholars are of view that his original date of birth is 9th Rabi-al-Awwal and prove it according to the early Islamic traditions. However, the event was not celebrated by the Muslim masses until about 13th century.

prophet muhammad mohammed house mecca makkah

The birthplace of Prophet Muhammad in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. He was born on 20th of April, 570 AD according to the Gregorian calendar. According to the majority of Islamic historians, he was born on the 9th of Rabi al-Awwal, the third month of the Islamic calendar. Other historians and scholars debate the date and insist 12th of Rabi al-Awwal as his date of birth. Photo - Time Light

At the end of the 11th century in Egypt, the ruling Shiite Fatimids who are the descendants Fatimah. She was the most beloved daughter of Prophet Mohammed and was wedded to Caliph Ali. The Fatimids observed four birthdays including that of Prophet Mohammed, Ali, Fatimah, and the ruling caliph. However, the festivals were mere processions of court officials that consisted of sermons and poetry eulogising the holy personalities.

An illustration of the court of Muzaffar ad-Din Gokburi, brother-in-law of Sultan Saladin and king of Irbil. Circa 1207.

Since then, this festival has gained popularity after accepting cultural and cross religious influences. Today, it is a national holiday in many Muslim countries and is observed by both religious and secular minded people.

sufi mawlid celebrations

Muslim Sufis celebrating the birth of Prophet Mohammed in the southern port city of Sidon, Lebanon. Photo - Mahmoud Zayat/AFP/Getty Images

The Sufi order of Islam helped the tradition spread like wildfire across the Muslim world by making it more of a personal experience and involving the use of poetic expression, chants, meditation and a dance that focuses on the mystic nature of the religion.

qaseeda qasida barda shareef

Poets taking part in a literary event. Photo - Islam Crunch

Recitation of the poetry that eulogises Prophet Mohammed is the major highlight of the birthday festival. Poetry written in Arabic called Qaseeda is sung in his honour while the audience listens and appreciates the proceedings. The most famous poetic expression is the Qaseeda al-Burda or Poem of the Mantle which was written by renowned 13th century Arabic Sufi poet Busiri. The poem praises Prophet Mohammed and celebrates his life as the messenger of God and messiah of humanity.

mawlid procession morocco

A candle-lit procession carried out in honour of Prophet Muhammad's birthday in Sale, Morocco. Photo - Josiehen

As it is not a mainstream Islamic event, the festivities are as diverse as the terrain of the Muslim world that ranges from the shores of Atlantic in Northwest Africa to the Pacific Islands of Indonesia. All the celebrations include taking out of a procession where people design various floats embellished with religious writings and carry them in a parade.

A traditional gathering of the festival known as Mevlud in Bosnia. The event serves as a get together where friends and families meet up in the evening accompanied by a dinner. Photo - Edin Junusovic

The Mawlid celebrations are more carnival in nature where traditional gathering take place. The event is also observed in the Balkans by Albanian and Bosnian Muslims which is known as Mevlud. The event serves as a get together where friends and families meet up in the evening accompanied by a dinner.

kashmir hazrat bal shrine

Tens of thousands of Kashmiri Muslims offering special prayers at Hazratbal shrine which houses a relic believed to be a hair from the Prophet’s beard. Photo - Reuters

Many people also gather at places said to be housing relics that belong to the last messenger of Islam. One such gathering takes place at the holy shrine of Hazratbal on the outskirts of Srinagar in Indian-administered Kashmir where tens of thousands of Kashmiri Muslims offer special prayers on 12th of Rabi-al-Awwal and line up to view a relic believed to be a hair from the Prophet’s beard.

The interior of Selimiye Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, especially lit for the occasion. Though a secular republic, the festival is observed with great respect and fervour. Photo - EEY

Every large and small mosque across the Muslim world is decorated with festive lights where the faithful gather throughout the day to pray, meditate and read passages from the Holy Quran.

karachi mosque eid milad un nabi

An illuminated mosque in Karachi, Pakistan. Buildings are especially decorated and illuminated during night time as part of the festival. Photo - code.name.JaL

An illuminated mosque in Karachi, Pakistan. Buildings are especially decorated and illuminated during night time as part of the festival. While such arrangements are visually eye-pleasing, it puts a lot of strain on the electricity supply to the cities with bills often not paid by the organisers. Critics say it is contrary to the teachings of Islam which emphasises on simplicity and substance.

hyderabad india muslims eid milaad

An aerial view of a public gathering in Hyderabad, India held by Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen (MiM). Though a religious festival, the event can be used by religious parties to display their strength and mobilise their support among the masses. Photo - Hyderabadonline

While it is an expression of religious devotion, the event can also be a reflection of the strength of certain political parties that seek to make Islam the basis of the laws and regulations of the land by imposing Shariah.

Muslims participate in a procession in the historic Indian city of Hyderabad near the famous Charminar landmark. Photo - Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images

The event is also celebrated in countries where Muslims form a large minority. India is one such nation where Muslims are almost 14% of the billion plus population. Such festivities help promote community spirit and understanding and strengthen the ties between various sects and religious groups. However, the chances of isolated outbreaks of violence cannot be ruled out.

gunungan indonesia eid milad

Photo - Sumaryanto Bronto

Mawlid is also an occasion when culture intricately weaves with religion and produces a fascinating fabric that represents the diversity and depth of the society. One such example is the procession of the royal servants of Yogyakarta Palace who carry “gunungan” that is filled with natural resources. Known as the Sekaten Ceremony, the event is annually held on the 5th day of the 3rd month of the Javanese calendar. It extends to a week and culminates with the Gerebeg Maulud Ceremony. Sekaten is the commemoration of the birth of Prophet Muhammad. Javanese believe that by celebrating Sekaten in general and listening to gamelan in particular they will be rewarded with good health and prosperity.

Palestinian children attend a procession to mark the birth anniversary of Prophet Mohammed at the Ibrahimi mosque in the Occupied West Bank city of Al-Khalil. Photo - Demotix.

Children equally take part in the festivities often putting on new dresses and reciting poems in gatherings at schools and community centres. Their inclusion is ensured in order to pass on the traditions of the religion and introduction to the values of Islam.

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24 Comments

  • awesome!
    more diversity…. more flavours!
    now I understand all the sense of the famous names in muslim culture: Fateme, Ali, Mohammad…. great!
    also, nice pics (specially the ones where there are children)
    thanks for this breakfast of diversity on a sunny morning!

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    • Moign Khawaja

      The diversity is very interesting and intriguing which I always feel while doing research and digging for info. In fact it is so nice that I’ve to take it to the end. Something like Colombian coffee beans. The taste and freshness has to be preserved until it is tasted by the customer. Inspiration everywhere :)

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      • that´s why I gave to you coffee…. because if you can understand its complex flavour, you can understand a culture!
        how many flavoures we haven´t smell yet?
        very nice Moign, very nice!

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  • ستاره ای بدرخشید و ماه مجلس شد/دل رمیده ی ما را رفیق و مونس شد
    نگار من که به مکتب نرفت و خط ننوشت/ بغمزه مسئله آموز صد مدرس شد
    these were two versese of Khwaje Shams ud-Din Mohammed Hafiz-e Shirazi’s poem that always remind me the greatness of our prophet in the form of poem, a prophet where all beauties gather and each year as a muslim person we celebrate his anniversity magnificently and thank God because of his messages we are always more strong and more beneficial. we celebrate these days magnificently in Iran too and celebrate these days with all muslims. There are two days that are known as his birthday and we celebrate week between this two days and call it “Hafteye vahdat” that means the week of unity and this week is a symbol of unity for all the muslims in our beliefs and is the celebration of unity of all muslims.
    Thanks for the beautiful photo essay, was full of information like always

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    • Moign Khawaja

      Khawaja Hafiz-e-Shiraz is also an inspiration to me, Shima. I really wish there is unity in this world, especially in the Muslim world and everyone works towards peace, development and prosperity. This essay is also a small attempt in this direction. Thanks for sharing the beautiful verse with us.

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  • I learn something new every time I read your photo essays. Arigato sensei. ;)

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    • Moign Khawaja

      Dou itashi mashite, Nelli. Always a pleasure to write an interesting photo essay and spreading knowledge & understanding.

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  • Thanks for this article Moign :)…
    yes , since there is a diversity about societies and their cultures Muslims are celebrating this day with some different’tasty’:) aspects… and I want to add some information from Turkey…

    actually I am not sure if we can define this holy day (Mevlüt ) as a ‘Festival’ in Turkey but you are right it is one of the important nights for us to celebrate by showing our respect and love for Allah and our Prophet(SAV) with prayers…..
    If we should talk about birthday celebrations, ‘the blessed birth week’ is celebrated by us like a festival in April and it is being popular year by year… activities during the week ofcourse focus on the Prophet(SAV) and The Quran and include conferences, seminars ,Quran recitations ,hymn comcerts, poem competitions etc…

    in spite of varieties on celebrations , I guess the important thing about the day is to remember and understand our Prophet… And it is really nice to share same feelings with my muslim sisters and brothers from all over the world..:)
    thanks again :)

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    • Moign Khawaja

      Thanks for enlightening the readers, Neşe, and telling us about the way it is observed in Turkey, a country with a great Islamic heritage and history. I hope you too enjoyed it with your friends and family. Please share the post with your friends.

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  • Another brilliant photo essay, Moign :).

    Your blog really stands out in many ways. It combines thorough research and reading-up, a talent for writing and telling stories, and a viewpoint that is different from the ones that are commonly reflected by the (western) media. Your articles range from politics to culture and religion, from world-changing events to single people’s lives. You give a voice to those that might otherwise not be heard, you shed light on events we might never know about otherwise, and let us see how colourful and versatile this world is. Your work really makes a difference and inspires us all, your readers, to “think beyond” too, just like you do. Keep it up :)!

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    • Moign Khawaja

      Thanx very much for all the compliments and observations. I’m really glad that they’re well-noticed and connected with so many people from around the world. I wish to step up my writing and serve as a bridge to connect people of the East and West.

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  • Wonderful story .. as I used from u Moign …. nice pictures with precious information …. keep doing it my best writer Moign ;)

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    • Moign Khawaja

      Thanx. I’ll carry on spoiling you, Menna. Keep commenting and sharing with your friends :)

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  • a truly fascinating and illuminating photo essay Mo….thx for making the Mawlid more vivid with ur photo essay..it is just so inspiring to know how widely this special occasion is celebrated..we hold ur writings close to our hearts just as those occasions bring us closer together..:)

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    • Moign Khawaja

      Always a pleasure to dig deep and come up with something fascinating and knowledgeable. The end result always amazes me and inspires me. Please, carry on sharing and commenting :-)

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  • Thx for this eye-catching photo essay and for your tremendous efforts Moign..

    Qasedat Al Burda was sung by the legendary Egyptian singer “Um-Kolthum” who was described to have the “Golden Throat” due to her extra ordinary voice..she was also honored by the late president Jamal Abdul Nasser (God Bless his soul) who also attended many of her concerts.
    This is a link of the poem sung if you’re interested to listen : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qKoC3dcgj0

    The name “Um Kulthum” is also the name of Al Sayeda Khadeja’s daughter ,The Prophet Mohamad’s (PBUM) first wife.
    She was known as “Um AlMu’menen” meaning “The Mother of the Believers”..

    Anyway the Biography of the Prophet is way too long and full of wonderful stories to be written about here.. it can never be summarized, for every single detail counts :))

    اللهم صلي وسلم وبارك على أشرف الخلق والمرسلين أفضل الصلاة و أتم التسليم وعلى اّله وصحبه وسلم أجمعين

    Thx again Moign :))

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    • Moign Khawaja

      Thanx for your very informative comment, NaNa. Umme Kulthum was a legendary singer who will be renowned for her rousing patriotic songs. How did you celebrate the day, NaNa?

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  • Hey, I believe your site is very good. Do you think I possibly could use some of your posting for my forum? Please keep up the good work. I hope you have a good day.

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  • Hi, do you think I possibly could use some of your posting for my site? Am not going to copy the full posting. I wish to mention the posting and reference it. I can leave alink back to your website as a thank you. I hope this is okay with you.

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  • Patrice Jarvie

    It was something of great pleasure getting to your site last night. I arrived here today hoping to learn something new. I was not frustrated. Your ideas in new solutions on this subject were topical and a wonderful help to me personally. Thank you for leaving out time to write down these things and for sharing your notions.

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  • Maggie - Poland

    Great as always Mo, thanks to you I can learn more and more :). You definitely have talent. Cheers. Maggie

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