Islam: Recall a birth and a life on Mawlid an-Nabi

Mawlid is observed in more than 50 countries worldwide, including Uganda, shown above. Photo in public domainSUNSET FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 3: Most of the world’s Muslims will mark the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday this week in an observance known as Mawlid an-Nabi. Muslims believe Muhammad was the end of a line of prophets that includes such biblical figures as Moses and Jesus. Sunnis recognize the birthday today, and Shia mark it in five days. (Wikipedia has details.)

Despite today’s widespread observance of Mawlid, some Muslims still regard its celebration as unlawful—after all, neither Muhammad’s companions nor the next few generations observed the event. In fact, records indicate that Mawlid wasn’t observed at all until the 8th century, in Mecca (Muhammad was born in 570 CE), when his birth house was made into a place of prayer. Even when Mawlid was first observed, it was kept among the Shia ruling class until the end of the 11th century. Sunnis didn’t accept this as a public celebration until the 12th century, in Syria. It wasn’t until 1910 that the festival was given official national recognition in the Ottoman empire, and today, millions of Muslims observe it with street processions, charity donations, the sharing of stories about Muhammad’s life and prayer. Some countries—such as Egypt—utilize this day to duly commemorate the birthdays of important religious leaders, such as Sufi saints.

Just what accounts are detailed on Mawlid?

The faithful recall that the Prophet Muhammad became orphaned young, and in his adult life retreated to a cave for deep meditation. At 40, Muhammad began receiving revelations from God, and he soon preached these revelations, such as “God is One.” Unpopular at first, Muhammad finally united the tribes at Medina and, by the time of his death, had garnered many followers. Today, Islam is the second largest religion in the world with more than a billion adherents, ranking in size right after the 2-billion-member Christian faith.

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