Mawlid: Muslims mark Prophet Muhammad’s birth

Imam Steve Elturk speaking at an interfaith event.

Imam Steve Elturk speaking at an interfaith event.

JANUARY 13: Our dateline for Mawlid is approximate, since Muslim observances of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday vary by country and community. In 2014, we are seeing reports of Mawlid celebrations marked on January 12, 13 and 14 around the world. In some cases, communities do little to mark the date. In others, the date is so important that the celebration is adjusted by a day or two to accommodate a better observance. This year, we invited Muslim scholar and writer Imam Steve Mustapha Elturk, head of a regional Islamic center in Michigan, to write for us.

By STEVE ELTURK

No one really knows the exact birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. Early historians and narrators of hadith (prophetic tradition) have fixed the date to be 12 Rabi al-Awwal (the second month of the Islamic lunar calendar). The scholars of Islam and jurists have accepted that date to be the date of the birth of the Prophet Muhammad. Actual observances may vary by a day, plus or minus, in different Muslim countries depending on the determination of the new moon.

While celebrating the birth of the Prophet Muhammad has become a custom or cultural tradition in the Muslim world, we should point out that this is not a prophetic tradition. There is no evidence that the Prophet Muhammad intended for his followers to celebrate his birthday. The observance of the Prophet’s birthday dates back to the 12th century. The followers of the Shia school of thought do celebrate the birth of the Prophet. Sufis also are big on celebrating the birthday of the prophet. The most conservative Sunnis, mainly in Saudi Arabia, are not in favor of celebrating the birthday because it has the possibility of raising the Prophet Muhammad to the level of divinity and that is a form of polytheism in Islam which is forbidden. On the other hand, most traditional and liberal Sunni Muslims see no problem with it.

In most Muslim countries around the world—with the exception of Saudi Arabia—people get a day off from work! For us here at the IONA masjid in Michigan, we annually organize a conference. This year it will be the 7th annual conference. We normally have three speakers talk about the legacy of the prophet, his life in Mecca, Medina, the struggle he underwent to establish Islam, his teachings and his influence today. We feel that it is important for our community to recall and learn about Muhammad’s life with the aim to emulate his lifestyle and follow in his footsteps.

MAWLID IN THE NEWS

Pakistan may be the world’s epicenter for Mawlid celebrations. Huge crowds form. Lights are strung. Movie theaters often switch to showing inspirational movies on Mawlid. Work stops. The whole country seems to celebrate. In early coverage, this year, The Times of India urged revelers to exercise good judgment for public safety. In some cases, the holiday has been marked with a salute of gunfire, for example.

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