SUNSET MONDAY, FEBRUARY 14: Sunni Muslims who celebrate the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday will begin tonight with feasting, special poems, songs, charitable giving and much more. Not all Muslims mark the Prophet’s birthday—after all, it was Muhammad himself who asked his followers not to over emphasize it. The Prophet didn’t celebrate the birthdays of his family and friends. But, today, many do mark his birthday. (Wikipedia has details.) Mawlid is a national holiday in the majority of Muslim countries, and Muslims particularly reflect on the ways that the Prophet Muhammad forgave his enemies.
Muhammad entered the world in 570, and when public celebrations of the Prophet’s birthday began a few centuries after his death, they were elaborate and enormous. Originally, daytime gatherings were the only parties for Mawlid an-Nabi, organized primarily by Shi’a Muslims; today, however, both Sunnis and Shi’as have devotees who mark Mawlid throughout the whole day and evening. (Shi’a Muslims will mark Mawlid an-Nabi a few days from now, at sunset on Feb 19.) Muslim scholars agree that Muhammad’s birth is a central event in Muslim history; what’s debated is how to properly recall that milestone. (Get the American Muslim perspective from the Islamic Supreme Council.)
This year, many eyes will be cast upon Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood is part of the new leadership coalition emerging there. Many believe that, if free and fair elections are held, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood will gain influence and a dominant role in the country. (The Washington Post has an informative article.) The first official Mawlid celebrations actually began in Egypt toward the end of the 11th century, and it’s documented that the primary scholar for the Muslim Brotherhood has given approval for modern-day observances of Mawlid. Many Muslims in the U.S. will hold celebrations for Mawlid an-Nabi this year, too.