The Prophet Muhammad is believed to be Allah’s last prophet and a key figure in the Islamic faith. Many believers celebrate his birth, and call it “Mawlid al-Nabi”. The word “mawlid” has Arabic roots and means “to give birth”. In more modern times, “mawlid” is used to refer to the prophet’s birth.
The practice of celebrating Mawlid al-Nabi can be traced back to 11th century Egypt. As the religion slowly spread, so did this practice of celebrating Muhammad’s birth. Among the various Muslim sects, the Sufi are considered to be the biggest advocates and celebrating Mawlid al-Nabi has become an important tradition for them.
Lunar Calendar Holiday
Like many Asian holidays, the celebration of Prophet Muhammad’s birth is based on the lunar calendar and therefore varies each year on the Gregorian calendar. Traditionally it falls on the 3rd month of the Islamic calendar, or the Rabi’ al-awwal. For the Shia Muslims, Mawlid al-Nabi is observed on the 17th day of the Rabi’ al-awwal, while for the Sunni Muslims, celebration is on the 12th day. In 2013, the Sunni Muslims will celebrate the day on January 24, while the Shia Muslims celebrate it on January 29.
Who Celebrates Mawlid al-Nabi?
While Mawlid al-Nabi is considered as a traditional Islamic holiday, not all Muslims celebrate it. This practice is divided between believers who throw themselves wholeheartedly into the occassion, and those who do not believe that it is something worth celebrating. The latter believers consider Islam a perfect faith upon its establishment, and any innovation (“bid’ah”) or new practice is an unnecessary addition. Saudi Arabi is the only Muslim country where Mawlid al-Nabi is not observed and celebrated as a public holiday.
Celebrations may vary in the countries that celebrate it, particularly depending on the type of Islam followed by the locals. Countries that are not Muslim but have a strong Muslim presence also have some celebrations for Mawlid al-Nabi. It is not unusual for the day to be commemorated in countries like India, Britain, Malaysia, Singapore and even Russia.
Mawlid al-Nabi in South East Asia
Many of Muhammad’s believers show their respect by following in his good deeds. For many, it has become a tradition to share food with others. Many also follow the tradition of sharing stories about the prophet’s life, and telling of his deeds and accomplishments. A popular verse that is often shared by his believers during the festivities is Qaida al-Burda Sharif of the 13th century Arabic Sufi Busiri.
In Malaysia, where there is a large concentration of Muslims, this holiday is also known as “Maulidur Rasul”, or “The Birth of the Messenger of Allah”. This event is declared as a national and public holiday for the country, and preparation is widespread in all states. Mosques are cleansed and decorated for this this event, in anticipation for the hundreds to thousands of revelers expected to participate in the festivities. Similarly, the same treatment is given to the homes of those who celebrate this day.
Singapore’s celebrations of Mawlid al-Nabi have become low-key in the recent years, as opposed to the elaborate parades and festivities held in the past. Many choose to celebrate the prophet’s birthday quietly, and do what they can to share their blessings to those who are less fortunate.