Celebration of Mohamed's birthday shrouded in controversy

In certain Sunni communities, December 12 marked the birth date of the Prophet Mohamed -- the 12th of Rabi Al-Awwal, or the “Mawlid” (Birth of the Prophet).

While the Sunni sect generally holds the 12th day of the Islamic month as the Prophet’s birthday, in Shia communities, scholars say he was born on the 17th. As a result, in some Islamic countries, the entire week is set aside for Mawlid, as in the Iranian practice of colloquially calling this time the “unity week.”

Even whether to celebrate is a controversy: some sects of Islam consider the day an “unnecessary” observance

Although widespread reports can be found stating that Mawlid is not celebrated in places such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, evidence still pops up in YouTube videos purporting to show observances within the Kingdom. There are also videos of speeches by informed experts describing the fine balance that exists around this calendar date.

In addition, the day is celebrated as far afield as the Balkans, where a troubled political history has had an effect on traditional observances, according to scholars.

How is Mawlid celebrated today?

It really depends on where you are and the community that is predominant there.

At the United Islamic Association of Lancaster County in Pennsylvania, Muslims celebrated the Mawlid on Dec. 17, according to local Imam Fuad al-Zubeiry. They met to talk about the significance of the day and about the Prophet himself.

“We had a gathering,” al-Zubeiry told the Gulf News Journal. “We discussed the history of his life … we remind ourselves of everything he did, the things he accomplished.”

Al-Zubeiry acknowledged the ambiguity around the day.

“There is not a recommendation to celebrate on his birthday,” al-Zubeiry said. “But people will do it.”

Indeed, the Mawlid has been celebrated, in one form or another, for centuries. Much like some European Christian festivals that have mostly fallen out of fashion in today’s modern times, the Mawlid, according to popular history, was at one time marked by processions, special sermons, and even animal sacrifice and feasting.

Nowadays, celebrations of the Mawlid may be more muted, but this special date is still important to many Muslims around the world. Its documentation, in one form or another, shows how its observance, and even the controversy, ties it to a rich tradition of festivals and holidays, as well as religious fastings and other observances meant as collective sacrifice. 

Soon, the world community will celebrate another new year, but even in 2017 and beyond, the age-old practices such as Mawlid will keep right on going.

Organizations in this Story

United Islamic Association of Lancaster County

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