What Is Mawlid? Here's the Significance Behind the Muslim Holiday

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What Is Mawlid and How Is It Celebrated?Muhammad Aqib - Getty Images

Mawlid, also known as Eid Milad-un-Nabi, is an annual festival observed by many Muslims. It is a celebration of the anniversary of Prophet Muhammad's birth.

While the Prophet Muhammad was alive, he never told Muslims to celebrate his birth — so this celebration is not a part of the Islam he taught. Rather, celebrating Mawlid is a practice that became popular in the 6th and 7th century on the Hijri, the Islamic lunar calendar (around the High Middle Ages on the Gregorian calendar).

Due to the fact that this practice is an "innovation" that began after the time of the Prophet Muhammad, Mawlid is a controversial holiday amongst Muslims today. Some say that it shouldn’t be celebrated because the Prophet Muhammad didn’t teach this. Others say that the day is a positive creation meant to commemorate the Prophet Muhammad and express love for him.

The main point of Mawlid is to remember the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and what he did for the religion. This is often done through poetry and song. The practice of praising Prophet Muhammad with poetry was a valid practice even in his time, provided that the praise didn’t contradict Islamic theology.

With that background in mind, here's what else you should know about Mawlid.

What is Mawlid?

Mawlid is a public celebration of the Prophet Muhammad's birth date. In many Muslim countries, it’s an official holiday.

Mawlid meaning

In Arabic, Mawlid al-Nabi translates to the "birthday of the prophet."

When is Mawlid?

Mawlid is celebrated on the 12th day of Rabi' Al-Awwal, which is the third month on the Islamic calendar. This year, Mawlid falls on September 27, 2023 on the Gregorian calendar. In future years, the date will fall on September 16, 2024 and September 5, 2025.

Classical historians argue that the 12th of Rabi' Al-Awwal might not be the exact birth date of the Prophet Muhammad. Scholars suggest this date is just popularly cited as the Prophet’s birth date. This could be because when the first public Mawlid was celebrated during the Fatimid Dynasty in Egypt, the government chose the 12th of Rabi' Al-Awwal for their Mawlid.

All we know for certain is that the Prophet Muhammad was most definitely born on a Monday, most likely in the month of Rabi' Al-Awwal.

What is the significance of Mawlid?

Celebrating the birth of the Prophet Muhammad is a way to celebrate God’s mercy upon the world. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is described as a “mercy to the worlds.” This is because the Quran, which is a mercy and guidebook, was revealed to him and he conveyed the message of the Quran to us.

In addition, he is described as a mercy because he was sent to “perfect good manners.” He left behind a legacy showing how to deal with people and problems in the best way, if only one follows his example.

How is Mawlid celebrated?

Mawlid is celebrated differently in different cultures and throughout time. In the High Middle Ages, the ruling dynasty would have celebrated the Mawlid with pageantry, a government address, and free state-sponsored gifts to the masses and to the poor. It is reported that around the same time in Makkah, historic relics and the house of the Prophet Muhammad were open for public viewing in Rabi' Al-Awwal.

However, at the heart of Mawlid is the praise of the Prophet Muhammad in the form of poetry and song. This tradition has continued until today. In the month of Rabi' Al-Awwal, public gatherings are held in praise of the Prophet Muhammad, in addition to private gatherings remembering him in poetry and song.

Special foods might be made for the occasion, prepared at home and served to family, friends, and neighbors. On a public scale, high profile families or corporations may sponsor meals for public Mawlid gatherings.

In some countries where the observance is a national holiday, schools, banks, and government offices might be closed. Some individuals may also choose the occasion to give to charity and do other good deeds.

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