The Veneration and Celebration of Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday
April 15, 2014
The message of Islam has spread across many lands with differing cultures and varying interpretations of the divine word of Allah. The entity that unites all the variances of the religion is the Prophet Muhammad. Unlike the rest of the topics that surround the religion, his importance as the pioneer of Islam is unique and unquestioned. It can reassuringly be claimed that the unique position of the Prophet is monumental for all Muslims since he marked the emergence of Islam through his persistence, and thus, the love and affection of the Muslim masses for the Prophet is bountiful. The display of affection however takes many forms, which then creates dispute among the believers of the acceptable and unacceptable veneration of the Prophet. According to Malaki scholars, the unacceptable forms of venerations can be equated to idolatry, polytheism, or the Arabic term, shirk. These forms of unacceptable venerations are highly severe, but majority of the controversy lies with innovation of the religion, or the Arabic term bidah. The celebration of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, also known as the Maulid, is a largely debated issue as it is seen as a pagan-like ritual to Malaki scholars (Samuli, 325). The incremental transition of the normative Muslims’ practices of Islam diverting from the fundamentals of acknowledging the oneness of Allah fears many scholars. Schimmel concisely alludes to a similar gradual shift of Muslim norms regarding the Prophet Muhammad. Her statement is applicable to Muslims as a whole when she says, “ ‘He is verily of noble nature’ (Sura 68:4). In several places one finds the Divine command ‘Obey God and obey His messenger’ or similar formulations. Such Koranic sentences formed the bases of veneration of Muhammad that soon far surpassed the respect normally accorded to a prophet, and even now the pious Muslim will never mention anything belonging to or relating to the Prophet without adding the attribute sharif, ‘noble’.” (p.25) This is indeed an innocent gesture and nothing of the like of transgressing. The early Muslim community respected Prophet Muhammad by giving him honour by attributing him as noble. Nothing immoral or wrong can be concluded from simply referring to the Prophet as noble, but the dilemma arose over time when Muslim men and women began to convert their harmless respect into new rituals and traditions that were interpreted as incoherent with Islam. The widely debated celebration of Prophet Muhammad’s birthday is among the controversial traditions in Islamic culture. On the twelfth of Rabi' al-Awwal, the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday is celebrated around the world, but the grandest rituals take place in visiting the Prophet’s grave in Medina and performing a ceremony with a colourful and luminous procession encompassing the area of his grave. On this day, the Quran is recited, the stories of the Prophet are shared, and charity is given out to the poor. Festive foods are also made, and singing and dancing has also taken place. All of this is done to create an environment of joy in remembrance of the beloved Prophet Muhammad, but what escapes the mind of many Muslims is that their actions closely depict those of the pagans. The origination of the celebration of the Maulid had actually emerged not in the Prophet’s time, but later from festivities in the 11th century of Egypt and 12th century Syria (Schussman, 216). From the Prophet’s time up until the 8th century, no public events took place regarding this matter, but during the later part of the 8th century, the desire to visit his tomb on his birthday or to celebrate his life had slowly began to fill the hearts of Muslim believers. The most fitting reason why Muslim men and women want to ritualize, or give importance to this day is to fill in his absence. It is most certainly a desire for the believers who...
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