Christian Living

Spiritual Life

Do Muslims Celebrate the Birthday of Muhammad?

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Although not obligatory, the celebration of Muhammad's birthday, called Mawlid an-Nabi, is nevertheless quite widespread. It takes place on the 12th day of the third month of the Muslim calendar, which corresponds to August 8th in 1995. Keep in mind that the Muslim lunar calendar advances eleven days every year in relation to our solar calendar, so next year the event will occur at the end of July.

Interestingly, some countries, most notably Saudi Arabia, actually discourage the celebration of Muhammad's birthday since it is often the occasion for the excessive veneration of the Prophet. It generally involves an assembly where lengthy poems are recited in Arabic eulogizing the Prophet, his birth, his life, and his sufferings, etc. In some places there may also be a nocturnal torch-light procession. Such veneration conflicts with Muslim teaching against saint worship.

The veneration of the Prophet is nevertheless still very much a part of Muslim life. To a large extent, the Muslim religious calendar turns around key events in his life and mission. In addition to the Prophet's birthday there is the Muslim New Year's Day, for example, called Ras as-Sana. In 1995 it took place on May 31st. It commemorates what is for Muslims the turning point of Islamic history: the Hijrah or "emigration." That was the day Muhammad "emigrated" from Mecca to Medina to take control of the city; it was there that he established the first Muslim community-state which grew to become a powerful political force in the world.

Another event celebrated by Muslims is the so-called "Night of the Journey and the Ascension" which takes place the 27th day of the seventh month on the Muslim calendar, December 18th in 1995. On the basis of a very obscure verse in Sura 17 (vs. 1), Muslims believe that Muhammad was taken on a winged animal from Mecca to al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, and from there to heaven and then back to Mecca, all on the same night! It is celebrated by special prayers, and by the recitation the Qur'an or eulogistic poetry. And then there is the so-called "Night of Power", the night when Muhammad is believed to have received his first revelation (Surah 97:1f). It is celebrated on the 27th of the Fast month of Ramadan, corresponding to February 15th in 1996. Here again it is celebrated by special prayers and by reading the Qur'an.

But the veneration of Muhammad does not end with these few days in the calendar. In a very real sense, it is a part of the Muslim's every-day life. Muslims are taught to follow his "practice," or sunna, in every thing they do. The books of Tradition, called Hadith, provide endless details about the way he did everything imaginable, from performing the ritual prayer to brushing his teeth. Someone has commented that, for one who they insist was only a man, Muslims venerate Muhammad much more than Christians have ever venerated Christ, who they believe to be God.

Arab World Ministries

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