The word mawlid is defined as “place and time of birth” in dictionaries. The “Mevlid,” or the “Veladet Kandili” in Turkish, is the night on which Prophet Muhammad graced the earth with his arrival, coinciding with the 12th night of the month of Rabi` al-Awwal on the Hijri calendar.
The era of the Prophet and the four Caliphs that followed, as well as the reign of Umayyads and Abbasids, did not see a celebration or practice of welcoming the Mawlid an-Nabi (Mawlid of the Prophet). The first official celebration of this Mawlid takes place during the era of the Fatimids in the 970s, and the practice picked up later, as of the 1230s, on a wider scale as a measure preventing the Muslim population in North Africa from celebrating Christian holidays.
The Ottomans began officially celebrating the Mawlid during the reign of the Sultan Murad III, around 1588. The reason why this day was celebrated as an official holiday was due to the fact that the love of the Prophet and Islam was pushed to the fore as a tradition and comprehensive system in Ottoman customs. The reason why these celebrations were called ‘kandil,’ (meaning oil lamp) in Turkish was because during the evenings of sacred nights, oil lamps were lit up on the minarets of mosques.
We can only imagine what type of a celebratory scene the mahya (lit up signs adorning mosques) on the minarets created. It goes without saying how influential such sacred days – in which there were great opportunities to deliver religious messages to people from all walks of life through spectacular visual displays that become etched in minds – could have been. One could also say that the reason why religious days and nights were turned into celebrations involving ceremonial rituals during the Ottoman era is in part due to the influence that other beliefs and cultures, which were in close contact with the Ottomans, had on the empire. Thus, the Ottomans were in need of accentuating their own beliefs. (This can be better understood when one thinks about the influence of art and aesthetics in sharing the belief and culture with future generations and members of other cultures throughout history.)
Islamic scholars have been in divided over the ruling pertaining to Mawlid celebrations and certain scholars have even dismissed such practices as innovation. A large portion of scholars, whom we are in agreement with, have indicated that rejoicing at the birth of God’s Messenger; being inspired to help those in need during this time of year; reading poetry that speaks of the Prophet; wearing beautiful clothing and expressing happiness during this time are all deeds that are pleasing to God.
Scholars who hold the latter belief point to how the Prophet has expressed the virtue of fasting on Monday in a Prophetic Tradition, where he explains: “This is the day on which I was born and the day in which revelation came down to me,” pointing to the significance of his birth. Also, the narration regarding the freeing of a concubine by Abu Lahab on news of the birth of Prophet Muhammad (on a Monday), leading to his torment (in the afterlife) being relieved every Monday, has been cited as a reason as to why the Mawlid is of religious significance. Such incidences and sayings have been used as the main reasoning to support these scholars’ views.
Furthermore, the fact that Prophet Muhammad placed a seating cushion especially for Hasan ibn Thabit – who would recite poems praising God and the Prophet while abasing the enemies of Islam – noting that, “The words of Hasan are more effective against the enemy than arrows,” is important evidence in proving how much of an influence literature explaining the essentials of religion and fortifying love and devotion to God, has on us.
The reading of poetry which explains the birth of the Prophet, praising him – generally referred to as mawlid – has become a tradition. Today, there is a mawlid in just about every language spoken by Muslim communities. Mawlids have become the common shared value of the Muslim society. Sharing these by way listening and facilitating for them to be heard is very important, as Muslim society has a long held tradition of listening.
There are certain deeds which Muslims are recommended to perform on nights of the mawlid, as they are cited as vehicles that will lead to forgiveness, reap rewards, boost spirituality and be a means of attaining Divine approval and pleasure. If we are to recall that each one of these sacred nights is a reason for a different kind of happiness leading to a unique feeling of gratefulness, we will see that the current Muslim expressions of happiness and gratitude through prayer, fasting, the reading of the Qur’an, alms-giving and enjoining what is good differs from the unlimited and disproportionate display of happiness at the hands of other people today. The Mawlid must once again serve as a reminder that when believer is expressing different kinds of emotions – whether these be fear, sorrow, happiness, joy, celebration and disappointment – they must place at the center their relationship with God, remembering their Creator both while seeking refuge in Him and while thanking Him.
On this special day, which is a day that Marks the Prophet’s arrival into this world, we must firstly prepare a type of celebration in our milieu befitting our families and loved ones, using this night as a vehicle to become better acquainted with the Messenger.
All feelings become more intensified and thus effective when experienced in congregations. As such, participating in sacred days and nights in ceremonies in mosques and other locations where the Prophet is praised, listening to the mawlid and religious songs speaking of devotion and commitment to the Prophet and listening to the recitation of the Qur’an, in other words becoming but a drop in oceans of love and exhilaration towards all that which is beloved to believers is one of the best remedies to our hardened hearts.
After calling for our communal wounds to be healed with this remedy, we must all, as individuals, stand before God, present our cases before Him and become one of the countless servants whose supplications will not be rejected by God at these sacred times. This stance is certainly not singular in format. We may face Him by reciting the Qur’an, engaging in remembrance and supplication, partaking in making up for lost prayers or perform supererogatory prayers and worship. One of the best ways to express gratitude for the ability to experience these sacred days and nights is to, as much as possible, fast on the day of ( or the next day) of such sacred nights.
One of the important contributions of these days, considered sacred in Islam and dotted across the entire year, is that they heal the negativities existing among people. On these days believers ask for and grant each other forgiveness for any wrong they either may have done or been the recipient of. Those who are not on good or speaking terms are encouraged to reconcile. Mutual happiness is ensured and those who are grief stricken are made happy. Those who may have rights over us are called and inquired about. The needy, the impoverished, orphans, the ill, injured, elderly are visited and attempts to make them happy by way of mercy, reverence, gifts and charity are utilized. The ‘kandil’ of spiritual elders, mothers and fathers, families and other loved ones is congratulated, while prayers are asked for.
Wishing you all a blessed Mawlid an-Nabi, with the hope that beginning with this mawlid, all of the blessing cited above finds a permanent place in our lives with each passing sacred day and night.