Mawlid in the Middle East


The Mawlid celebrations in the Middle East have a lot in common. As much of the Muslim population in Europe consists of immigrants from the Middle East, the origins of the celebrations in Europe originally come from the Middle East, where the Mawlid is celebrated with great enthusiasm.

For instance in Egypt, the Mawlid is like a festival and a ceremony combined, and is the center of Egyptian attention every year. Tanta, on the Nile Delta, is the largest and most important place to hold celebrations; people from neighboring countries attend this ceremony. The Mawlid celebrations in Egypt have a long history, dating back to the Mamluks; the leader of the Mamluks would organize a huge Mawlid celebration in the courtyard of the castle at Cairo.

Mawlid celebrations in Lebanon are very similar to those in other Middle Eastern countries. In Lebanon, people sing hymns about the life of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). They distribute  sugared almonds in the streets. In Lebanon celebrations are prepared, which are publicized with posters. Competitions are held between students awards are given to those who do well.

ImageIn Tunisia many Tunisian households celebrate the birth of Prophet Muhammad despite opposition to the tradition by well-known Muslim scholars, such as the Egyptian Youssef al-Qaradawi.

However, despite the modern controversy, the holiday of Mawlid has enjoyed a long tradition. According to historians, the Fatimids were the first people to celebrate the Mawlid, carrying the practice to the Maghreb when they ruled the region in 1102.

Professor Iqbal Gharbi of the Tunisian Faculty of Shariah has stongly criticized the call to forbid the celebration. The professor has accused this approach as "creating a culture of death that denies happiness and joy and kills the instincts of life," and goes on to say that "try to cause an intellectual and doctrinal break between society and its psychological and cultural heritage, habits and customs." For Gharbi, the Mawlid celebration is an "important opportunity for people to come together to hear about the life of Prophet Muhammad, to listen to praise, to distribute food, to bolster solidarity and the social fabric and to bring happiness and joy to the hearts of the nation."


Although these celebrations may be a "innovation" (bidah) that never occurred during the lifetime of the Prophet, Gharbi states that they are a positive innovation. "We have a Prophetic tradition that says, ‘He who starts a good practice in Islam that is observed during and after his life, will have the same reward as those who observed it and their rewards shall not decrease.'"

As for the debate among the housewives in Tunisia, it is not about whether Mawlid celebrations are allowed or forbidden, but rather about the type of helva, or asida, that they will prepare for their families. There are families that still cling to the traditional flour asida that has butter or oil and sugar added. Others prefer variations of the recipe, which change according to their budgets and personal taste. Some prepare it in the expensive Turkish way, with zaqouqou (pine nuts, or black seeds from the east), or mixed nuts.


Nejiba Wartani, a Tunisian housewife says that every year she is at her wit's end. "My husband prefers the traditionalasida, while my children prefer the modern version. Therefore, in the end, I cook two types." (1)

Like all Middle Eastern countries, Mawlid is widely celebrated in Syria as well. People compete in decorating their houses for the celebrations and the mosques are also decked out with colorful lamps and other decorations. People gather in the mosques to listen to the life of Prophet Muhammad and sing hymns; they return to their houses with the packs of white Mulabbas (sugared almonds) that have been made especially for the occasion.




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