Mawlid al-Nabi 2015, take 2

The Prophet Muhammad’s birthday only comes once a year…on the Islamic calendar, that is. Every so often, though, it comes twice a year on the solar Gregorian calendar. It just so happens that this is one of those years, and today is the second occurrence of مولد النبي in 2015. Happy holiday to Muslims who observe it.


مولد النبي

The birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, called مَولِد النَبي (mawlid al-nabī) or just مولد, is being observed today, the 12th of the month ربيع الأول (if you want to be technical about it, the commemoration started at sundown last night, and I guess it’s ended by now in most of the world, but it’s still worth noting). Though not one of the major Islamic holidays, many Muslims do commemorate Muhammad’s birth with decorations and by exchanging small gifts or sweets.

Mawlid is not a universally celebrated holiday, for a couple of reasons. There’s no historical record of the earliest Muslims celebrating Muhammad’s birthday as a special event; the first widespread Mawlid celebration doesn’t appear in the record until the 12th century, though there are records of earlier, smaller observances. So for modern self-proclaimed “fundamentalists” the holiday is an innovation and therefore illegitimate. Honoring a historical figure’s birthday also comes too close to revering or worshiping that person for those arch-conservative groups, which would make it an example of the most serious sin in any monotheistic faith. So you’re not likely to find any sanctioned Mawlid celebrations in Saudi Arabia, or being organized by ISIS. But in most of the Islamic World Mawlid is treated as an important cultural marker if not an especially religious one, more Presidents Day than Christmas. This blog is certainly not in the business of litigating inter-Islamic religious debates, so I’m not here to comment on Mawlid’s legitimacy, but this does offer us a chance to explore a little vocabulary.

  • prophet: نبي (nabī)
  • prophethood: نبوة (nubuwwah)
  • birthday: ميلاد (mīlād) or مولد (mawlid)
  • to be born: ولد (walada)