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Muhammad, Birthday of

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The Islamic World: Past and Present What is This? Accessible coverage of Islam from the seventh century to the twenty-first century

    Muhammad, Birthday of

    Mawlid an-Nabi, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, is a major religious and cultural festival throughout the Islamic world. Although no one knows the exact date of Muhammad's birth, celebrations occur on the twelfth day of Rabi al-Awnal , the first spring month in the Muslim calendar. Mawlid an-Nabi festivities include readings from the Qur'an, poetry, recitations of Muhammad's life and deeds, songs praising Muhammad's virtues, feasting, and distribution of food to the poor. However, not all Muslims celebrate this occasion.

    The first recorded public celebration of the Prophet's birthday occurred in Egypt around the year 1100 . Most Sunni Muslims, however, trace the practice to the Iraqi city of Irbil in the year 1207 . Al-Malik Muzaffar Ad-Din Kukburi , brother-in-law of the Egyptian sultan Saladin, arranged a month-long celebration in honor of Muhammad. Religious and political figures, scholars, musicians, and other travelers began to arrive in Irbil up to two months before the birthday. Jugglers and poets entertained the crowds. A large sacrifice of animals occurred two days before the feast, followed by a torchlight procession on the next night. The Prophet's birthday featured a public sermon, singing, gifts bestowed on high-ranking guests, poems, and a sumptuous meal.

    Although religious leaders did not recognize it as an official holiday, the celebration of Muhammad's birthday soon spread across the Islamic world. Sufis were particularly supportive of the practice. Many Muslims condemned it as idolatrous and heretical. They denounced what they viewed as the Christian roots of the holiday, believing it was inspired by Christmas. Other Muslims, however, accepted the holiday with enthusiasm, and some groups began to celebrate the mawlids of various imams and other religious figures. The Mawlid an-Nabi is currently a state holiday in every Muslim country, except Saudi Arabia. See also Muhammad .

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