On January 3rd 2015 many Muslims will celebrate the birthday and life of the Prophet Muhammad on Eid Milad ul-Nabi (otherwise known as Mawlid, Milad-un-Nabi).
The precise date of Muhammad’s birth is unclear. Sunni Muslims observe his birthday on the 12th day of the Islamic month of Rabi’ al-awwal, while Shi’a Muslims mark it on the 17th day of that month.
Born (approximately) in the year 570, Muhammad was raised by his uncle after both of his parents died when he was very young. Brought up as a both a merchant and a shepherd, Muhammad didn’t begin to preach his beliefs until he was around forty years old.
Before his death in 632, Muhammad’s followers numbered around ten thousand people, had taken control of Mecca, and had united Arabia into a single Muslim entity.
Within the Islamic faith there are mixed beliefs on how Muhammad’s birthday should be observed. Some people see the Prophet’s birthday as an event worthy of praise. Others view the celebration of birthdays as contradictory to Islamic law.
Mawlid is celebrated in many communities across the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. Those who do celebrate the Prophet’s birth by decorating their homes and mosques, whilst food is donated to charity and in some countries there are street parades. Children are encouraged to read out poems about events that occurred in the Prophet Muhammad’s life and other special prayers are also spoken.
Those Muslims who do not participate in the birthday celebrations mark the occasion by spending more time to read the Koran. Muhammad is said to have been born on a Monday and some scholars see fasting during the hours of daylight on Mondays as another way to commemorate his birth.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.