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25 October 2020

How Rabi al-Awwal is Celebrated Around the World

Sahirah Javaid
How Rabi al-Awwal is Celebrated Around the World

Rabi al-Awwal is the month in which the Prophet Muhammad (saw) was born.  ‘Mawlid’, which literally means ‘birth’, is a term that is greatly used and understood in the Muslim world today. It is a celebration of the birth of the best of creation and the final Messenger of Allah, the Prophet Muhammad (saw).

Though the Mawlids we know today did not take place during the time of the Prophet (saw) or Sahabah, their permissibility under Sharia law means that this celebration has been taking place for centuries. This is because of the good that occurs from this day such as distributing charity, performing good deeds, displaying our love for the Prophet (saw), and showing our thankfulness towards Allah (swt) and abundant happiness that He sent us this great blessing. Over the years, Mawlids have become more diverse, as many countries remember the Prophet (saw) in their own unique way.

The first Mawlid celebration ever recorded took place in 1207. It was organised by Muzaffar al-Din Gokburi, who was a leading emir and ruler of Erbil, near Mosul (Iraq). He was famous for the extravagant Mawlid ceremonies which, a few decades later, spread to other parts of the country and eventually the world.

Muzaffar al-Din Gokburi’s Mawlid celebrations involved the sacrifice of countless camels, cows and sheep, whose meat was then fed to those who attended the Mawlid, including the poor. Special poems were recited, and a procession led by countless candles would take place. Then, on the morning of the Mawlid, sermons would be delivered and Muzaffar al-Din would gift garments to the scholars, preachers, reciters, and poets. The poem recitations would continue until the next day. This Mawlid celebration would happen every year.

This lavish and extravagant affair drew the attention of large crowds of locals and visitors, which played a crucial role in spreading the custom of the Mawlid and increasing its popularity. Throughout the decades the Mawlid was adopted into Sunni lands, which remains today and is now marked as a national holiday for many countries. Saudi Arabia recently adopted this in 2017 and for a long period of time did not celebrate the birth of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) though this was not always the case as detailed by Ibn Jubayr an Arab geographer, traveller and poet from al-Andalus. Upon entering Mecca in 579 AH, he mentions that the first Monday of Rabi al-Awwal, the house in which the Prophet (saw) was reputed to have been born in would be open for visitors, along with some other ancient historic sites associated with the life of the Prophet (saw), and visitors would enter these houses and seek blessings from it’. [The Travels of Ibn Jubayr, ed. M. J. De Goeje, p. 114-5]

Fast forward to the present day and Mawlids now take place all over the world. In Tunisia and Lebanon, giving sweets as gifts to loved ones is extremely popular. In Egypt, these sweets are shaped as a ‘Mawlid bride’ where husbands gift these to their wives.

In the UK, Masjids and homes are decorated with fairy lights, crescents and the Na’layn which represents the shape of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) sandal.

In Tarim (Yemen), residents march the streets with their Mawlid flags and play the drums to show their joy and mark the occasion.

In Fez, known as Morocco’s spiritual capital, mass remembrance (dhikr) gatherings are popular, especially among Sufis. These involve sending salutations on the Prophet (saw) as well as reciting traditional poems that date back centuries, such as the Qaseedah Burdah also known as ‘The Poem of the Scarf’.

In Turkey, religious programs are organised across masjids all over the country and Muslims say their prayers and read the Holy Quran.

In Pakistan, holding processions at renowned shrines of Sufi saints and reciting salutations on the Prophet (saw) is a yearly ritual.

In Senegal, Pakistan, and Nigeria, our students decorate their schools with flowers, candles, and colourful bunting. They recite Qur’an and stories of the Prophet Muhammad (saw). They also dress up in colourful clothes, and they are given gifts and certificates to commemorate the day.

Why not make the first step to making the most of your Rabi al-Awwal by using our Springs of Mercy platform and automate your Zakat and Sadaqah donations during the first 12 days of Rabi al-Awwal. There are a variety of projects to donate to including our Blessed Lands appeal which is to support the people of Yemen, Syria and Lebanon. 


Muslim Hands UK

Established in 1993, Muslim Hands is an aid agency and NGO helping those affected by poverty, conflict and natural disaster in over 20 countries worldwide.