Malaysian Sunni Muslims in a Mawlid procession in capital Putrajaya, 2013.
Observed byMany Sunni and Shia Muslims
SignificanceCommemoration of the birth of Muhammad
ObservancesHamd, Tasbih, public processions, Na`at (religious poetry), family and other social gatherings, decoration of streets and homes
Date12 Rabi' al-awwal, 17 Rabi' al-awwal
Frequencyonce every Islamic year

Mawlid (Arabic: مَولِد) is the Islamic observation of the day when the Islamic prophet Muhammad was born. It is commemorated in Rabi' al-Awwal, the third month in the Islamic calendar. It is considered to be 12 Rabi' al-Awwal by most Sunnis, though most Shias consider 17 Rabi' al-Awwal to be the date.

Mawlid's origins are disputed in the Islamic world. It was either introduced by the Abbasids or the Fatimids. The first public festival was started by the Muslim general Gökböri in 1207. Under Murad III (r. 1574–1595), in the Ottoman Empire, Mawlid became an official holiday in 1588.

Most denominations of Islam approve of the commemoration of Muhammad's day of birth. The Ahl-i Hadith, Deobandism, Salafism and Wahhabism movements disapprove its commemoration, considering it a bid'a ("innovation") in Islam. Mawlid is recognized as a national holiday in most of the Muslim-majority countries of the world with the exception of Qatar and Saudi Arabia.


Mawlid is derived from the Arabic root word ولد, meaning to give birth, bear a child, descendant.[2] In contemporary usage, Mawlid refers to the observance of the day of birth of Muhammad.[3] Along with being referred to as the celebration of the birth of Muhammad, the term Mawlid refers to the 'text especially composed for and recited at Muhammad's nativity celebration' or "a text recited or sung on that day".[4] The term Mawlid is also used in some parts of the world, such as Egypt, as a generic term for the day somone was born celebrations of other historical religious figures such as Sufi saints.[5]


According to the majority of Sunni Muslims and some Shi'as, Muhammad was born on the 12th of Rabi' al-awwal.[6][7][8][9] Many Twelver Shia Muslims on the other hand assert that Muhammad was born on the 17th of Rabi' al-awwal.[6][7][10] It stands as a matter of ikhtilaf or disagreement since some Shiite scholars such as Muhammad ibn Ya'qub al-Kulayni, Ibn Babawayh, and Zayn al-Din al-Juba'i al-'Amili have affirmed the date of the 12th of Rabi' al-Awal.[11][12] Nonetheless, others contend that the date of Muhammad's birth is unknown and is not definitively recorded in the Islamic traditions.[13][14][15][16] The issue of the correct date of the Mawlid is recorded by Ibn Khallikan as constituting the first proven disagreement concerning the celebration.[17]


Mawlid an-Nabi procession at Boulac Avenue in 1904 at Cairo, Egypt.
The Garebeg festival celebrating Mawlid in Yogyakarta, Java Island, Indonesia.

In early days of Islam, observation of Muhammad's birth as a holy day was usually arranged privately and later was an increased number of visitors to the Mawlid house that was open for the whole day specifically for this celebration.[18] The history of this celebration goes back to the early days of Islam when some of the Tabi‘un began to hold sessions in which poetry and songs composed to honour Muhammad were recited and sung to the crowds.[19]

The early celebrations, included elements of Sufic influence, with animal sacrifices and torchlight processions along with public sermons and a feast.[20][21] The celebrations occurred during the day, in contrast to modern day observances, with the ruler playing a key role in the ceremonies.[22] Emphasis was given to the Ahl al-Bayt with presentation of sermons and recitations of the Qur'an.[23]

The exact origins of the Mawlid is difficult to trace.[24] According to Muhammad in History, Thought, and Culture: An Encyclopedia of the Prophet of God, the significance of the event was established when Muhammad fasted on Monday, citing the reason for this was his birth on that day, and when Umar took into consideration Muhammad's birth as a possible starting time for the Islamic calendar.[24] According to Festivals in World Religions, the Mawlid was first introduced by the Abbasids in Baghdad.[25] It has been suggested that the Mawlid was first formalized by al-Khayzuran of the Abbasids.[24] Ibn Jubayr, in 1183, writes that Muhammad's day of birth was celebrated every Monday of Rabi' al-awwal at his birthplace, which had been converted into a place of devotion under the Abbasids.[24][7]

According to the hypothesis of Nico Kaptein of Leiden University, the Mawlid was initiated by the Fatimids.[26] It has been stated, "The idea that the celebration of the mawlid originated with the Fatimid dynasty has today been almost universally accepted among both religious polemicists and secular scholars."[27] Annemarie Schimmel also says that the tendency to celebrate the memory of Muhammad's day of birth on a larger and more festive scale emerged first in Egypt during the Fatimids. The Egyptian historian Maqrizi (d. 1442) describes one such celebration held in 1122 as an occasion in which mainly scholars and religious establishment participated. They listened to sermons, distributed sweets, particularly honey, Muhammad's favourite and the poor received alms.[28] This Shia origin is frequently noted by those Sunnis who oppose Mawlid.[29] According to Encyclopædia Britannica, however, what the Fatimids did was simply a procession of court officials, which did not involve the public but was restricted to the court of the Fatimid caliph.[30] Therefore, it has been concluded that the first Mawlid celebration which was a public festival was started by Sunnis in 1207 by Muẓaffar al-Dīn Gökburi.[30][31][32][33]

It has been suggested that the celebration was introduced into the city Ceuta by Abu al-Abbas al-Azafi as a way of strengthening the Muslim community and to counteract Christian festivals.[34][35]

Start of a public holiday

In 1207, the Turkic general Gökböri started the first annual public festival of the Mawlid in Erbil.[24] Gökböri was the brother-in-law of Saladin and soon the festival began to spread across the Muslim world.[30] Since Saladin and Gokburi were both Sufis the festival became increasingly popular among Sufi devotees which remains so till this day.[36] The Ottomans declared it an official holiday in 1588,[37] known as Mevlid Kandil.[38]


Sekaten fair in Indonesia,[39] a week-long celebration of Mawlid.
International Mawlid Conference, Minar-e-Pakistan, Lahore, Pakistan.

Mawlid is celebrated in almost all Islamic countries, and in other countries that have a significant Muslim population, such as Ethiopia, India, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Nigeria, Cote d'lvoire, Iraq, Iran, Maldives, Morocco, Jordan, Libya, Russia[40] and Canada.[41] The only exceptions are Qatar and Saudi Arabia where it is not an official public holiday and is forbidden.[42][43][44] Hari Maulaud Nabi is a public holiday in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.[45] However, In the last decades of the late 20th century there has been a trend to "forbid or discredit" Mawlid because of the rise of the Salafism.[46][47]

In Turkey, Mawlid is widely celebrated. It is referred to as Mevlid Kandili in Turkish, which means "the candle feast for the Prophet's day of birth".[48] Traditional poems regarding Muhammad's life are recited both in public mosques and at home in the evening.[49] The most celebrated of these is the Mawlid of Süleyman Çelebi.[50][51][52] Plenty of other mawlids were written in Ottoman times.[53]

Often organized in some countries by the Sufi orders,[4] Mawlid is celebrated in a carnival manner, large street processions are held and homes or mosques are decorated. Charity and food is distributed, and stories about the life of Muhammad are narrated with recitation of poetry by children.[54][55] Scholars and poets celebrate by reciting Qaṣīda al-Burda Sharif, the famous poem by 13th-century Arabic Sufi Busiri. A general Mawlid appears as "a chaotic, incoherent spectacle, where numerous events happen simultaneously, all held together only by the common festive time and space".[56] These celebrations are often considered an expression of the Sufi concept of the pre-existence of Muhammad.[4] However, the main significance of these festivities is expression of love for Muhammad.[56]

The first Sunni mawlid celebration that we have a detailed description of was sponsored by Muzaffar al-Din Kokburi and included the slaughtering of thousands of animals for a banquet which is believed to have cost 300,000 dirhams.[57] The presence of guests and the distribution of monetary gifts at mawlid festivals had an important social function as they symbolized “concretizing ties of patronage and dramatizing the benevolence of the ruler” and also held religious significance, as "issues of spending and feeding were pivotal both to the religious and social function of the celebration."[58][page needed] Early fatwas and criticisms of the mawlid have taken issue with the “possibility of coerced giving” as hosts often took monetary contributions from their guests for festival costs.[58][page needed]

Jurists often conceptualized the observance of Muhammad's day of birth as a "form of reciprocation for God’s bestowal of the Prophet Muhammad" as a way of justifying celebrations.[58][page needed] According to this thought, the bestowal of such a gift required thanks, which came in the form of the celebration of the mawlid. Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (1392 CE) and Ibn Hajar al-Asqalini (1449 CE) both expressed such ideas, specifically referencing the hadith about the Jews and the fast of ‘Ashura’, but broadening the conception of "thanks to God" to multiple forms of worship including prostration, fasting, almsgiving, and Qur’anic recitation.[58][page needed] The only limitation Ibn Hajar places on forms of celebration is that they must be neutral under Shari’a.<[58][page needed]

During Pakistan's Mawlid, the day starts with a 31-gun salute in federal capital and a 21-gun salute at the provincial capitals and religious hymns are sung during the day.[59]

In many parts of Indonesia, the celebration of the Mawlid al-nabi "seems to surpass in importance, liveliness, and splendour" the two official Islamic holidays of Eid ul-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.[60]

In Qayrawan, Tunisia, Muslims sing and chant hymns of praise to Muhammad, welcoming him in honor of his birth.[61] Also, generally in Tunisia, people usually prepare Assidat Zgougou to celebrate the Mawlid.[62]

Among non-Muslim countries, India is noted for its Mawlid festivities.[63] The relics of Muhammad are displayed after the morning prayers in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir at the Hazratbal Shrine, where night-long prayers are also held.[64] Hyderabad Telangana is noted for its grand milad festivities Religious meetings, night-long prayers, rallies, parades and decorations are made throughout the city.[65]

Miladunnabi in Hyderabad

Mawlid texts

Along with being referred to as the celebration of the birth of Muhammad, the term Mawlid also refers to the 'text especially composed for and recited at Muhammad's nativity celebration' or "a text recited or sung on that day".[4] Such poems have been written in many languages, including Arabic, Kurdish and Turkish.[66] These texts contain stories of the life of Muhammad, or at least some of the following chapters from his life, briefly summarized below:[4]

  1. The Ancestors of Muhammad
  2. The Conception of Muhammad
  3. The Birth of Muhammad
  4. Introduction of Halima
  5. Life of Young Muhammad in Bedouins
  6. Muhammad's orphanhood
  7. Abu Talib's nephew's first caravan trip
  8. Arrangement of Marriage between Muhammad and Khadija
  9. Al-Isra'
  10. Al-Mi'radj, or the Ascension to heaven
  11. Al-Hira, first revelation
  12. The first converts to Islam
  13. The Hijra
  14. Muhammad's death

These text are only part of the ceremonies. There are many different ways that people celebrate Mawlid, depending on where they are from. There appears to be a cultural influence upon what kind of festivities are a part of the Mawlid celebration. In Indonesia, it is common the congregation recite Simthud Durar, especially among Arab Indonesians.[citation needed]


A banner with Maulid greetings in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Among Muslim scholars, the legality of Mawlid "has been the subject of intense debate" and has been described as "perhaps one of the most polemical discussions in Islamic law".[16] Traditionally, most Sunni and nearly all of the Shia scholars have approved the celebration of Mawlid,[20][67][68][69][70] while Salafi, Deobandi and Ahmadiyya scholars oppose the celebration.[71][72][73][74][75] In the past, the Mawlid was thought of as a bidah.[76] Saudi Arabia currently forbids the celebration of the Mawlid.[77]


Examples of historic Sunni scholars who permitted the Mawlid include the Shafi'i scholar Al-Suyuti (d 911 A.H.). He was a scholar who wrote a fatwa on the Mawlid, which became one of the most important texts on this issue.[78] Although he became famous outside of Egypt, he was caught in conflicts in Egypt his entire life.[79] For example, he believed that he was the most important scholar of his time, and that he should be regarded as a mujtahid (a scholar who independently interprets and develops the Law) and later as a mujaddid (a scholar who appears at end of a century to restore Islam).[79] These claims made him the most controversial person of his time.[79] However, his fatwa may have received widespread approval and may not have provoked any conflicts.[80]

He stated that:

My answer is that the legal status of the observance of the Mawlid – as long as it just consists of a meeting together by the people, a recitation of apposite parts of the Qur'an, the recounting of transmitted accounts of the beginning of (the biography of) the Prophet – may God bless him and grant him peace – and the wonders that took place during his birth, all of which is then followed by a banquet that is served to them and from which they eat-is a good innovation (bid'a hasana), for which one is rewarded because of the esteem shown for the position of the Prophet – may God bless him and grant him peace – that is implicit in it, and because of the expression of joy and happiness on his – may God bless him and grant him peace – noble birth.[81]

Al-Suyuti thought that the Mawlid could be based on the fact that Muhammad performed the sacrifice for his own birth after his calling to be a prophet.[82] He said that Abu Lahab, who he called an unbeliever, had been condemned by what was revealed in the Quran but was rewarded in the fire "for the joy he showed on the night of the birth of the Prophet" by releasing from slavery Thuwayba when she had informed him of the birth of Muhammad.[83] Therefore, he talked about what would happen to a Muslim who rejoiced in his birth and loved him.[84]

In response to al-Fakihani, al-Suyuti said a few things. He said that "because a matter is not known it does not necessarily follow that the matter does not exist nor ever has existed."[85] He also said that a "learned and judicious ruler introduced it," in responding to al-Fakihani's statement that "on the contrary, it is a bida that was introduced by idlers... nor the pious scholars..."[85] Al-Suyuti also said in response to "Nor is it meritorious, because the essence of the meritorious is what the Law demands," that "the demands of meritorious are sometimes based on a text and sometimes on reasoning by analogy."[85] Al-Suyuti said that bidas are not restricted to forbidden or reprehensible, but also to the permitted, meritorious, or compulsory categories in response to al-Fakihani's statement that "according to the consensus of the Muslims innovation in religion is not permitted."[86] In response to al-Fakihani's statement that "This, not withstanding the fact that the month in which he… is born namely Rabi'I, is exactly the same as the one in which he died. Therefore joy and happiness in this month are not any more appropriate than sadness in this month,"[85]> al-Suyuti said that "birth is the greatest benefaction which has ever befallen us, but his death the greatest calamity that has been visited upon us."[87] He said that the law allows expression of gratitude for benefactions, and that Muhammad had prescribed the sacrifice after the birth of a child because this would express gratitude and happiness for the newborn.[87] Indeed, al-Suyuti said that the principles of the law say it is right to express happiness at Muhammad's birth.[87]

The Shafi'i scholar Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani (d 852 A.H.) too approved of the Mawlid[88] and states that:

As for what is performed on the day of the Mawlid, one should limit oneself to what expresses thanks to God, such as the things that have already been mentioned: [Qur'anic] recitation, serving food, alms-giving, and recitation of praise [poems] about the Prophet – may God bless him and grant him peace – and asceticism which motivate people to perform good deeds and act in view of the next world.[89]

The Damascene Shafi'i scholar Abu Shama (died 1268) (who was a teacher of Imam al-Nawawi (d 676 A.H.)) also supports the celebration of the Mawlid.[90][91] The Maliki scholar Ibn al-Hajj (d 737 A.H.) also spoke positively of the observance of the Mawlid in his book al-Madhkal.[92] Al-Hajj addresses his thoughts on the paradoxical problem of misguided Mawlid observance when he says:

This is a night of exceeding virtue and what follows from an increase in virtue is an increase in the thanks that it merits through the performance of acts of obedience and the like. [However], some people, instead of increasing thanks, have increased innovations on it.[93]

Likewise, the Shafi'i Egyptian scholar Ibn Hajar al-Haytami (d. 974 A.H.) was an avid supporter of the Mawlid and wrote a text in praise of it.[94] This was supported and commented on by the Egyptian scholar and former head of Al-Azhar University Ibrahim al-Bajuri[94] and by the Hanafi Syrian Mufti Ibn Abidin.[95] Another Hanafi Mufti Ali al-Qari (d. 1014 A.H.) too supported the celebration of the Mawlid and wrote a text on the subject[96] as did the Moroccan Maliki scholar Muḥammad ibn Jaʿfar al-Kattānī (d. 1345 A.H.).[97] Ibn al-Jazari (d. 833 A.H.), a Syrian Shafi'i scholar considers the celebration of the Mawlid to be a means of gaining Paradise.[98]

In the Muslim world, the majority of Sunni Islamic scholars are in favor of the Mawlid.[99] Examples include the former Grand Mufi of Egypt Ali Gomaa,[100] Muhammad Alawi al-Maliki[101][102] of Saudi Arabia, Yusuf al-Qaradawi[103][104] the primary scholar of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, Habib Ali al-Jifri,[105] Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri,[106][107] Muhammad bin Yahya al-Ninowy[107][108] of Syria, president of the Heritage and History Committee of the United Arab Emirates Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Khazraji[109] and Zaid Shakir, all of whom subscribe to Sunni Islam, have given their approval for the observance of Mawlid.


Ibn Taymiyya's position on the Mawlid has been described as "paradoxical" and "complex" by some academics. He ruled that it was a reprehensible (makrūh) devotional innovation and criticised those who celebrated the Mawlid out of a desire to imitate the Christian celebration of Jesus's day of birth.[110][111] At the same time, he recognised that some observe Muhammad's day of birth out of a desire to show their love and reverence of him and thus deserve a great reward for their good intentions.[110][112][113][114] The Salafi writer Hamid al-Fiqi (d. 1959) criticised Ibn Taymiyya for holding this view and stating that "How can they receive a reward for this when they are opposing the guidance of God's Messenger (pbuh)?".[102]

Taj al-Din al-Fakihani (d. 1331), an Egyptian Maliki, considered Mawlid to be a blameworthy innovation that was either makruh or haram. Al-Fakihani said that there was no basis of this in the Book of God, nor in the sunnah of Muhammad, and that there was no observance of it on authority of scholars of the umma.[115] He said that it was a "bida that was introduced by idlers, and a delight to which gluttons abandon themselves."[115] He mentioned how the five legal categories included whether it is compulsory, meritorious, permitted, reprehensible, or forbidden.[115] He said it was not compulsory, meritorious, or permitted, and therefore it was reprehensible or forbidden.[115] He said that it was reprehensible when a person observed at their own expense without doing more at the gathering than to eat and abstain from doing anything sinful.[115] The second condition of the category of forbidden, according to al-Fakihani, was when committing of transgressions entered into the practice,[115] such as "singing–with full bellies–accompanied by instruments of idleness like drums and reed flutes, with the meeting of men with young boys and male persons with attractive women–either mixing with them or guarding them–, just like dancing by swinging and swaying, wallowing in lust and forgetting of the Day of Doom."[116] He also said, "And likewise the women, when they come together and there lend their high voices during the reciting with sighing and singing and thereby during the declaiming and reciting disobey the law and neglect His word: ‘Verily, your Lord is on a watchtower’ (Sura 89:14)."[116] He further said, "Nobody with civilized and courteous manners approves of this. It is only pleasing to people whose hearts are dead and do not contain few sins and offenses."[116] Finally, he said that the month when Muhammad was born was also the month in which he died, and so implied that joy and happiness in that month are not more appropriate than sadness in that month.[85]

Fellow Egyptian Maliki Ibn al-Haj al-Abdari also considered Mawlid as a blameworthy innovation that was either makruh or haram, who added that the celebration was never practiced by the Salaf.[117] However Ibn al-Haj affirms the auspicious qualities of the month of the Mawlid in the most effusive terms[118] and considers Muhammad's date of birth as a particularly blessed time of the year.[119] The Maliki scholar Al-Shatibi considered Mawlid an illegitimate innovation.[120] The Andalusian jurist Abu 'Abd Allah al-Haffar (d. 1408) opposed Mawlid, noting that had the Sahaba celebrated it then its exact date would not be a matter of uncertainty.[121] The former Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abd al-Aziz ibn Baz, along with Hammud ibn 'Abd Allah al-Tuwayjiri (d. 1992), another Saudi scholar, in their opposition also argued that there were many worthy occasions in Muhammad's life which he never commemorated, such as the revelation of the first verses of the Qur'an, the Night Journey and the hijra.[122][102]

In 1934, the minister of education in Egypt criticized the "useless stories" which filled Mawlid poetry, as he believed these were incompatible with a modern and scientific viewpoint that represented Muhammad on a more sober level.[123] Similar criticism arose in 1982 when a chairman of the Mecca-based Orthodox Muslim Organization Rabita declared celebrations of Mawlid an "evil innovation."[123]

While the Ahmadiyya deem the perpetual commemoration of Muhammad's life as highly desirable and consider the remembrance of him as a source of blessings, they condemn the common, traditional practices associated with the Mawlid as blameworthy innovations,[71][72][124] Gatherings limited to the recounting of Muhammad's life and character and the recitation of poetry eulogising him, whether held on a specific date of Rabi' al-awwal or in any other month, are deemed permissible.[72][125] Formal gatherings called Jalsa Seerat-un-Nabi commemorating Muhammad's life and legacy, rather than specifically his birth, are frequently held by Ahmadis and are often oriented towards both Muslim and non-Muslim audiences. These gatherings could be held in the month of the Mawlid but are promoted often throughout the year.[126][125]


Ibn al-Hajj praised carrying out ceremonies and expression of gratitude during the festival, but rejected the forbidden and objectionable matters that took place at it.[127] He objected to certain things, such as singers performing to the accompaniment of percussion instruments, pointing to their blameworthiness.[127] He asked about what connections there might have been between percussion instruments and the month of Muhammad's day of birth.[127] However, he said that it was right to honor and distinguish the day of birth because it showed respect for the month.[128] He also said that excellence lied in devotional acts.[128] Therefore, al-Hajj said that "the respect of this noble month should consist of additional righteous works, the giving of alms and other pious deeds. If anybody is not able to do so, let him then in any case avoid what is forbidden and reprehensible out of respect for this noble month."[129] He said that even though the Quran might be recited, the people actually were "longing for the most skilled adepts of folly and stimulating means to entertain the people," and said that this was "perverse".[130] Therefore, he did not condemn the Mawlid, but only "the forbidden and objectionable things which the Mawlid brings in its wake."[131] He did not disapprove of preparing a banquet and inviting people to participate.[132] In addition, Ibn al-Hajj also said that people observed the Mawlid not just from reasons of respect but also because they wanted to get back the silver they had given on other joyous occasions and festivals, and said that there were "evil aspects" attached to this.[132]

Skaykh al-Islam, Abu I-Fadl ibn Hajar, who was "the (greatest) hafiz of this time,"[133] said that the legal status of the Mawlid was that it was a bida, which was not transmitted on the authority of one of the pious ancestors.[133] However, he said that it comprised both good things, as well as the reverse, and that if one strove for good things in practicing it and evaded bad things, the Mawlid was a good innovation, and if not, then not.[133] He said that the coming of Muhammad was a good benefaction, and said that only the day ought to be observed.[134] He said that "it is necessary that one restricts oneself to that which expresses gratitude to God… namely by reciting the Quran, the giving of a banquet, almsgiving, declamations of some songs of praise for the Prophet and some ascetic songs of praise, which stimulate the hearts to do good and to make efforts to strive for the Hereafter."[82] He also said that the "sama and the entertainment and the like" may have been in line with the joyous nature of the day, but said that “what is forbidden or reprehensible, is, of course, prohibited. The same holds true for what is contrary to that which is regarded as the most appropriate."[82]

Other uses

Main article: Urs

In some countries, such as Egypt and Sudan, Mawlid is used as a generic term for the celebration of the day of birth of local Sufi saints and not only restricted to the observance of the birth of Muhammad.[135] Around 3,000 Mawlid celebrations are held each year. These festivals attract an international audience, with the largest one in Egypt attracting up to three million people honouring Ahmad al-Badawi, a local 13th-century Sufi saint.[5]



See also


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Further reading