It’s Maulid season: But what is it all about?

It’s Maulid season: But what is it all about?

During this month of December, (Rabi-ul-Awwal in the Islamic calendar) a number of Muslim communities will be celebrating Milad-un-Nabii or Maulid.

Maulid is the birthday celebration of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Prophet Muhammad was born in Arabia in the city of Mecca on the 12th day of Rabi-ul-Awwal, which was December 1st, 2017.

The occasion is celebrated by remembering the favors bestowed by Allah on the Muslim community and the first of these favours is the revelation of the Holy Qur’an with its instructions and the second is the institution of an everlasting guide (the Holy Prophet) who would advise and guide the believers to the path of the righteous.

Although there is no unanimity among all Muslims over the spiritual aspects of maulid, the fact remains that these celebrations provide a platform upon which Muslims come together for the sole purpose of reciting the Qur’an and remembering the noble teachings and life of the Holy Prophet (SAW).

And the thrust of maulid lies in the prayer that the Almighty God dedicated to the Holy Prophet (SAW) and which every Muslim is encouraged to recite because of the blessings that come with reciting it. The prayer reads as follows: “Allahuma salli ala Muhammadin wa Aal-e Muhammad”—meaning O God! Shower thy blessings on Muhammad and the descendants of Muhammad.

Some scholars therefore regard maulid as one of the many avenues through which the teachings of Islam and the life of the Holy Prophet can be propagated to as many people as possible, especially the youth.

And given that religion is a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a supernatural deity, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, maulid has played a critical role in the propagation of Islam in Kenya and other parts of East and Central Africa.

In explaining the role of maulid in propagating Islam in East Africa during a past interview with the late Prof Ahmad Nabhani, a scholar in Swahili language, culture and Islamic studies, notes that every religion has both its dogmas and traditions.

The term ‘dogma’ (whose plural is either dogmata or dogma), refers to the established beliefs or doctrines held by a religion to be authoritative and not to be disputed or doubted.

Dogmata are found in many religions such as Christianity and Islam, where they are considered core principles that must be upheld by all followers of that religion.

As a fundamental element of religion, the term “dogma” is assigned to those theological tenets which are considered to be well demonstrated, such that their proposed disputation or revision effectively means that a person no longer accepts the given religion as his or her own, or has entered into a period of personal doubt.

The late Prof Nabhani added that, dogma is distinguished from theological opinion regarding those things considered less well-known. Dogmata may be clarified and elaborated but not contradicted, such that rejection of dogma is considered heresy in certain religions.

In Islam for instance, the kalima as the first pillar of faith is regarded as a dogma because it is has to be accepted as authoritative without dispute or doubt. The kalima reads as follows:

“Laaillah Illahlahu Muhammada Rasulullah,” meaning, “None is to be worshiped but Allah and Muhammad is His messenger.”

In this regard, religious dogmata, properly conceived, reach back to proofs other than themselves and ultimately to faith. In contrast to dogma, there is tradition in religion.

Traditions include practices related to communal faith and to group rituals and communication stemming from shared conviction.

In view of the foregoing, the late Prof Nabhani explained that maulid falls under tradition which is a group ritual and form of communication that has stemmed from shared convictions among Muslims who have sought to teach the youth about the life of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in a manner that does not contradict any Islamic dogma.

According to historical records, the late Prof Nabhani says, Islam came to Africa as early as 615 AD when the Holy Prophet dispatched some of his companions as emissaries to the ruler of Abyssinia (present-day Ethiopia) and deliver to him the message of Islam.

When the Ethiopian ruler received the Holy Prophet’s delegation and later accepted Islam, he set into motion a long history of spreading Islam through peaceful means where it spread  southwards to Somalia and eventually to East Africa.

Years after the establishment of a firm Muslim community at the East African coast, there continued to be collaboration and exchanges between Muslim communities in East Africa and those in the Arabian Peninsula.

It is out of these continued exchanges between Muslims at the East African coast and the Arabian Peninsula that the culture of maulid came to East Africa.

According to the late Prof Nabhani, maulid consists of poetic compositions, originally done in Arabic, about the life and deeds of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). The poetic compositions include a collection of the Prophets noble attributes, sayings and teachings.

These compositions also include lines that praise the Holy Prophet as well as thanking Allah the Exalted for giving humanity the Holy Qur’an as a gift with inexhaustible knowledge and infallible wisdom.

During maulid therefore, people from various regions congregate at a chosen place on a date coinciding with day the Prophet was born in the month of Rabi-ul-Awwal to praise the Holy Prophet and learn about his life and religious mission.

According to the late Prof Nabhani, many recitations during maulid celebrations held in Coastal region today were composed by an ancient scholar from Iraq and passed down to other scholars as far as Yemen.

In this regard, Prof Nabhani says, the maulid recitations common in many parts of Kenya today were propounded by Muslim scholar Habib Swaleh Bin Jamalillayl who came to the east African coast from Yemen.

Habib Swaleh Bin Jamalillayl first landed at Pate Island and later moved to Lamu where he established the famous Riyadha Islamic centre and mosque. From here, he propagated the culture of maulid in addition to teaching Islamic studies to thousands of students who enrolled at the centre.

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