Today is observed by Muslims in Nigeria as the day for Maulid, an annual event to mark the birth of Prophet Muhammad, Salla-llahu Alayhi Wa-Salam (SAW). Maulid, which is shortened from the Arabic phrase “Maulid ul-Nabiyyi” meaning “Birth of the Prophet”, refers to the event organised annually to commemorate Prophet Muhammad’s birthday on the 12th day of Rabiul-Awwal, the third month in the Islamic lunar calendar. He was born on this day to the family of Abdullahi and Aminah in 570; described in Islamic history as the year of the elephant.
The history of this celebration goes back to the early days of Islam when some people from among the immediate generation that succeeded the companions of the Prophet (SAW), called Tabi‘un in Arabic, began to hold sessions in which poetry and songs composed in honour and praise of Muhammad (SAW) were recited and sung to the listening crowds. In 1207, Muẓaffar al-Dīn Gökburi started the first annual public festival of the Maulid in Erbil in modern-day Iraq. The Ottomans officially declared it a public holiday in 1588. Maulid is recognised as a national holiday in most Muslim-majority countries of the world. Some non-Muslim majority countries with large Muslim populations such as India also recognise it as a public holiday. The day is a public holiday in Nigeria.
Often celebrated by adherents of Muslim Sufi orders in Nigeria, some of the events usually organised to mark the occasion include public processions, giving out alms and food, and inviting people to a feast. Preaching sessions are also organised to recite poetry books and narrate stories about the life of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). During such sessions, many scholars prefer to read and interpret the poetry book “Qaṣidatul Burdah” authored by the famous 13th century Sufi, Imam Busiri. Similar books of eulogy that seek to extol the virtues of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) are also read. Others observe voluntary fast to mark the day or engage in glorifying Allah’s most beautiful names.
Describing the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), Qur’an 33:21 states “Ye have indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful (pattern of conduct) for anyone whose hope is in Allah and the Final Day…” He is an embodiment of all the virtues required by mankind to live a peaceful and prosperous life. Prophet Muhammad (SAW)’s character perfectly epitomises honesty, contentment, modesty, kindness, compassion, humility, hospitality, tolerance, courtesy, good neighbourliness, and altruism. His exceptional trustworthiness gave him the name “Al-Ameen” meaning “The trustworthy”. There’s no better time to emulate the life and teachings of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) than now when corruption, deceit, greed, arrogance, wickedness, envy, malice, hate speech, betrayal, injustice, intolerance and bigotry have all strangely become typical of and dominant pattern in the social life of some Muslims.
Events in recent years show that while many in leadership positions of authority in Nigeria fail to see public office as a trust, others in followership positions do not also hold pubic officers accountable. Many followers prefer that their leaders abandon the course of fairness in order to favour self-serving interests. The attitude on both sides of the divide is un-prophetic.
Although the significance of Maulid festivities lies in appreciating Prophet Muhammad (SAW)’s virtuous qualities and universal teachings, the need to emulate his traditions, which serve as one of the two primary sources where Islam derives its legislations takes precedence over the expression of love for his character during Maulid celebrations. It actually makes no meaning or sense to venerate the Prophet (SAW) on the one hand, and on the other, ignore or contradict his orthodox traditions.
This year’s Maulid celebration should be an occasion for Muslims as leaders and as followers to re-assess their private and public lives with a view to preserving and holding on to the prophetic path of righteousness. Allowing the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) to permeate our life is one way of leading the country out of its critical social ills. Muslims are further encouraged to use this occasion to pray for the unity, peace and progress of Nigeria.
Happy Maulid celebration!