On December 23, Muslim communities around the world—from Yemen to Egypt and Indonesia to England—will be celebrating. Alms will be distributed, prayers will reverberate through crowded mosques, and parades will spill through the streets in accordance with Mawlid al-Nabi, the celebration of the prophet Muhammad’s birth. Here’s the skinny about this widespread holiday.
Mawlid celebrations vary throughout the Muslim world, including the foods enjoyed on this special day. Some regional highlights include pink candies fashioned into mounted knights (from Egypt and Sudan), camel meat (in India and Pakistan), Kenyan cassava (a root vegetable similar to manioc) prepared with coconut sauce, aseeda (a porridge-like dumpling from North Africa), and baklava (in the Middle East).
Devotional poems known as Qasidas are a central part of Mawlid celebrations around the world. Qasidas celebrate the life of the prophet Muhammad and are written in numerous languages.
Not all Muslims support the celebration of Mawlid al-Nabi. Some Muslims who oppose the holiday argue that the celebration glorifies the prophet Muhammad beyond his human form, which is not in accordance with Islamic principles. Other objectors believe that Muslims must live exactly as the prophet Muhammad did, and since Muhammad never celebrated his own birthday, neither should today’s Muslims. Regardless of criticism, however, most Muslims have accepted Mawlid as a mainstay of modern Islam and as a celebration that unites Muslims around the world.