Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday

“Milad/Mawlid: Celebrating the Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday”

by Marcia Hermansen

Chapter Summary

Mawlid or milad an-nabi is the celebration of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad. Though less popular in the United States than in countries across the Afro-Eurasian landmass, milad is an expression for some Muslim Americans of their love of and devotion to the Prophet. This chapter on the Prophet’s birthday begins with a discussion of how some South Asian Muslim Americans recite Urdu devotional poetry and prayers specifically tailored for this occasion in San Diego, California. Changing locations, the chapter takes us to a posh suburban Chicago home where the most popular poem ever written about the Prophet Muhammad, a thirteenth-century piece called the Burda, or Cloak, becomes a focus of rituals of devotion performed by both males and females. The chapter ends at the University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel where Muslim chaplain Tahir Umar Abdallah convenes an annual birthday celebration for the Prophet.

Discussion Questions

  • Why do some Muslims celebrate the Prophet’s birthday in the United States?
  • How do Muslim Americans celebrate it?
  • What role does the Prophet Muhammad play in the religious lives of these Muslim Americans?

Group Exercises

  • The 2014 celebration of Muhammad’s birthday at the University of Chicago featured Al Firdaus Ensemble’s music. Watch their music video above.  What feelings and thoughts about the Prophet are evoked by their music?
  • What portrait of Prophet Muhammad is created by Al-Busiri’s Mantle Poem: A master whose laughter was smiling, whose walking / was dignified and whose sleep was light / His character was but a sweet breeze / And his countenance but a rich garden / All mercy, determination, and resolve / With dignity, guardedness, and modesty.
  • Find a negative news story about Muhammad in U.S. news media. Compare and contrast the image presented in the news story with the images presented above.

Marcia Hermansen (Ph.D., Chicago) is professor of theology and director of the Islamic World Studies program at Loyola University, Chicago. The author, editor, or translator of five books about Islam, including Shah Wali Allah’s Treatises on Islamic Law, she has also authored dozens of articles about Sufism in the United States.