Mawlid is shorthand for Milad un Nabi and marks of the “Birth of the Prophet” Muhammad. Muslim communities across different parts of the world commemorate the event of his birth.
When is it? There is no agreement about the exact birth date itself, although the Islamic calendar month of Rabi al-Awwal is generally agreed upon. Nevertheless, a birth of the 12th Rabi al-Awwal has emerged as the official birth date, even though there is no written record (birth certificates were not a thing).
There is a long historical tradition in commemorating the Mawlid and in most Muslim-majority countries the day is a national holiday. Many Muslims refer to the day as another Eid (“festival”). Marking the birth date has historically involved poetry and folk songs expressing a fondness or love for his person, praising and honouring his mission. These have traditionally been in the form of smaller gatherings, but also involve larger public processions. A number of poems and songs have emerged over time and in different places dedicated to his memory and person, some of which are specifically for this date.
The marking of the Prophet Muhammad’s birth can be a controversial issue because not all Muslims and scholars agree with such an event. Indeed, the issue can generate heated debates between Muslims, sometimes within the same family. The general argument against a commemoration is that the Prophet Muhammad himself did not call for celebration, nor did his more intimate Companions (the Islamic term that is loosely similar to Disciples) in the years immediately following his death. As a result, Muslims who take more of a literal approach to religious rules of dos and don’ts will usually shun this event. Saudi Arabia and Qatar do not officially recognise this date, but most countries do.
In Britain, mosques are split on the issue. Usually, the trustees of community mosques have a firm ‘yea or nay’ approach as to whether they will commemorate it. Those who do, will typically put lights on the outside of the mosque and simple decorations within it – think of old-fashioned Christmas decorations - as an expression of happiness. During the day, there will be songs, poetry and stories in remembrance. Larger community mosques may also organise a public procession.