Life – An Exalted Destiny – Aga Khan III
Significance of the celebration of the Birthday of Prophet Muhammad
Birthday of Prophet Muhammad
By Amir Gulamhusein
In the Presidential Address given at the International Seerat Conference held in Karachi, Pakistan on 12th March 1976, Mawlana Hazar Imam (s.a.) said:
In the face of this changing world, which was once a universe to us and is now no more than an overcrowded island, confronted with a fundamental challenge to our understanding of time, surrounded by a foreign fleet of cultural and ideological ships which have broken loose, I ask, do we have a clear, firm and precise understanding of what Muslim Society is to be in times to come? And if, as I believe, the answer is uncertain, where else can we search than in the Holy Qur’an, and in the example of Allah’s last and final Prophet?”
The Seerat Conference organised on that occasion included eminent scholars from various countries, who had gathered in Pakistan, to present their research findings and reflect upon various aspects of the life of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.). A conference of this nature was, amongst many other festivities organised to mark the birthday anniversary of the beloved Prophet (s.a.w.). The anniversary of his birth is a timely reminder to a Muslim of his obligation (to himself and the society around him) to continue to fulfil the requirements of the Faith and its practice in the prevailing situation and condition.
The celebration of the Prophet’s (s.a.s.) Birthday
The birthday of the Prophet (s.a.w.) is called Maulid which denotes the festivities organised on this auspicious day. The alternative term Milad, which means ‘birthday anniversary’ is also commonly used. Thus in this case, the day is referred to as Miladun-Nabi, the birthday anniversary of the Prophet.
Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) was born on the night of 12 Rabi’ al-Awwal, the third lunar month. This date is also remembered with sadness, as it is also the day of his demise. In the late eighth century, the house in Mecca in which he was born was transformed into a place of private worship by the mother of the Caliph Harun ar-Rashid and the pilgrims, who came to Mecca to perform Hajj (pilgrimage), visited it to offer special prayers. This practice has a parallel to day in that, after the completion of the various rites associated with the performance of the Hajj, many pilgrims visit the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina to offer prayers. The practice of making a visit (ziyirah) to the Holy Shrines e.g. those of the Prophet (s.a.w.) and in the case of the Shi’a, also the shrines of the Holy Imams (a.s.), is looked upon as acts to derive spiritual benefits by supplicating and seeking forgiveness from Allah.
It appears that the tendency to commemorate Miladun-Nabi on a grand and festive scale emerged first in Egypt during the Fatimid Era (969 – 1171 A.C) This is quite logical, for the Fatimid Caliphs were descendants of the Prophet (s.a.w.) through his daughter Hazrat Bibi Fatima (a.s.) married to the Prophet’s cousin, Hazrat Murtaza Ali (a.s.). The Egyptian historian Maqrizi (d. 1442 AC) describes one such celebration held in 1122 AC basing his account on Fatimid sources It is interesting to note that at that celebration, the gathering included prominent scholars and officials of the religious hierarchy. They listened to sermons (khutba) and were given sweets, particularly honey, the favorite of the Prophet (s.a.w.). On that occasion, the poor received alms. The tradition of Miladun-Nabi in Egypt was continued from the Fatimid days by all subsequent dynasties.
The way in which the birthday anniversary was celebrated varied in different countries. In Turkey, the mosques were decorated with lights, whereas in other Islamic lands, the occasion was marked by recitations of Na’ats and other devotional songs in praise of the Prophet (s.a.w.) In some countries like Morocco, the celebration, after its inception, became an important part of the religious life to such an extent that, for example, in Iraq, the birthday came to be considered in the hierarchy of festive days second only to ‘Id al-Fitr and ‘Id al-Adha.
Throughout the Middle Ages, the Prophet’s birthday was lavishly celebrated in Mecca, the city of his birth. In India, celebrations included large exhibitions of paintings, lectures and a funfair of activities ending with lavish feasts in which everybody participated. More recently, in this century 12 Rabi’ al-Awwal was declared a public holiday in the Ottoman Empire, as it is the Pakistan today. In Pakistan the whole month is devoted to the remembrance of the Prophet (s.a.w.) and his ethical, political and social role. The Seerat Conference mentioned earlier is one such activity of that nature.
To gain an insight into the manner in which this auspicious occasion was observed and celebrated in various countries in which Islam flourished, the reader is requested to refer to an account of the celebration in the book entitled ‘And Muhammad is His Messenger’ by AnneMarie Schimmel. In recent times, there is an increasing tendency to use the occasion of Miladun-Nabi to reflect upon the life of the Prophet (s.a.w.) and seek from it answers to fundamental questions of how a Muslim should live his life for it to be truly Islamic. The Prophet’s life and his conduct has become a model on which every Muslim aspires to build his life according to the situation in which he finds himself, as Allah says in the Holy Our’an:
“Verily, in the apostle of God you have a good example for everyone who looks forward (with hope and awe) to God and the Last Day and remembers God unceasingly.” (Sura Al-Azhab 33:21)
The example of the Prophet (s.a.w.)
In spite of his appointment as the Prophet (Nabi) of Allah, Muhammad (s.a.w.) never claimed to possess any superhuman qualities. He maintained that he was a mortal and a servant (‘abd) of Allah to whom revelation (wahi) came, as it is indicated in the Holy Our’an. .
“Say thou, (0 Prophet:) ‘I am but a mortal
like you. It has been revealed to me that
your God is the One God: go then, straight
towards Him and seek His forgiveness.’
And woe unto those who ascribe divinity
He knew that his role. was to be the messenger (Rasul) and mediator of Allah in guiding mankind. It is important to note that even in this function of acting as a guide, he reminded the people that only Allah was able to guide.
“Verily, thou cannot guide aright everyone whom thou lovest:
but it is Allah who guides him that wills (to be guided); and He is
fully aware of all who would let themselves be guided.” — (Sura Al-Qasas 28: Verse 56)
It can be understood from this that Allah’s guidance is an act of His grace with which He rewards all who desire to be guided. The Prophet (s.a.w.) preached exactly that, whatever happened to him was nothing but Allah’s unbounded grace and, through this act of mercy and kindness, he was appointed to be a guide amongst the people.
He never claimed vanity in spite of his exalted position as indicated in the Holy Our’an. As Allah ‘taught Adam the names of all things” (Sura Al-Baqarah 2: Verse 31), He taught Muhammad (s.a.w.) the Our’an; the first revelation coming to him on the Night of Qadr (Sura al-Qadr 96: Verse 3). The designation of the Prophet as being ‘Mercy for the mankind’ (Rahmat lil-alamin) (sura Al-Anbiya 21Verse 107) is another example of his lofty post. He saw his role amongst his people as their guide and teacher and by his example was to steer them to salvation. Whosoever followed him, and his way of life, understood their purpose and meaning of their existence in the world. In this context, the chosen (al-Mustafa) the Prophet became the prototype, (Uswa Husana) a ‘Beautiful Model’.
The function of the Prophet has been misunderstood by the non-Muslims. His function was not only to be a spiritual guide, but also the organizer of the new social order, which came as a result of the Last Revelation (the Holy Qur’an). Outsiders have understood his role, for example, as a political figure of high distinction and great statesmanship. However, his role, as a religious and spiritual guide of man and how his life could be emulated by those who are aspiring sanctity and piety, is still misunderstood. With regard to this, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, an eminent Muslim writer says “This is particularly true in the modern world in which religion is separated from other domains of life and most modern men can hardly imagine how a spiritual being could also be immersed in the most intense political and social activity. “The integration of the material and spiritual aspect of one’s life was the hallmark of the lifestyle of the Prophet (s.a.w.) and how he managed to fulfill this dual role, should become an example for Muslims who today face immense difficulties in trying to live in a society which is becoming increasingly material.”
Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) participated fully in social life. He married and had a household. He was ruler, judge and fought many battles in which he underwent painful ordeals. In this personal life, both as an orphan and adult, he underwent many hardships. In spite of, this, he always exhibited humility and tolerance. He also made time to detach himself from the hustle bustle of daily life and indulged in contemplation and meditation. By this practice, he integrated his physical aspect of his life with spiritual activities.
In his daily life, he exercised utmost kindness and showed concern for the weak. His loving kindness extended over all beings. He was noted for his love of children and used to greet them and play with them. He was also known for his love of animals.
He lived simply and his saying “Faqri Fakhri (‘My poverty is my pride’)” became a motto for the many who followed him.
Every phase of his work and action became an ideal model of moral perfection. Whatever he did remains exemplary for his followers and thus his actions and sayings were recorded and preserved in the famous Hadith literature. His was a noble and serene cause in the Way of Allah and all those who came into contact with it, were to know that what he preached and the Message of Allah that he conveyed was to show the nobility and generosity of the humankind in fulfilling the purpose of creation. His concern for peace and tranquility in all spheres of human activity was paramount.
The nobility and generosity of the Prophet (s.a.w.) was best exemplified in his triumphant entry into Mecca. The very people who had caused untold hardships to him were forgiven instead of him taking revenge and ushering punishment. This act of generosity was to become a source of immense joy and “pride to his followers, who understood the Message of Allah in the practice of their Faith in that it preached tolerance and forgiveness.
His love and compassion for the fellow beings and his concern for their welfare in all spheres of human endeavors are exampled and recorded. He was their uncrowned king, ruler and father who was concerned with the welfare of his subjects. His total involvement in social welfare matters of the community (Ummah) earned him high praises and respect. He continually sought better relationship between the members of the Ummah and those of the other Faiths (Christians and Jews) and in this manner preached brotherhood, tolerance and patience (sabr) as those qualities that would ensure peace and harmony. In this way he tried to make the practice of religion to be integral part of life so that there was peace and equilibrium between all forces that confront man. Anything that sought to destroy this equilibrium was counteracted. For example, the many wars that were fought, whether for political or social reasons, were for preserving the Faith (Din) and social justice. In this manner, war had a positive meaning as an activity to establish peace and harmony. It is also interesting to note that apart from the outward war (Jihad) of combativeness, the Prophet (s.a.w.) also advocated inward combativeness which was necessary for maintaining the inner equilibrium. This battle was called the ‘Great Struggle’ (al-Jihad al-Akbar) and is fought in man against forces that tend to negate Allah’s Will. Interestingly, the outward war was designated by the Prophet (s.a.w.) as the ‘Small Struggle’ (al-Jihad al-Asghar).
The Prophet’s quality of magnanimity, that is the nobility of his soul and his quality to be above petty feelings, exhibited itself most of all in charity towards man and all other beings. There was no narrowness or pettiness in the soul of the Prophet (s.a.w.), no limitation in giving of himself to others, both in terms of time and resources. The saying that ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’, was characteristic of his life until his demise.
In the brief account of the noble qualities of the Prophet (s.a.w.) presented here, one of the key features that emerges is that his lifestyle highlights the fact that in order to achieve the harmony, peace and tranquility within the society at large and within the self, man has to live in this world and not reject it. It is through constant struggle in this world, that man will be in a position to transcend it (i.e. human state) and achieve the realization of the Absolute which is the true destiny of man. The life of the Prophet (s.a.w.) is looked upon as a prototype by the believer in his quest to achieve this lofty status. How man should use the example of Prophet’s life is indicated below in the concluding paragraph of the Presidential Address given by Mawlana Hazar Imam (s.a.) at the Seerat Conference in Pakistan. He said:
“The Holy Prophet’s life gives us every fundamental guideline that we require to resolve the problem as successfully as our human minds and intellects can visualize. His example of integrity, loyalty, honesty, generosity both of means and of time, his solicitude for the poor, the weak and the sick, his steadfastness in friendship, his humility in success, his magnanimity in victory, his simplicity, his wisdom in conceiving new solutions for problems which could not be solved by traditional methods, without affecting the fundamental concepts of Islam, surely all these are foundations which, correctly understood and sincerely interpreted, must enable us to conceive what should be truly modern and dynamic Islamic society in the years ahead.”
“The Muslims must now awake, taking their example from the glorious life and the marvelous teachings of the holy Prophet, build their spiritual and religious faith in Muhammad and work for the development of science, knowledge and political and social advance along the line of the most progressive races of mankind.
We must accept this Divine Message as the channel of our union with the “Absolute” and the “Infinite” and, once our spiritual faith is firmly established, fearlessly go forward by self-sacrifice, by courage, and by application to raise the scientific, the economic, the political and social position of the Muslims to a place of equality with Christian Europe and America.”
— (Hazrat Imam Sultan Mohammed Shah from the “Message to the world of Islam” published by HRH The Aga Khan Ismailia Federal Council of Pakistan (1977)
Source: ILM Vol. 12,No.2 – December 1989
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