The Prophet’s Birthday

Mosque 1This year on the 4th of February the birthday of the Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him, is celebrated. As the Islamic calendar is lunar, the date varies from year to year. It is an official public holiday in all Muslim countries, except Saudi Arabia. Scholars are divided about the importance of celebrating this event, and some call it an innovation in the religion (bida), as the Prophet did not instruct others to do so. It is celebrated on the 12th day of Rabi’ al-awwal (the third month in the Islamic calendar) by Sunni Muslims, while Shi’a Muslims celebrate it on the 17th day, even though the precise date of the Prophet’s birth is unclear. It is said that he was born on a Monday and he, himself chose to fast on this day. As a result some Muslims consider fasting during the daylight hours of a Monday to be another way of celebrating his birth.

Born in Mecca circa 570 CE he is considered to be the last prophet in a long line of prophets, that include Moses, Jonah and Jesus. He was born into the clan of Hashim, and although the clan was one of the most distinguished in Mecca, they have fallen on hard times. The first part of Muhammed’s life was sad, despite the fact that his relatives loved him:  Muhammed’s father died before his birth, and the only wet-nurse who was prepared to take care of him came from one of the poorest tribes in Arabia. He lived with this Bedouin tribe until he was six years old, but shortly after he returned to the care of his mother, she died. After living with his grandfather for about two years his grandfather also died. This time he went to live with his uncle Abu Talib.

The young Muhammed was liked in Mecca: described as handsome with a smile that held enormous charm, he was known as al-Amin, the Reliable One, not only because he inspired great confidence, but was also decisive and wholehearted in everything he did.

When he was twenty-five, he was asked by a distant relative, Khadijah bint al-Khuwaylid, a widow that became a properous business woman after her husband’s death, to take a caravan into Syria for her. She was so impressed with his competence that she proposed marriage. Although it was perceived by some to be a marriage of convenience, Muhammed loved her, and never took another wife while she was alive. She is described as a remarkable woman who was also the first to recognise his genius and stood by him as a trusted confidante when, at the age of 40, he started to receive what he believed to be revelations from God.

Not only was the imminent arrival of an Arab prophet expected, but the economic and social conditions in Mecca created an atmosphere that harboured the winds of change . . .