July 13, 2024

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Mawlid al-Nabi | Naming the Days

For today’s Muslim population, thought to be about 1.9 billion people, Mawlid al-Nabi is a day to celebrate the birth of the prophet Muhammad and his role in their religion. When Muhammad was about forty years old (around 609 or 610 CE), he began to habitually withdraw to a cave to meditate in seclusion. On one such occasion, the angel Gabriel came to him and informed him that he was a messenger prophet and that he had been chosen by God to receive His word. Through Gabriel, God transmitted revelations of His word to Muhammad orally as well as pressing them into his heart. Muhammad, who was illiterate, in turn related these imprinted revelations to his followers orally, and his followers promptly memorized them.

These revelations carried a strong message of monotheism to seventh-century Arabia, a time and place of many tribes and kingdoms whose people worshipped varied and multiple gods and goddesses. Muhammad received these revelations over a period of 22 or 23 years, until the year of his death (632 CE). In the years following Muhammad’s death these revelations were written down and compiled to make up the Holy Qur’an, the sacred text of Islam. Today, Islam is the world’s second-largest religion; it is also currently the fastest growing religion in the world.

While the exact date of the birth of the prophet Muhammad is not known, Mawlid al-Nabi is celebrated by Sunni Muslims on the 12th day of Rabi al-Awwal, the third month of the Islamic calendar. Shia Muslims believe the prophet’s birthday was on the 17th day of the month. Mawlid al-Nabi is a major public holiday in many countries and is celebrated with various festivities and devotions, such as salutations upon the Prophet and Qur’an recitation.

To Name this Day:


Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters by Omid Safi is a well-developed, rounded, and revealing portrait of the life, work, and legacies of the Prophet Muhammad.

Ayat Jamilah: Beautiful Signs by Freda Crane and Sarah Conover is a top-drawer collection of Islamic stories and folktales for families to read aloud and respond to with their hearts. It features the following story:

“As a deliberate insult, one neighboring woman would empty her garbage in front of Muhammad’s house each day and verbally insult him at every chance. When Muhammad didn’t see her for two days and there was no garbage on his doorstep, he asked someone about her. Muhammad was told that she had fallen sick. So he immediately went to visit, to ask what he could do to help her.”

In Sacred Energies, Daniel C. Maguire relates the following story and commentary on Prophet Muhammad:

“Upon the passing of a funeral procession near where the Prophet gathered with some of his friends, he stood up in respect, and so did the rest of them gathered. After the procession passed, one person in the crowd said: ‘O Messenger of God, did you know that this was the funeral of a Jew?’ The Prophet replied: ‘Wasn’t he human and had a human soul? Was he not a human created and made by God? Wasn’t he a being with dignity?’

“In the same spirit, the instruction given to a Muslim ruler was this: ‘Fill your heart with mercy and love to your subjects since they are of two kinds: a sibling in belief (i.e., a Muslim) or a human created by God the same way you were.’ The Muslim and non-Muslim have equal human rights.”

Personal Exploration

Explore the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad on a variety of topics, including Islam, a perfect Muslim, God, faith, service to humanity, words to remember, and general advice in A Collection of Sound Hadith on Peace and Justice by Dr. M. Hafiz Syed and Kabir Helminski.


“Muhammad was a philosopher, orator, apostle, legislator, warrior, general and statesman. He is a role model that all sincere Muslims seek to emulate.”
— Robert Frager,The Wisdom of Islam

Spiritual Practice

Salawat offers ways to pray for blessings upon the Prophet Muhammad.

Real Faith encourages us to do our best to embody a hadith (saying of the Prophet) about faith.

You can also participate in a Mawlid celebration near you or via Zoom. Islamic centers all over the world, such as the Islamic Center at NYU, will be celebrating the life, lessons, and legacy of the Prophet Muhammad.


The Wisdom of Muhammad by Kabir Helminski and Camille Helminski is a welcoming study of the compassionate, flexible, and noble character of the Prophet Muhammad.

Beauty and Wisdom in the Qur’an by Jamal Rahman offers timeless insights and practices gleaned from reflections on verses of the Qur’an.

The Essence of the Qur’an by Jeremy Henzell-Thomas and Shaikh Kabir Helminski presents commentaries on passages from Islam’s holy book about universal spiritual principles that can guide our hearts.