Islam / Cult and Festivals /
Today, the Mawlid of Muhammad, the Mawlidu n-Nabiy, is celebrated in most of the countries in the Muslim world, on 12. Rabi'u l-Awwal (the third month of the Muslim calendar). Mawlidu n-Nabiy is not based on either the Koran or on Sunna, but took the shape of religious celebrations in the Middle East and Egypt, where revering individual religious leaders for their mediating position in between man and the divine world, seems to have been common for centuries.
The Mawlid is not considered to be a proper custom by many Muslims and many sects and countries. Saudi Arabia is one of the most noticeable countries that refrain from Mawlidu n-Nabiy.
Mawlid does not seem to have been performed in the first two centuries of Islam, and in the years up until around 1200, only political and religious leaders revered this day, according to the sources. The first account of a public, popular Mawlidu n-Nabiy is dated to 1207, and is centered to the Middle Eastern region, something which makes influences from both Christianity (it's the time of the crusades) and Shi'i Islam, quite likely.
Muslims in general, are aware of Mawlid not being a truly Islamic custom, but the reverence of Muhammad in Mawlidu n-Nabiy has made the majority of ulama accept it, as a good invention, bid'a, to Islam.
The feast is a happy occasion, where families and friends spend time together, eat good food and use money they have saved up for some time on sweets, toys, clothes or whatever ones heart desires. In mosques, and from the loudspeakers of the mosques, recitations are heard in honour of Muhammad.
Shi'is perform Mawlids to Ali and members of his family. These celebrations have much in common with Mawlidu n-Nabiy, but are somewhat more important, due to the position of Ali and his descendants in Shi'i Islam.
Sufis revere their dead leaders, shaykhs, and these celebrations have individual characteristics. Often are processions part of these celebrations, as the Sufis want to remind the community of their leader's qualities.
There are also mawlids for holy men and women, saints, in local communities. Most of these have only local importance, but there are holy men and women whose reputation is so widespread, that Muslims, mostly women, perform pilgrimages to their tombs. In addition to the festivity, the food, the togetherness, these Mawlids are a moment when ones prayers and wishes, presented for the saint, has more chance of success.