Prophet Muhammad’s Birthday 2017 and 2018
The Sunni date of Muhammad’s birthday is a public holiday and a paid, off-work day in the UAE.
|2017||30 Nov *||Thu||Prophet Muhammad's Birthday|
|2018||20 Nov *||Tue||Prophet Muhammad's Birthday|
* subject to change
Most UAE Muslims observe the birthday of their religion’s founder, Muhammad, but not all on the same date. The 85 percent that are Sunni Muslims mark the event on the 12th day of the month of Rabiulawal, but the 15 percent who are Shi’a believe it should be celebrated five days later on the 17th of that month. Both agree that Muhammad was born in 570 A.D., that he was the last and greatest of the prophets, and that he is worthy of respect and emulation.
In Arabic, it is called “Mawlid“, which means “to be born”. The date varies greatly from year to year, from a Western perspective, since the lunar calendar used does not align well with solar calendars. Therefore, the holiday can fall in December, January, or February.
In some UAE communities, there are large parades and open-air celebrations on this day. Men who attend such parades will often wear green clothing and hold up green flags, while young girls will dress in pink and white. These celebrations sometimes end with the sharing of a meal or of a birthday cake, and food is frequently given out even to non-Muslims.
There are other Muslims who keep Muhammad’s birthday but do not believe in the public celebrations. They use the day to spend extra time reading the Koran, recite suras (Koranic verses), hear religious lectures, pray, and reflect on the lessons to be learned from the life of Muhammad. There is also much recitation of traditional poetic and prose works associated with Muhammad’s life. Much of this more private variety of celebration takes place in Mosques and private homes.
UAE tradition has the family gathering to recite Islamic poetry, much of it from the Al Mawlid Al Barzanji collection. Men of all generations and occupations sit in a U-shaped formation, and an orator with a microphone recites the poems so that they are heard by those residing in every part of the house. There may also be musical accompaniment, such as the drum-like background music of the Al Daf, a traditional Emirati instrument. After the recitations, sponge cake, tea biscuits, and other Emirati dishes may be indulged in. Any leftovers will be given away to the poor before the day is out.
In the 1970s and 1980s, there used to be recitations of Islamic poetry from the Mawlid performed on television, on stage, and from the Bahar Palace in Abu Dhabi. In those days, the Mawlid would also be recited on occasions such as at weddings, birthdays, or when a baby was born, but nowadays, recitations are almost entirely restricted to Muhammad’s birthday.
While the celebration of Muhammad’s birthday is a strictly Muslim holiday and is partially celebrated privately, there are still some possible ways a tourist in the UAE could be involved:
- If one is a Muslim and can attend, or if one is willing to stand at a distance to watch and listen, he might consider viewing the largest gathering on Muhammad’s birthday at the Grand Mosque of Abu Dhabi.
- If you have a Muslim friend whose home you can stay in or visit, or if you can attend a hotel-based event, you can also observe the private, family traditions.
- There will be parades and public celebrations in many of UAE’s communities, and even foreigners and non-Muslims can attend, watch, learn, and enjoy the food given away at the end.
If in the UAE on Muhammad’s birthday, you will notice the locals celebrating, and you may be able to learn something of Emirati religious and cultural traditions. Some events are for Muslims only, but others allow for non-Muslims to participate to a degree.