TODAY, 17 Rabi’ul awwal (the third month of the Islamic calendar), Muslims celebratemaulidur rasul, a religious festival commemorating the birth of Muhammad (peace be upon him), the Prophet of Islam. Simply put, maulid means “birthday” and al-rasul oral-nabi means “prophet” or “messenger”.
Muhammad son of Abdullah was born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in August 570 AD. Islam teaches that he is Allah’s last prophet and the most important figure of the religion. He might be considered the founder of Islam, but not in the same sense as Jesus was in Christianity.
Muslims see Muhammad as the restorer of the original monotheistic belief of Adam, Nuh, Ibrahim, Musa, Jesus and many other prophets sent to various groups of people from the beginning of human history.
He was the unifier of Arabia, consolidating the peninsula under the banner of Islam, releasing his community from the “dark age” of ignorance and bringing them into the light of knowledge and civilisation.
Michael H. Hart in The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, rightly sums up that Muhammad was a social reformer, diplomat, merchant, orator, legislator, military general, philosopher and philanthropist.
He honours the Prophet by according to him the first place in his list and considers him as the most influential human on earth.
To illustrate, a renowned Orientalist, William Montgomery Watt, writes that for Muhammad, religion was not a private and individual matter but rather “the total response of his personality to the total situation in which he found himself. He was responding (not only) … to the religious and intellectual aspects of the situation but also to the economic, social and political pressures to which contemporary Mecca was subject”.
Another Islamist, Bernard Lewis, observes that Muhammad’s mission “transformed the society and moral order of life in the Arabian Peninsula through orientation of society as regards to identity, worldview, and the hierarchy of values”.
For example, Lewis continues that Islam, “from the first denounced aristocratic privilege, rejected hierarchy, and adopted a formula of the career open to the talents”.
Those who study Islamic history can generally agree that Islamic social reforms brought by Muhammad in areas like social security, family structure and human rights that include slavery and the rights of women and children, improved on the status quo of Arab society then. The same impact should be seen in today’s Muslim community.
The maulid is supposed to be observed with recollections of Muhammad’s life and significance as partially described above.
In this way, Muslims, sanctioned by their majority ulama, consider maulid as something praiseworthy, permissible and even necessary as it generally brings positive impact to the society at large, if carried out rightly.
Despite the celebration worldwide, Muslims never glorify or idolise Muhammad to the extent of uplifting him as God or at par with God. Human worship is never a part of Islam.
The observance is rather motivated by a kind of obligation to love the Prophet, to be proud of him, to respect him, to obey him, to remember him, to follow his example and to share his message with others.
The “duty” to love the Prophet by every Muslim is transpired, inter alia, by some Quranic verses and prophetic traditions (hadith):
“Say if you do love Allah, then follow me (ie Muhammad), Allah will love you and forgive you your sins” (Ali Imran, 3:31).
“Truly you (Muhammad) are of magnificent character” (al-Qalam, 68:4).
A hadith by Bukhari and Muslim, two Muslim prominent scholars, relates that the Prophet says: “None of you believes until he loves me more than he loves his children, his parents, and all of mankind.”
In addition to the above, one must understand that Prophet Muhammad was sent to the entire mankind, as clearly mentioned by the noble Quran when Allah says, “We sent you not but as a mercy for all creatures” (al-Anbiya, 21:107).
Abdullah Yusuf Ali in The Meaning of the Holy Quran comments that indeed the principle of mercy universally applies to all men and creatures other than men. He basically came as saviour for the entirety of mankind, not strictly for those who embrace Islam only.
This means that, if we can rightly recall the role of Muhammad as the restorer of the original true faith in God, all members of humanity are earnestly invited to carefully study and ponder upon his message.
For Muslims, it is their duty to share the glad tidings with the rest of the people.
It is due to this obligation that within just a hundred years, Islam had spread from the remote corners of Arabia as far east as Indo-China and as far west as Morocco, France and Spain.
Today, Islam remains the most rapidly spread religion on the globe, despite all efforts to tarnish and sideline it to the worst possible place.
> Dr Wan Azhar Wan Ahmad is Senior Fellow and Director of Ikim’s Centre of Syariah, Law and Politics. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.