The Tuesday before last was very special for the Muslim community of Delaware. We celebrated the birthday of Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) for this first time in a public ceremony. Nearly a hundred members of the community, including children and grandparents, gathered to mark the 1,444th birthday of Prophet Muhammad. It was a joyous event with food for body, mind and the soul.
There was Quran recitation, a lecture that I was blessed to give, on the character and the mystical dimensions of the life of the prophet of Islam. We had a quiz about his life for kids as well as for the adults, followed by recitation of poetry in praise of the prophet. Many families came from the tri-state area, and some even drove from as far as Virginia.
The event marks a new turn in the development of the Muslim community. It is expanding, becoming more diverse and more established. Three new mosques have been dedicated in the past two years and two new Islamic schools have been established. Part of the growth can be attributed to the culture of tolerance and acceptance of the state of Delaware. Recently when some misguided youth tried to vandalize a mosque, the outpouring of support from the people and officials of Delaware was indeed heartwarming.
While mosques are necessary for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligations, such as the Friday congregational prayers, Islamic schools are seen by some as necessary for preserving the identity of the next generations of Muslims. They are the typical one-two step in the development of Muslim communities in the U.S.
But Muslims of Delaware are now sufficiently well situated that Islamic culture is beginning to flower and with the celebration of Mewlid — the birth of Prophet Muhammad — we have now taken the next step. Mewlid is celebrated with great joy in most Muslim communities worldwide. Except for some extremely conservative sects, like the Taliban and the Salafis, who refuse to celebrate the birth of Prophet Muhammad, most Muslims everywhere do, and often for weeks.
Celebrations are marked by lectures and conferences on the life, character and teachings of Prophet Muhammad. Communal remembrance and salutation ceremonies are organized, poetry is recited and ballads sung in the praise of God and his prophet, and people share food and sweets with friends and family.
The cultural festival essentially has three dimensions — expression of love for God and his prophet, togetherness of the community, and education. Community leaders use the occasion as an opportunity to teach about and inculcate love for the prophet. The crowning moment of every event is the praise of the prophet’s moral character and in that a systematic moral education is provided to the young and the old through examples from the life of the prophet.
Prophet Muhammad continues to inspire, educate and bring literally hundreds of millions of people together to become better human beings. In the Quran, God says to his prophet, “We have glorified your remembrance,” and these Mewlid celebrations are a way in which Muslims participate in fulfilling God’s promise to his prophet.
According to Islamic traditions, before God created His creation, he wrote a note to Himself that said, “My Mercy shall prevail over my wrath.” And then when he sent Prophet Muhammad as his messenger, he revealed in the Quran, “We have sent you as nothing but mercy to all peoples.” In my talk that night I explained how the birth of prophet Muhammad was the fulfillment of this covenant of mercy between God and his creation. We don’t celebrate his “birthday” per se; we commemorate his birth as a way of invoking and glorifying God’s mercy.
Recent developments in the Muslim world have made the life of Muslims miserable. Wherever we see, we see pain, suffering, war and violence. Even where Muslims are physically safe, politics and Islamophobia won’t leave us alone. But once in a while, we have events like this one in Newark, Delaware, when all else was momentarily forgotten and we were able to focus solely on the love we have for our prophet.
Indeed, the collective remembrance of Prophet Muhammad was a balm and nourishment for our souls.