Last Saturday was very special for the Muslim women community of Virginia. Ladies from our community celebrated the birthday of Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) for this first time in a record huge gathering.
Two prominent ladies from the community sister Sadaf Shahid and sister Ruby Basharat were the organizers of the event. Nearly three hundred ladies of the community, including children and grandmothers, gathered to mark the birthday of Prophet Muhammad. It was a joyous event with food for body, mind and the soul.
The event started with Quran recitation and a lecture was delivered on the character and the mystical dimensions of the life of the Prophet of Islam. The speaker mentioned that the Prophet Muhammad preached the message of love, peace, humanity and forgiveness. Organizers 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 ladies came from the tri-state area and some even drove from as far as New York. The prominence of the event rose when ladies from different faith and religion also participated in this event as a mark of solidarity, unity and peace reforms in our diverse communities.
The event marks a new turn in the development of the Muslim women community. It is expanding, becoming more diverse and more established. Many 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 Virginia. Whenever some misguided youth tried to vandalize a mosque, the outpouring of support from the people and officials of Virginia was indeed heartwarming.
But Muslims of Virginia 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 Northern Virginia, 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 is a balm and nourishment for our souls.