During my entire life, as a child and adult, I learned to respect the beautiful tradition of mawlid an Nabawi in Arabic or Eid-e-Milaadunnabi in Bangladesh, observed on the third month, Rabi’al-awwal, of the Islamic calendar. It is typically celebrated in remembrance of the blessed birth of the Nabi or Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). In this year, 2021, 12th Rabi’al-awwal coincides with October 20th.
The spiritually enriching online programmes I have taken in more recent years, particularly, from Ribaat have enriched my knowledge about the Islamic tradition. This organisation founded by Dr. Tamara Gray, emphasises empowerment for Muslim women. In addition, it encourages spiritual ties between Muslim women across the globe. The Ribaat programmes made me realise the significance of the role of Muslim women in keeping their traditions alive.
She captures beautifully the most oft repeated rhyming verse of the naat, ‘Salam’,
Ya Nabi salam alayka
Ya Rasul salam alayka
Ya Habeeb salam alayka
Tomari Izzat o Azmat
Tomari Karam o Ehsan
Tomari Rahmat o Barkat…
My mother’s first cousins, Leila Arjumand Banu, and Malka Perveen Banu, who were well known musical artists appearing on Dhaka’s radio and television programmes, would sing the hamd, (exclusively sung in praise to Allah) and na’at e rasul (is poetry sung in praise of Prophet Muhammad) during milaad held in homes, attended equally by women and men.
Na’ats are rich in the significance of the birth of the messenger so revered by Muslims. My aunts’ sang the na’at accompanied by musical instruments in this spiritually uplifting majlis. We held milaad in our home too when I was growing up in Dhaka. Rose water from a long necked container made of silver, called the gulabpaash, would be sprinkled upon everyone when they remained standing altogether to pay respects for the Prophet and his family. More lines of na’at, punctuated every now and then with the following four line verse would be recited in unison,
“Balaghalula bi Kamaalihi
Kashafadduja bi jamaalihi
Occasionally, professional ladies were invited who would conduct the milaad, such as, in my paternal grandmother’s house, Mrs. Deen and Mrs. Shawkat, who recited in Urdu. I remember, mawlid bought men and women of other backgrounds together. Pakistani, Indian Muslims, local non-Bengali Urdu speaking and Bengali speaking families with their children gathered together in a common observance of the milaad. Beautiful and emotionally rich songs about the Prophet’s mother, Amina is sung throughout our country.
“Tora dekhe ja Amina maayer kole’… ‘pore darud firishta beheester shob duaar khule” (“Come all of you, see who is on mother Amina’s lap… Angels are reciting the darud opening up all the doors of heaven”) is the most popular joyful song I imbibed during my earliest school years.
Bengali Muslim’s beloved poet, Kazi Nazrul Islam’s Bengali na’at are richly translated in, Selected Naat, Kazi Nazrul Islam, A bilingual edition, by Labiba Hassan
“Amina-Dulal Nache Halimar kole
Taale taale shonar buke shonar taabij dole.
She kadile mukta jhore hashle maanik
Eider chande lege aachche shei khushir khaanik.
Taar kochi mukhe khudaar kalam aadho aadho bole.”
When translated by Hassan, it is,
“Behold in Mother Amina’s lap
A beautiful full moon rocking.
Or perhaps in the cradle of dawna crimson sun rocking!
Vibrations among the creations of Allah echoed, humming,
‘who with Kalima-e-Shahada on his lips appeared?’
Who has come with Allah’s glow on his forehead?’
The galaxy with its planets and stars are enthralled to say,
“Who has come?’
Another among Nazrul Islam’s treasure of na’ats, translated by Labiba Hassan, is a great favourite:
Muhammad Mustafa Salle Alaa
Tumi badshaaro baadshaah kamli walaah.
Paape taape purno aadhar duniya
Holo punnya beheshti nure ujaala
Gunahgaar ummat laagi tobo
Aajo chayannaahi kandichho niraala.
(Muhammad Mustafa Salle ala,
You are the humble king of kings.
The whole world, which was darkened by sins,
became sacred and was brightened with a heavenly glare by you.
It is for your sinful ummat, you did not rest in peace,
And for this in solitude you constantly grieved.)
(Selected Naat, Kazi Nazrul Islam, A bilingual edition, Sept, 2005, Nazrul Institute, Dhaka)
At home or at school, at the end of the milaad, a box full of sweets is given to each participant, and sometimes, with a complete meal of biryani, or a combination of special bread, meat, vegetable or salad. Most importantly, they are distributed to the poor and in orphanages.
Dr. Tamara Gray describes that in Syria, the tradition is celebrated also for any joyous occasion. That is exactly similar to our traditions. It is a pity that mawlid an Nabawi or milaadunnabi has fierce critics. I always wonder why talking and singing about worthwhile subjects and pious people become objects of criticisms by some people while these same people do not hesitate to watch secular programmes unfit to be seen in presence of children?
That is why I want to search deeper to understand mawlid. My memories have had a deep impact in me and I have been very sensitive to such criticisms. Dr. Tamara Gray mentions in her lovely chapter on mawlid in her book, Joy Jots, that there are disagreements among Muslims surrounding the celebration of the Prophet’s birth. Is it an acceptable practice?
The author then brings opinion of different scholars who shed light on the valid reasons to celebrate and remember the birth of Prophet. His birth was accompanied with divine signs. When the world was immersed in the darkness of ignorance, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) came among humanity as a divine blessing from God to lead them to the path of righteousness and to the light of knowledge. In a video presentation, Dr. Gray describes the importance of mawlid.
I believe in keeping the vibrant tradition alive by encouraging women who sing the songs of praise for Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and other forms of spiritual music. Muslim women all over the world find a forum to express and keep their multi-dimensional talents and traditions alive.
The writer is a freelancer