29 January 2013

Uganda: Muslims Want Prophet Muhammad's Birthday Declared Public Holiday

Last Thursday (January 24) was Prophet Muhammad's birthday, which passed without many Muslims in the country noticing, apart from a few hundreds that gathered at Kibuli mosque, where the Maulid-al-Nabbi (the birth of the prophet) was commemorated.

The day, which may be the equivalent of Christmas to Christians, falls on the 12th day of the third month of the Islamic calendar (Rabbi-ul-Awwal) and is marked as a public holiday in most Islamic countries. But because its observance lacks a basis in the Islamic teachings, many Muslims don't attach much importance to it.

Muslims world over will unite to celebrate the feasts of Eid-ul-Fitr (marked at the end of the fasting of Ramadhan) and Eid-ul-Adhuha (marked at the close of the Holy Pilgrimage) but will remain sharply divided as to whether to mark or not mark the Maulid-al-Nabbi. Nonetheless, hundreds of Muslims, including a delegation from India, gathered at Kibuli mosque to mark the day that was graced by the titular head of Muslims in the country, Prince Kassim Nakibinge Kakungulu.

Moments of joy and spiritual ecstasy characterised the day as various sheikhs led the congregation into sessions of praising the Prophet's name.

"Prophet Muhammad is cherished world over; he was the light, leading mankind from ignorance. His birthday is worth celebrating but many Muslims out there who would have commemorated this day can't because their bosses will not allow them," Sheikh Siliman Kasule Ndirangwa, the Kampala district kadhi, said.

Ndirangwa's case for government to recognise this day is supported by the Supreme Mufti, Sheikh Zubair Sowed Kayongo, who told legislators at the celebration to table a motion in Parliament for government to make it a public holiday.

"At Christmas, we get two public holidays, why not this day?" Kayongo said.

He said that since the date is published early (with no need of first sighting the moon as is the case with the celebration of Eid-ul-Fitri), government would find it easy to declare the public holiday.

"I think the parliamentarians here can guide us on the steps that we need to take to push through this demand," he said.

Origins of the day

There is no record to show that Prophet Muhammad - considered to be the second source of Islamic law - celebrated this day during his lifetime, nor did his early companions. The earliest celebrations of the Prophet Muhammad's birthday were in the 8th century in Mecca and the first official public celebrations occurred in Egypt in the 11th century. Shiite Muslims were the first to celebrate the Prophet's birthday before the Sunni Muslims followed suit in the 12th century.

The celebrations have remained a matter of contention among Muslim scholars with those opposed to its commemoration classifying it as Bidi'ah (a religious innovation) - without any basis in Islamic law and should thus be prohibited. These argue that Allah perfected Islam through the Qur'an and the Sunnah (traditions and sayings) of the Prophet Muhammad both of which are silent on celebrating the day.

Other scholars maintain that while there is no precedent for the celebration, spending the day remembering Prophet Muhammad is something positive since it goes beyond the celebration of Prophet Muhammad's birthday but a celebration of the Oneness of God and the birth of Islam.

"If we celebrate our individual birthdays, why not celebrate the birth of the Prophet, a light and a blessing to mankind," Prince Nakibinge said.

Sheikh Kayongo attributes the confusion to the failure of Muslim scholars to specialize in given fields; many comment on issues where they don't have authority.

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