Mevlid-i Şerif

The birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, called Mevlid-i Şerif in Turkish, is being observed today, the 12th of the Hijri month Rabiyülevvel (if you want to be technical about it, the commemoration started at sundown last night, and I guess it’s ended by now in most of the world, but it’s still worth noting). Though not one of the major Islamic holidays, many Muslims do commemorate Muhammad’s birth with decorations and by exchanging small gifts or sweets.

Mevlid is not a universally celebrated holiday, for a couple of reasons. There’s no historical record of the earliest Muslims celebrating Muhammad’s birthday as a special event; the first widespread Mevlid celebration doesn’t appear in the record until the 12th century, though there are records of earlier, smaller observances. So for modern self-proclaimed “fundamentalists” the holiday is an innovation and therefore illegitimate. Honoring a historical figure’s birthday also comes too close to revering or worshiping that person for those arch-conservative groups, which would make it an example of the most serious sin in any monotheistic faith. So you’re not likely to find any sanctioned Mevlid celebrations in Saudi Arabia, or being organized by ISIS. But in most of the Islamic World Mevlid is treated as an important cultural marker if not an especially religious one, more Presidents Day than Christmas. This blog is certainly not in the business of litigating inter-Islamic religious debates, so I’m not here to comment on Mevlid’s legitimacy, but this does offer us a chance to explore a little vocabulary.

  • prophet: peygamber (Şerif derives from an Arabic word, sharif, that is often used to identify a descendent of Muhammad; here you could translate it as “sacred” or “noble”)
  • prophethood: peygamberlik or nübüvvetini
  • birthday: doğum günü (mevlid is an old Arabic derivative that wouldn’t be commonly used today)
  • to be born: doğmak