Eid Milad-un-Nabi in Lahore
Yesterday was the 12th of the Islamic calendar month of Rabi-ul-Awal, the day on which the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was born according to many scholars. Known in Urdu as Eid Milad-un-Nabi, the occasion is celebrated with fervour in Pakistan and in many nations around the world.
I’ve missed the festival in the past few years, as I had travelled to Australia for the summer, but this year I was lucky enough to spend Eid Milad-un-Nabi in Lahore, Pakistan’s cultural capital.
The famous Walled City of Lahore was dressed in its finest, with the narrow streets covered with coloured lights and hanging ornaments. In some places the city seemed lighter than it does during the day; the crowded alleyways and tall buildings often hide the sunlight, but on Monday night they came alive without a shadow in sight.
Vendors and residents came out on to the streets offering niyaz or langar, the charitable food given in honour of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ; everything from naan and dhal eaten in the hand, to sweets thrown to groups of children passing by. Processions and parades jammed parts of the city with their participants chanting, cheering or even singing, and music blaring from loudspeakers. A popular song is Tajdar-e-Haram, originally by the late Amjad Sabri and his brothers, but last year given a popular makeover by rock singer Atif Aslam.
Some havelis (traditional, multi-storey houses) hosted musical performances of qawwali, while others hosted more “modern” parties with dancing and drinking. This is in stark contrast to the other Muslim Eids (festivals) which are usually much calmer; Eid-ul-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan with visits to relatives, and Eid-ul-Adha sees the pilgrimage to Makkah (Mecca). For this reason, a close friend of mine confided that “for me, Eid Milad-un-Nabi is the real eid – it’s really festive, and the happiness comes from the heart”. Last year the date fell on the 25th December, coinciding with the birthday celebration of Hazrat Issa (the Islamic name for Jesus) – two auspicious birthdays on one day!
Eid Milad-un-Nabi is a contentious festival for many reasons; many scholars point to evidence that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ himself did not celebrate his birthday, and nor did his companions or family members. They claim that the celebration of birthdays, and especially the prophet’s birthday, is an example of “imported culture” which “dilutes the faith”. For this reason, some Muslim countries (notably Saudi Arabia) simply don’t celebrate it at all.
Others point out that dancing, drinking and spending (or wasting) exorbitant amounts of money on decorations are totally against the teachings of Islam. Additionally, Shia generally agree that Muhammad ﷺ was not born on the 12th Rabi-ul-Awal (yesterday), but on the 17th Rabi-ul-Awal (which is this Saturday, 17th December).
Regardless of what is right and wrong, many people are out and wandering the streets to just take it all in. The decorations are simply spectacular, the atmosphere is electric, and I would highly recommend a visit to Lahore at this time of year to witness this or the urs at Data Darbar.