During the Ottoman Era, Mawlid al-Nabi used to be celebrated with magnificent grandiose ceremonies as it was a public holiday.
When I first visited Cyprus, I was very surprised when I found out that Mawlid was a public holiday. Not even the British could touch this Ottoman custom. During the Ottoman Era, Mawlid al-Nabi was a public holiday and celebrated with grandiose spectacles. Mawlid was an exciting, religious festival celebrated by all of the Muslim states.
People have always honored the prophets birth date. Muslims would celebrate the birth of Prophet Muhammed (may peace be upon him) on the 12th night of the month of Rabi al-Ewwel. Evidently, celebrating birthdays is actually not a non-Muslim custom. Mawlid means birth.
Islamic scholars have said the night of Mawlid is even more superior than Laylat al-Qadr, for its existence is connected to it. On this night, Abu Lahab, who was told that he had a nephew by his concubine Thuwaybah, allowed her to leave after nursing the Holy Prophet, setting her free. Later on, his brother-in-law Abbas saw in his dream that the nights of Mawlid are to ease his torment in hell; and he could do so by drinking a drop of water equal to what could be held in the small curve of flesh between the base of the thumb and the forefinger the same fingers he used when he gestured to Thuwaybah. The state of Muslims that rejoice on Mawlid al- Nabi will be great, said Hafiz Ibn al-Jazari.
Rasul-Allah (Prophet Muhammad) would personally sit with his companions, explain the incidents that happened during his birth, hold a feast and distribute alms to those in need on this day. Hassan bin Tsabit, Abdullah bin Rawaha, Qab bin Zuhair and other Sahabas would read poems that praised the Prophet. Abu Bakr and Omar would also do this during their time. This shows that Mawlid recitations were not bidah, a religious innovation, meaning that they were not a custom that came about later.
On this day, Muslims would dress in their nicest clothes, apply perfume, clean and decorate their homes and light traditional oil-lamps. Maruf al-Qarhi said that those who celebrate theis day like that will be revived before the prophets on the Day of Judgement. Hasan al-Basri said, Oh, I would like to have the gold equivalent of the Mountain of Uhud so that I could spend it on the Mawlid Sharif of the Holy Prophet.
In the Islamic world, those that could afford would organize Mawlid societies and make hafizs (memorizers of Quran) with nice voices read eulogies; they would distribute food, sherbet and sweets. Those that did not have the power to do so would sit at home and read Mawlid eulogies on their own. Sari al-Saqati said, Those that go to places where Mawlids are recited will be as if they have gone to Heaven. Al-Suyuti said, [The threats of] famine, the plague, calamity, envy, trouble, hate and [the curse of] the evil eye will be lifted in homes where Mawlids are recited. Those that do this, will face easy questionings in their graves.
When eulogies are read, water, salt and money would be put in the middle. This way, it was believed that the money would be cleansed; if the cleansed money touched or was mixed with other money, they hoped it would benefit them and they would not be poor. If the purified salt was also mixed into other salts, the food that was to be prepared with this salt was thought to bring fruitfulness. Mawlid sweets would also be put in front of the listeners during recitations to bring abundance to the people.
A year of fruitfulness
Like praising the prophet, Mawlid recitations are also considered a form of worship. Apart from Wahhabis, no one has objected to the Mawlid. It is read at least once a year for the sake of keeping the love of the prophet in mind. To read it poetically has been regarded as the most superior form. As the Quran is very virtuous and transcendent, listeners may often be inattentive to the recitations, which is why Mawlid recitations would be more beneficial to those that listen for Amr bil Maroof and Nasrul Mohabbat.
Imam Muhammed Bakir would gather his loved ones to recite Mawlids; he would feed them and the poor. Imam Suyuti would also do this and also advised others to follow suit. Thus, Mawlid recitations are a very bright custom in Egypt. Kettani said, To respect this night, to rejoice, will make the entire year fruitful.
As part of the Seljuq dynasty and Salah al-Din Eyyubis brother-in-law, King of Erbil Muzaffer al-Din Ebu Said Gokboru is known as the earliest individual to organize Mawlid societies. During his lifetime, he would distribute food, gifts and charity to thousands of people on this occasion every year. He would provide 5,000 sheep, 10,000 chickens; he would place 100,000 plates on the table; he would dress everyone according to their glory with khilcas (hilat in Turkish); he would spend 300,000 mithqals of gold on Mawlid. He was martyred during the Siege of Acre in the battle between Mamluks and the Crusaders in 1232.
Royal Mawlid Ceremonies
During their time, Ottomans would organize pompous, festive ceremonies where the sultan, and state officials would dress in their official uniforms. This ritual was the one of the most outstanding ceremonies. Mawlids were first read at Hagi Sofia, then at the Süleymaniye Mosque, later at the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque) and at Ortaköy during Sultan Azizs era, and at the Yıldız Mosque during Sultan Hamids era. During these Mawlids they would distribute dates and sweets to everyone.
Gifts and alms would be distributed to the servants. In addition, Mawlids would be recited at the palace, namely the sultans offices and harems. Sometimes it would be read in one place and the people of the Imperial Harem would listen behind cages where successors in line to the throne were kept under a form of house-arrest.
At the palace, a pleasant-voiced, special mawlid reciter called mawlidhan was present. Han means reader in Farsi. For example, during the Sultan Aziz era, Hasan Riza was famous for his pleasant voice and emotion-filled reading. He would recite Mawlids to the poor, without expecting anything in return.
Can Suleiman Chalebi ever be forgotten?
On the occasion of the Prophets birth, many great Mawlid eulogies were written. At Hedjaz, Mawlid-i Barzanci is well-known. Instead of sweets, dates were distributed to the people there. Turkish Mawlids are also very common. The most prominent was written by the Bursa Ulu Mosques Imam Suleiman Chalebi in 1409.
Rumor has it that when a preacher commented on the 285. ayah of Surah al-Baqara and said that there is no prominent difference or superiority between Prophet Muhammad and Prophet Isa, someone from the congregation stood up and said: Hey, ignorant! There is no difference between the prophets duties. All of them should be considered as prophets. However, our beloved Prophet must be held superior above the others, he said, reciting the 253. ayah that states that Some prophets are more superior than otherss.
This event was the inspiration for Suleiman Chalebis famous Mawlid eulogy, Wasila al- Neja (the Salvation Occasion). It is a highly literate and sincere piece. The piece consists of many parts: münacat (invocation), veladet (birth), risalet (prophethood), mirac (ascension), rıhlet (death) and prayers.The Mawlid which explains the faith of the ehl-i Sunnah is a unique literary work.
Due to its length, the parts about the invocation, birth, ascension of Muhammad and prayers are often only read during Mawlids. As there is no mourning in Islam, the parts about death are not read. Reading ayahs (verses) from the Quran and reciting Islamic song-poems nasheeds in between is a custom. At the end of each verse of the Mawlid, people make dhikr (chants) by reciting Hayy!, one of Allahs 99 names meaning the Living.