It’s the prophets birthdays! Prophet Jesus yes, (peace be upon him) but also the prophet who followed 600 years later. That’s right. Yesterday it was Prophet Muhammad’s 1,446th birthday (peace be upon him). It isn’t always like that i.e. Muslims and Christians are celebrating the prophets’ birthdays in December. You know why? Because we Muslims follow the lunar calendar. Next year, Prophet Muhammad’s birthday will move 10 days earlier, perhaps December 1st, and then November 20th in 2018. But lets relish the feeling while it lasts: celebrating our blessings together.
Isn’t it interesting how each faith expresses its blessings in their own way! I love the lights of Christmas—who doesn’t! And I love the sounds of Eid Milad un Nabi. By the way, that translates into: celebration of the prophet’s birth. Every December, New York City sparkles and twinkles; and on every Eid Milad un Nabi, women gather in homes and recite poetry, sing poems in praise of the Prophet Muhammad, and read stories from his life. When I was growing up in Pakistan, Mummy would invite the ladies into her drawing room, push aside the furniture (not she, but her help), lay out sheets on the rug, set up cushions against the wall, light incense burners, and when the ladies gathered filling up every inch on the rug, she would get up every now and then and sprinkle rose water over them. The ladies would cover their hair with a dupatta, sit in reverence, as an elderly auntie would open the session by offering peace and blessings on the prophet. Everyone would join the chant. The auntie would relate stories, and in between, I would sing naats—poems in praise of the prophet. We called it the Milad. It was a ladies thing. Since women did not go to the mosques in Pakistan, this was their way of creating a sacred space for themselves.
Then I came to New York. Then I had children – boys. So we made the Milad a unisex celebration, and I taught my boys the naats. Of course, the naats were all in Urdu and my boys didn’t understand Urdu, definitely not the literary Urdu that poetry was made of. But they humored mom and sang away in their American accent. Thirty years ago, in the 1980s, any attempt to Anglicize naats was considered sacrilege. My argument that’ God is bilingual’ was—I won’t even go there.
Thankfully, our children are so much more sensible than their off-the-boat—sorry, off-the-plane parents.
Yesterday, I watched my four-year old granddaughter, celebrate Eid Milad un Nabi, not by singing naats, but by acting in a play ‘The spider and the cave’. Actually, according to her, she is ‘four-and-three-quarters’. The Cordoba House Sunday school had put up the performance, showcasing the story of Prophet Muhammad’s exodus from Mecca to Medina—without the prophet. When persecuted, he and his companions had fled and taken refuge in a cave. A spider spun a web on the mouth of the cave, and when their pursuers reached the cave, seeing a spider’s web, they assumed that no one would be inside, turned back. He made his way safely and took refuge in Medina, and that date marks the beginning of the Muslim calendar, similar to the exodus marking the beginning of the Jewish calendar. Getting back to the play—it was the cutest show on earth. Our children had found a novel way for their children to celebrate their blessings in an American setting, side-by-side with Christmas—literally. The foyer of the venue was adorned with a sparkling Christmas tree, and in the theater, Muslims children were—well I just described that. And the play was a musical—with violins and drums, and mommies and daddies in the audience had to, I mean had to join the chorus when the angels fluttered in. The festival of Eid Milad had been Americanized—wholly American and wholly Islamic. Good job!
My take away: There is more than one way of doing the right thing. And there is more than one way of celebrating our blessings.