Muwlid and Muslim Nativity Scenes…

Muwlid is an arabic word that means “Birth” and tends to allude to the birth of the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon Him) and is a celebration of Prophet Muhammed’s birthday. It falls on the first day of the Islamic month of Rabii’ (which in Arabic means the month of Spring) and is the third month in the Islamic calendar. While the birth of the Prophet is important to all Muslims, not all Muslims make it a point to celebrate it in the celebratory sense of the word- but- is marked as an important event (obviously) for historical and spiritual  reasons.

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I am one of those Muslims who grew up in a secular family. My mother was the only one who was observant of the faith and it is through her that I became acquainted with the stories of the prophets (prophets found in the old testament, new testatment, and the Quran). Whenever I would visit Egypt, her parents (my grandparents) would also tell the stories of the prophets to me and I would linger with two stories in particular, the story of Prophet Moses (Peace be upon Him) and Prophet Jesus (Peace be upon Him). Jesus in particular made an impression on me as a child seeing that I grew up in Sweden. I would be reminded yearly of the birth of Jesus through Christmas and his ascension through Easter. But you see…the stories in the Muslim version, though similar to the Judeo-Christian versions were still quite different. Very much like the cultures that I, at an early age, had to swim between. 

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Christmas lights, Christmas concerts, Christmas markets is the religious fanfare and celebrations that I grew up knowing. The story of Jesus is the one I grew up remembering, loving, and recognizing. That is, both versions. The same went for all the other prophets. I loved their stories. Both versions (and in some cases there are three versions) And each story is one I would revisit several times through out my spiritual journey. However, for the story of the Prophet Muhammed, the Prophet I was taught was mine- there was only one version. A final version. And it was the one I knew the least about….despite my mother’s continuous and illustrious attempts to plant Him in my heart. 

Though he is the only prophet for whom there is an assured physical home that you can go visit and phyiscally see, it is his face and character….for some reason that was hardest for me to visualize. I would carefully listen to my grandparents….my mother…and other adults whom I highly respected speak of him. They would speak of Him with such love, respect, and reverence it was almost as though they knew him. Who was this man that could make my mother shed tears? who was this man that brought my grandfather’s forehead to the ground five times a day? who was this man who inspired people to be kinder to animals, to the planet, to women but who brought people closer to what they believed to be God? I did not set out to find out for myself until I turned 21. 

This is when Prophet Muhammed’s birth became important to me. Every year the Prophet’s Birthday very much like Jesus- arrives to be remembered. To be celebrated. For me, it has become a renewed attempt to get to know Him….just a little bit better than before. Not just by reading about Him but to visualize Him. To imagine what it might have been like…where he lived, what Mecca looked like at the time, and what drove him to set out on a journey of enlightenment. 

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This year, the 1st of Rabii fell towards the end of November….quite close to December, which is the month where my Christian cousins celebrate Prophet Jesus (Peace and Prayers be upon Him). Like every year, the nativity scenes are out and we are once again visually reminded of the birth of Christ. The journey our Lady Mary made to keep baby Jesus safe…how lost and fatigued she was when it was finally time for Jesus to be born to the world….this miracle boy without a father. It was during the end of Novemeber where I decided to start a new tradition for myself. To build a gingerbread Muslim nativity scene (which ended up being an arabic gingerbread house without much of a scene. The scene will come next year).

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Building this nativity scene made me dig deep. Again. Bear in mind, different from the Christian tradition- as Muslims we are not permitted to create any physical representations of any of the Prophets or their family members. So, this pushes me further to recreate a very important moment- whose leading characters will not be represented in any way or form. This, instead, made me lay weight on imagining the Arabian desert, the sky with numerous stars, traditional mud houses, perhaps the sounds of cattle and the low rumbling of a camel nearby…the pain that our Lady Amina (May God be pleased with Her) went through of possibly not surviving the Prophet’s birth….and its through these inner images that I tried my best to recreate the Prophet’s birth. 

Building this gingerbread house also called upon the efforts of dear friends who probably contemplated unfriending me towards the end of the process. Its such a humble little house….but took forever to prepare for, to bake, and to build. Making this house was very much like my spiriual journey, in fact its quite an accurate symbol of it. A struggle. Sometimes you just want to give up, tear it apart, throw it in the trash and watch 10 episodes of the Cosby Show in a row. But you dont. Because you have made a choice and so you stick with it. You do your best. 

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When the house was done. We took a few steps back and admired it. It was not too bad. We then switched off the lights and lit a small candle inside and it instantly looked cozier and the tiniest bit more magical. I felt proud of the house. It was my first and I know it will not be my last. I would like to think that this is a tradition that I have started for myself and will want to pass on, very much the same way my mother passed on her vision of the Prophet (Peace and Prayers be upon Him) to me. It is a way for me to remember His birth through inner imagery and to create something that will strengthen my own vision so that I will not always have the need to rely on the vision of others. In His story I find pieces of my own, in His birth I find a renewed birth of myself, and in his asipirations I begin to see mine, just a bit clearer. 

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