‘Indeed Allah conferred a great favour on the believers when he sent among them a Messenger from among themselves, reciting unto them His verses, and purifying them, and instructing them (in) the Book (Quran) and Al-Hikmah, (the wisdom and the Sunnah of the Prophet (saw)), while before that they had been in manifest error’. (Qur’an, 3:164)
Rabi’-ul-Awwal is the third month of the Islamic calendar, following Muharram and Safar. The name Rabiul Awwal which literally means the first spring was introduced during the pre-Islamic era, approximately in 412 CE, i.e. during the days of Kilāb ibn Murrah, the fifth great grandfather of our Prophet Muḥammad PBUH. It was reported that the Thamūd of al-ʿArab al-Bāʾidah (the extinguished Arabs) called it as Mwrid whilst al-ʿArab al-ʿĀribah (the Arabic Arabs), or as some would term as al-ʿArab al-Bāqiyah (the endured Arabs), named it Ṭalīq. No name was reported from al-ʿArab al-Mustaʿribah (the Arabised Arabs). It seems that the month was known in the pre-Islamic Arabian Peninsula as al-Khawwān which denotes betrayals. Historians assumed that it was named as such for the increasing number of betrayals that will usually take place in this month due to armed fights that often started in the preceding month, Nājir (the force of thirst). This happens because the first month that is al-Muʾtamar or al-Muʾtamir is the sacred month of conference and consultation where attacks are prohibited and must be delayed to the second month, except when the latter is brought forward. The pre-Islamic Arabs of the peninsula have later changed their names to Muḥarram and Ṣafar, and whenever Ṣafar is brought forward to allow for a fight, they are deemed Ṣafarān (the two Ṣafars). One shall look up the various interpretation of the system of nasīʾ in the Arabic pre-Islamic calendar to have a better grasp of the dating system. Nevertheless, there are several opinions for the reason of the name Rabiul Awwal. It is supposed to refer to its position during the pre-Islamic period within the Arab’s six-season scheme; two months of first spring, two months of summer, two months of heat, two months of second spring, two months of autumn and two months of winter. Some said it happened that the month occurred in the first spring during the naming exercise. Others viewed that it is the month where the Arabs tend to grow (tarbīʿ) their ownings particularly animals acquired from the spoils of wars they joined in the previous month. There are also those who opined that the month came in autumn where people and animals would keep themselves irtibāʿ or in waiting (literally vernalization). However, the Arabs called it spring (rabīʿ) for better luck. The final view argues that there is no connection between the names of the months and the names of the seasons. Arabs, according to them, referred to rabīʿ by two types of ‘spring’: the ‘spring’ months and the spring season. The spring or growing months refer to Rabiul Awwal and Rabiul Thani that occur after Ṣafar, whilst the spring season is of two times; the first is when truffles and iris are blooming and the second is when fruits are ready to be harvested. When Islam came, the name of Rabiul Awwal was retained. Hence, the birth of Prophet Muḥammad (PBUH) was remembered to be in Rabiul Awwal, and not by the name Khawwān. This is the first event of Sīrah that took place in Rabiul Awwal and the most celebrated one by Muslims across the world from the beginning of the sixth/twelfth century, regardless of its various forms of celebration from reading a book of prophetic biography to commemorative rituals and ceremonial events. It was proposed by some that the pious ascetic Muʿīn al-Dīn Abū Ḥafṣ ʿUmar ibn Muḥammad ibn Khiḍr (570AH/1174CE) of Erbil, also known as ʿUmar al-Malla, was the first to host commemorative sessions at his zāwiyah (lodge) in Mosul. Many, however, attributed it to the Fatimids particularly its fourth king, al-Muʿizz li-Dīn Allāh (re. 341-365ΑΗ/953-975CE) who made it an official annual festival alongside several other birthday celebrations. The third view argues that it was al-Malik al-Muʿaẓẓam Muẓaffar al-Dīn Abū Saʿīd Gökböri (d.630AH/1232CE), the King of Erbil who initiated the proper grand celebration in 620AH. A book titled al-Tanwīr fī Mawlid al-Sirāj al-Munīr was composed by the ḥadīth scholar Ibn Diḥyah al-Kalbī (d.633AH/1235CE) following the request of the king. The exact date of the birthday has been a point of dispute amongst Muslim scholars and it ranges between 2nd, 8th, 9th, 10th, 12th, and 17th of Rabiul Awwal. Similarly, Muslim scholars also debated over the validity of the celebration between acceptance or considering it as a heretical innovation. Nevertheless, they agreed on the occurrence of the birth in Rabiul Awwal except for a single view that pointed out Ramaḍān instead. It was also reported that from amongst the suggestions for the first month of the hijrī calendar during the time of ʿUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb was Rabiul Awwal for it would remind the community of the birth of the Prophet. Three significant events occurred during this month.
Rabi-ul Awwal is a blessed month as many significant events happened in the Prophet’s life during this time. To make the most of this time, Muslims around the world should perform the following acts: During Rabi ul-Awwal, Muslims should increase their salutation upon the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Doing so will earn them blessings from the Prophet and the favour of Allah as the Prophet once said that whoever sends good wishes for me, Allah will send tenfold blessings upon him. This is an excellent occasion to learn more about the life and deeds of the Prophet.
The Prophet (saw) was born in Makkah on a Monday in Rabi’-ul-Awwal, though narrations differ on the exact date. His birth had been anticipated for a long time with Isa (as) mentioning it to his people five centuries earlier: ’And remember when Isa, the son of Maryam, said, “O Children of Israel! I am the messenger of Allah [sent] to you, confirming the Torah (Law) [which came] before me, and giving glad tidings of a Messenger to come after me, whose name shall be Ahmad”’. (Qur’an, 61:6). Ibrahim (as) and Isma’il (as) had also prayed for the Prophet’s (saw) birth when they were rebuilding the Ka’bah: ‘Our Lord send among them a messenger from themselves who will recite to them Your verses and teach them the Book and wisdom and purify them. Indeed, You are the Exalted in Might, the Wise’. (Qur’an, 2:129). Muhammad’s (saw) arrival was much anticipated, and it was widely recognized that he was a blessed and special child. Even his name was unique and unheard of at the time, meaning ‘one who is praised’. His (saw) mother, Aaminah, was conscious of a light within her when she was pregnant with him, which one day shone from her so intensely that she could see the castles and palaces of Syria. (Ibn Ishaq) . The Prophet’s (saw) foster mother, Halimah, had been hoping for a rich child to nurse, because her family was suffering from drought. Nevertheless, she took fatherless Muhammad (saw) as her foster child, and her family were blessed for years afterwards: The Prophet (saw) and his Companion, Abu Bakr (ra), immigrated from Makkah to Yathrib during Rabi’-ul-Awwal. This event is known as the Hijrah, and we date the Islamic calendar from it (the first year they spent in Madinah was the first Islamic year). The Islamic year is denoted by ‘AH’, which stands for ‘After Hijrah’. Umar (ra) said, ‘The Hijrah has separated truth from falsehood, so calculate dates from it’. (Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani). The Hijrah marked the beginning of a new chapter for Muslims. The Prophet (saw) united the tribes of Yathrib, guiding them with justice, wisdom, and mercy and the city of Yathrib became known as ‘Madinah al-Munawarah’, the Illuminated City, now called Madinah. The Prophet (saw) left Makkah with Abu Bakr (ra) and they crossed the desert to Quba, a town near Yathrib. They stayed there for three days and built the first masjid, before travelling to Yathrib, where they would begin building a second one known today as Masjid An-Nabi. The Prophet (saw) greeted the people of Quba by saying, ‘O people, give one another greetings of peace, feed the hungry, honour the ties of kinship, and pray in the hours when men sleep. Then you shall enter Paradise in peace’. The anniversary of the Hijrah should remind us of these words. In both Quba and Madinah, the Prophet (saw) established a community centered around Allah’s worship, where the beautiful lessons of the Qur’an and Sunnah were followed. The Prophet (saw) said, ‘Leave me as I leave you, for the people who were before you were ruined because of their questions and their differences over their prophets. So, if I forbid you to do something, then keep away from it. And if I order you to do something, then do of it as much as you can’. (Bukhari). On 12th Rabi’-ul-Awwal, in the eleventh year of Islam, the Prophet (saw) passed away. He had been ill for a few days, and his family and closest friends knew that it would soon be time for him to go back to Allah (swt). A day or two before his death, he had gone into the Masjid and told the people from the pulpit, ‘There is a slave amongst the slaves of God to whom God has offered the choice between this world and that which is with Him, and the slave has chosen that which is with God’. Anas (ra) later said, ‘I never saw the Prophet’s face more beautiful than it was at that hour’. The Prophet’s (saw) death shocked Muslims and some even refused to believe that he had passed away. Abu Bakr (ra), however, reminded the people that the Prophet (saw) was only a human messenger, and he was not immortal. Abu Bakr (ra) said, ‘O people! If it was Muhammad whom you worshipped, then know that he is dead. But if it is Allah whom you worshipped, then know that He does not die’. Umar (ra) said afterwards, ‘When I heard Abu Bakr recite that verse, I was so astounded that I fell to the ground. My legs would no longer carry me, and I knew that Allah’s Messenger had died’. Allah had presented the Prophet (saw) with the choice to live a little longer or to return to Him but the Prophet (saw) chose to return to him. The grief and sorrow felt by the Muslims was immense, especially in Madinah. They were grieving not just for the Prophet (saw), whom they loved more than anyone else, but for the end of Revelation: ‘I don’t weep for him’, said Umm Ayman, who had been like a mother to the Prophet (saw). ‘Don’t I know that he has gone to something which is better for him than this world? But I weep for the tidings of Heaven which have been cut off from us.’ Unlike, the months of Ramadan or Dhul Hijjah, it is not obligatory to fast, pray or make du’a during Rabi’-ul-Awwal. However, the events that took place during this month make it special and one that deserves our attention and respect. The birth of the Prophet (saw) was ‘a mercy to the worlds’ (Qur’an, 21:107), and Allah(swt) chose Rabi’-ul-Awwal to illuminate us with this mercy. This is the time to be grateful to Allah (saw) for the amazing blessing of sending the Prophet (saw) to us and guiding us to His Light.The month of Rabi’-ul-Awwal is also a good time to revive and strengthen your connection with the Prophet (saw) and his Sunnah. Afterall, it is only through the sacrifices, efforts, and immense love of the Prophet (saw) that we have been given the incredible guidance of the Qur’an and Sunnah. Allah says in the Qur’an: ‘Indeed Allah conferred a great favour on the believers when he sent among them a Messenger from among themselves, reciting unto them His verses, and purifying them, and instructing them (in) the Book (Quran) and Al-Hikmah, (the wisdom and the Sunnah of the Prophet (saw)), while before that they had been in manifest error’. (Qur’an, 3:164). The date of the birth of the Prophet is not the only contested event among Muslims. Whether or not the event should be celebrated is also under debate. While some people believe that the Prophet and his companions never observed such events and do not consider it an Islamic obligation nor an act of merit to celebrate the day, other people spend it in joy and zest. They put on bright and coloured lights on streets and homes and exchange sweets and drinks. Here is how the event is observed across different parts of the world: During Rabi ul-Awwal, the local communities in India and Pakistan hold events like Mehfil-e-Naat and Mehfil-e-Zikr. In the evening, the people gather at mosques to pray to Allah and the atmosphere is abuzz with Naats (poetry on the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and religious sermons). On the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) community meals are organised and friends and family are invited for feasts in Egypt. This month is celebrated in Europe and western countries gracefully and pleasingly. During this time, the people in these countries gather and discuss the life and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). They talk about specific instances from his life and discuss the meaning behind his every action. In most Muslim countries in the Middle East, where birth of the Prophet is celebrated, Bara Rabi ul-Awwal is a public holiday. On this day, the people gather and remember the Prophet, his life, and his preaching. They celebrate the event by recalling and following the ideologies that the Prophet encouraged people to follow in their day-to-day lives. We should strive to follow the Sunnah of the Prophet (saw) in our daily lives and the best way to do this is to read and understand the Qur’an. We know that the ‘The Prophet is closer to the believers than their own selves’. (Qur’an, 33:6) but if we do not feel this closeness to the Prophet (saw), the solution is simple: learn more about his character and his life, and naturally, our love for him will grow. Reading the Seerah (the Prophet’s (saw) biography) is a good place to begin. It might be a good idea to start following Prophetic habits, such as visiting the sick and elderly, smiling often, and giving charity. Rabi-ul Awwal is a blessed month as many significant events happened in the Prophet’s life during this time. To make the most of this time, Muslims around the world should perform the following acts: During Rabi ul-Awwal, Muslims should increase their salutation upon the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Doing so will earn them blessings from the Prophet and the favour of Allah as the Prophet once said that whoever sends good wishes for me, Allah will send tenfold blessings upon him. This is an excellent occasion to learn more about the life and deeds of the Prophet. During this time, Muslims should perform more acts of Sunnah and inculcate them in their way of life. People can start by fasting on Mondays and giving donations to the needy.Take this month as an opportunity to build good habits that we can emulate throughout the year. This is the ultimate blessing and significance of Rabi’-ul-Awwal.
(The authors write regularly on “Islamic topics” exclusively for “Kashmir Horizon”. The views, opinions, facts, assumptions, presumptions and conclusions expressed in this article are those of the author and aren’t necessarily in accord with the views of “Kashmir Horizon”.)