Tunisians Celebrate Birth of Prophet Mohammed

By Wiem Melki | Feb 3 2012 Share on Linkedin Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google Share on pinterest Print

Tags: Arabic ,Holiday ,Islamic calendar ,Mawlid ,salafists ,

Bowl of Assida

The prophet's birthday, known as Mawlid in colloquial Arabic, will be celebrated tomorrow, February 4. Mawlid is a national holiday in all Muslim countries excluding Saudi Arabia.

Mawlid falls in the month of Rabii Al-Awwal in the Islamic calendar. Since that the Islamic calendar follows the lunar cycle the date of the holiday changes annually in the Gregorian or Western calendar – which Tunisia officially follows. Last year the event was celebrated on February 15, 2011.

Public celebrations of the birth of  Prophet Mohammed did not occur until several centuries after his death. The practice began in Egypt in the 11th century, and featured rituals that included animal sacrifices, torchlight processions, and public sermons. The tradition was later adopted in Syria, and gradually spread throughout a number of Muslim countries.

Celebrating the birth of the Prophet Mohammed has been a source of controversy for Muslim scholars and among ordinary Muslim citizens for centuries. The celebration of this holiday is typically forbidden among adherents of Wahhabism – a religious branch developed in the 18th century by Muslim theologist Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab.

Salafists, followers of a conservative interpretation of the Quran, also denounce the celebration of the holiday, as they consider it heretical.

“There is nothing in the Muslim Shariaa [the set of laws derived from Muslim holy texts] or in the Holy Quran that compels Muslims to celebrate the prophet Mohammed’s birthday. This meal could be prepared at any time of the year,” stated Yassine, a young Tunisian Salafist.

However, in spite of the differing perspectives regarding the appropriateness of commemorating the holiday, many Tunisian mosques celebrate by organizing special sermons to honor the Prophet’s birth.

Kairouan Mosque at Night

Families typically start preparing for this occasion a few days in advance, and markets are animated by Tunisians rushing to buy “Zigougou (Aleppo pine seeds) – a key ingredient in Assida, the holiday’s signature dish.

Assida consists of two layers of differently flavored and colored creams – a black cream, prepared with the Aleppo pine seeds, and a white pastry cream, made with milk, eggs, sugar, and starch. The dish is often topped with a layer of dried fruits and candies.

On the night of the Prophet’s birthday, relatives gather to enjoy each others’ company. Neighbors greet each other and exchange bowls of assida as a sign of camaraderie and appreciation.

In spite of the social upheaval that Tunisian society has faced over the course of the past year, the festivities associated with this holiday will continue to serve as an ageless pillar of tradition in uncertain times.

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    Thank you Ms. Melki! Beautiful article! the picture of the Assida makes me drewl, and the picture of our great Mosque gives me sense of reassurance that I belong to a great civilization. I also learned a couple of things from the article that I did not know before.
    Happy holidays to all Tunisians!

  1. ASalam Alikum
    I am so happy that Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) birth day is celebrated, in my home Country Maldives it was celebrated and the Children in School were given information on the Holy Prophet but now its not their but in Islands other than the Capital its still practiced and i am proud to be one who practice

  2. I second you Afif. The Assida makes me drawl. I still can not understand scholars choosing constantly to disaggree instead of the opposit. Why don’t they just focus on agreeing and make people’s lives easier. Is not that their job to help people with HIKMA and the right IJTIHAD.

    The prophet himself used to celebrate his birthday every Monday of the week by fasting that day. Is not that why we fast Mondays? Why don’t we celebrate it in the best we can and move on with our lives? It is really a SUNNA Hamida. Let people have fun with it. At least our kids will remember he was born on a monday and perhaps they will understand why some people fast every Monday not like some ignorant who think people fast because of some payback.
    Anyway, nice to see that our Assida made it to the news. I will celebrate it till I die.

    • Sallam Souad!

      I completely agree, I think its such a nice thing and it brings us as a people closer together and closer to Allah so I enjoy it!
      But I did want to say that fasting on Mondays because it was the Prophets Birthday isnt the only reason why its Sunna to fast on that day. It is just one of the many reasons, but I biggest reason to fast on Mondays and Thursdays is because it is the days that the doors of Janna are opened and are deeds are presented to Allah.
      Monday is also the day that the Prophet was sent down with the first revelation.
      I am not saying your wrong because your right, but I just wanted to let you know about the other reasons why its good to fast on Mondays and Thursdays.

      I hope you and everyone enjoyed the Mawlid :)

      • Amen. You are absolutely right. Thanks for the added info. I just wanted to say that if it were wrong to celebrate, Mohamed PBUH would have avoided Monday just because it coincided with his Birthday. Besides nothing is wrong with celebrating with remembrance of his good deeds and thanks to God for the blessings.
        Mouled Moubarek ISL.