Faith & Reason: A Hair from the Beard of the Prophet British Muslims Are Learning to Embrace a Festival Which Points Them Aw Ay from Treasured Cultural Traditions and towards a Central Religious Truth
Nahdi, Fuad, The Independent (London, England)
LAST WEEK a catastrophe that had the potential to shock the Muslim world was mysteriously averted. A single beard-hair of the Prophet Mohamed, which since 1571 had lain in a glass case in a mosque in Istanbul, was stolen, only to be returned the next day. According to Turkish media reports the sacred relic was stolen from the Gazi Ahmed Pasha Mosque while the imam was preparing for noon prayers. But it was returned hours later, left outside the mosque.
The hair is part of the most valuable collection of memorabilia in the Islamic world, which includes several other beard-hairs, a footprint of the Prophet and part of his cloak - all on public display in Istanbul's Topkapi Palace, once the seat of the Ottoman Caliphate regarded as the leaders of the Islamic world for over four centuries.
Neither the identity of the thieves nor the reason why they changed their minds is clear. Security has been doubled and special prayers for the protection of these holy treasures, which attract thousands of visitors every year, have been performed. But the rumours keep making the rounds. "It's another plot by the Zionists," claim some. "No, it's the Serbs this time," say others. In the uproar the believers, however, are agreed on one thing: the existence and safety of the relics over centuries are a mi'ujiza (a miracle). It is a concept that the majority of Muslims across the globe understand and appreciate particularly during this month when they celebrate the Prophet's birthday, the Mawlid an-Nabi. Over the centuries these celebrations have been an important feature in the spiritual renewal and training of Muslim communities. The celebration of the Holy Prophet's birthday, an event of unique importance in mankind's religious history, is classed as bid'a hasana (a good innovation) in the weighty tomes of classical fiqh (Islamic law). Although mawlid was not known in its present form to the early Muslims, its immense value in inculcating love for the Prophet, and the fact that it does not contradict any principle of Islam means that it is considered mustahabb (recommended) by the jurists. Today the birthday of the Blessed Prophet is a national holiday in 47 countries. But the style of the celebrations varies greatly from land to land. In Egypt, sugar dolls are sold on the streets; in Java, kettle-drums are beaten in jungle villages. The blessing power of the mawlid is acknowledged everywhere in the Muslim world. But the religious aspects of the holiday have a unified purpose: to increase love for the Final Prophet in the hearts of ordinary Muslim believers. Typically the celebration of mawlid takes place in a mosque. …