Mawlid al-Nabi is a celebration of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, founder of Islam. The day is fixed at the 12th day of the month of Rabi al-Awwal in the Muslim calendar. Muhammad was born about A. D. 570 and died in A. D. 632. During his life, he established Islam as a religion and, in doing so, replaced tribal loyalty with equality among all Muslims.
At a critical point in his life, Muhammad received a vision of the angel Gabriel who called him into service as a prophet. He later received a second vision of Gabriel who told him to "magnify thy Lord." Muhammad then began to preach publicly in Mecca where he had lived for many years. Many people were receptive to his message but others ridiculed him. Because of the opposition of many citizens of Mecca and threats against him, Muhammad fled to Yathrib in A. D. 622. This journey of nearly 200 miles is known as the Hegira and is so important that the Muslim calendar begins with the year of the Hegira.
The Mawlid al-Nabi was first observed around the thirteenth century and was preceded by a month of celebration. The actual day of Muhammad's birthday included a sermon, recitation of litanies, honoring of religious dignitaries, gift giving, and a feast. The festival spread throughout the Muslim world and is celebrated in many countries today. However, some conservative sects (e.g., the Wahhabiyah) consider the celebration to be idolatrous.