12 Rabiâ€™ul Awwal, the day our beloved Prophet Muhammad (saws) was born, is a national holiday in Malaysia as it is in every muslim country on earth except one. In the city of Kuching, Sarawak, to where I had just moved from America, there was to be a large parade that morning as there is every year. It was held at the Padang Merdeka or Independence Square, the parade ground in the heart of Kuchingâ€™s historic district. Padang Merdeka is ringed by huge spreading shade trees that are reminiscent of our American Elms. A stage had been erected to allow government ministers to speak to the crowds.
My son and I arrived too early, and so we had to stand for a good deal of speechifying from the assembled dignitaries. Although politiciansâ€™ speeches are much the same the world over, it was nonetheless impressive to see them gather at such an occasion to praise Allahâ€™s Praised One. Not catching much of the speech, we wandered through the crowd. All the contingents preparing to march stood with their banners and decorations. Many were splendidly dressed in loud colorful matching uniforms of pinks, reds, blues, and greens. Many gentlemen were wearing songkit, a fancy sarong woven with gold or silver threads that is worn over Baju Melayu on formal occasions. So many different patterns were on display! My son caught sight of a neighborhood friend and was soon weaving in and out of the colorful throngs, giving chase to his friends.
The day started to drizzle as the speeches ended and the various contingents from the public schools, villages, neighborhood mosques and government offices began to march. Soon the air was filled with sounds of praise for RasulAllah. The gathering gloom of rainclouds was enlivened by the colorful uniforms, and the nasheed and salawat sung out accompanied by kompang. The kompang is a hand drum about the size of a tambourine. It is always played as a group, with one half playing half the rhythm, the other half, the other. The full rhythm is heard as one when played well in unison. The love and devotion of the crowd was evident as they marched on, singing and drumming even as the rains thickened. Although our city is not a big one, I had the distinct feeling while standing there that, just as in salat, I was joining together with our muslim brothers and sisters around the world to please Allah (swt). Does not Allah (swt) say, â€œVerily, Allah and His angels are sending prayers upon the Prophet; O you who believe, send prayers upon him and blessings of peace.â€
Soon it began to pour, and, stowing my camera, my son and I dashed back to our parking garage. From the top level of the garage, we could see that the paraders had stuck to their route despite the downpour, and we soon heard them approaching the end of the route far below.
Following the parade, many people would retire back to more private gatherings in peopleâ€™s homes, where the evening would be spent commemorating Prophet Muhammadâ€™s life through recitation of the Mawlid Dibaâ€™i or the Mawlid Barzanji, interspersed with nasheed. We carry love for the Prophet, the Best of Creation, in our hearts throughout the year. How fitting it is to gather together and reaffirm our love publicly at every possible opportunity, not least on the blessed day of his birth!
â€œKhayral barriyah, nathrah illayah/
Ma anta illa kanzul attiyahâ€
[Revised and Updated, 17/2/2007]