Youman Nabi, also known as Mawlid al Nabi, is the celebration of the birthday of the Muhammad, the founding prophet of Islam. Although Islam claims earlier prophets all the way back to Adam, the first man, it holds up Muhammad as the final prophet who gave definitive shape to the Islamic religion.
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Despite only 10 percent of Guyanans being Muslim, Youman Nabi has been a public holiday and paid off-work day in Guyana for decades. It is celebrated on the 12th day of the Islamic lunar month of Rabi al Awwal and moves back 10 or more days each year on the Gregorian solar calendar. In 2015, an interesting situation arose, where it occurred twice in one year, on January 4th and December 24th. The second occurrence being on Christmas Eve, just before Christians celebrated Jesus’ birth, highlighted the multi-religious holiday policy of Guyana’s government.
Interestingly, there is much disagreement among Muslims about the birth of Muhammad. First, it is Sunnis who hold he was born on the 12th of Rabi al Awwal, while Shia Muslims claim it was actually on the 17th of that same month. As most of Guyana’s Muslim population immigrated from India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, which are overwhelmingly Sunni, the Sunni date is observed in Guyana. Second, there are some Muslims who believe it is anti-Islam to celebrate birthdays in general, and especially that of Muhammad. Thus, while some go out and join in festivities, others insist on staying home to read the Koran. Still others fast every Monday to honour Muhammad’s birth, since he is said to have been born on a Monday, instead of observing his annual birthday. All sides cite the Koran and Hadiths to support their views.
Muhammad was born in Mecca, the present-day “capital city of Islam,” over 1,400 years ago, in A.D. 570 on the Western calendar. At the time of his birth, Arabia was steeped in polytheistic idolatry, but by the time of his death, reportedly the very same day of the year on which he was born, Arabia and beyond were Islamic. The Koran credits this change to the high moral character of his life and the revelation he is said to have received from Allah. Thus, Muslims in Guyana attend mosque to learn what the Koran and Hadiths tell them to emulate from Muhammad’s life on Youman Nabi. They also give gifts, indulge in feasting, and sometimes join in parades.
Three things to do if in Guyana for Youman Nabi include:
- Eat a famous Youman Nabi Guyanan food called “saralee”. It is a sweet pastry made of flour, butter, and cream. Muslims in Guyana give saralee away as a gift to friends and relatives this time of year, but you might also find some in a local bakery.
- See the motorcade from Windsor Forest to Cornelia Ida, a new tradition that is planned to be extended soon to other areas of Guyana. At one point, the parade of vehicles slows down and is joined by celebrants walking on foot, and then, the whole procession moves on to the Guyana Centre of Cultural Islam for food and a special program.
- Attend special lectures in Georgetown put on by Islamic scholars of the CIOG (Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana). There are additional events of this kind in Berbice, Linden, and other towns as well.
Though only a tenth of the population is Muslim, Guyana has a number of annual events celebrating Muhammad’s birthday, and the list of activities seems to be growing with each passing year.