The Peace Corps has three main goals, with the Third Goal focusing on bringing our host countries to our readership. With that being said, understanding my host country is exceedingly important to me, and one of my own goals is to bring a deeper understanding of everything Morocco to all of my readers. “Moroccan Mondays” are blog posts specifically catered to educating all of you about my host country, not necessarily the Peace Corps.
Yesterday, December 11th, was the first day of the next two years of my life.
I was excited, overwhelmed, and terrified.
I also arrived on a less-than-conventional day, because yesterday’s sunset marked the beginning of a 24-hour celebration of the Prophet’s birthday (the evening of December 11th to the evening of December 12th).
Known as Eid al-Mawlid an-Nabi (Festival of the birth of the Prophet) in Arabic, Muhammad’s birthday is an intriguing day within Muslim culture. Unlike most Christian holidays (think, Christmas or Easter), Muslims generally don’t celebrate Muhammad’s birthday to the same degree. The third month of the Islamic calendar is known as Rabi’ al-awwal, and Sunni Muslims generally recognize the Prophet’s birthday on the 12th day of this calendar, while Shia Muslims tend to recognize it on the 17th day. Morocco is overwhelmingly Sunni, meaning the vast majority of Moroccans are celebrating today. Not all Muslims celebrate this day, however. Mawlid is often associated with Sufi sects of Islam, and some countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar (Wahhabi and Salafi, respectively), don’t publicly recognize the holiday, viewing it as an unnecessary religious innovation (bid’ah). The reason behind this? Muhammad himself didn’t celebrate his own birth, and Muslims who do celebrate it are often viewed by those who don’t as somewhat presumptuous.
Regardless of how one may feel about this matter, the fact remains that Mawlid an-Nabi is now listed among the public holidays of nearly every country across the Muslim world. Along with the two Eids (Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha), this holiday is now widely celebrated by Muslims of different sectarian and tariqa backgrounds. To those who do celebrate the holiday, Mawlid is a day when the Surah (the life story of the Prophet) is revisited and celebrated.
As for me, when night began to envelope my first day of Peace Corps life, I was arguably a mess of emotions. With one day down, and indisputably hundreds to go, I was more than a little dazed. However, fully aware that no day is complete without a bottomless glass of mint tea and fifteen jolly Moroccans talking a mile a minute—and wrongly assuming that I could easily collapse into bed by 8 PM with a good book—I wasn’t entirely surprised when just minutes from attempting to retreat to my room, I was hauled in a rag-doll-like-fashion to my aunt’s house for a Mawlid dinner party. I have a theory that consistent caffeine throughout the day gives Moroccans incomprehensible superpowers, and late-night force-feedings are difficult to swallow, both literally and figuratively.
However, I enjoy these cultural events, and I looked forward to the evening ahead. Dinner (a dish called Rfissa) was served promptly at 10:30 PM, followed by the spontaneous singing of the Moroccan Mawlid song titled “Al Bashir al Nadhir,” at around 11 PM.
Here’s a video of the song:
School wasn’t in session today, so everyone in the house slept in until well-past 10 AM. We spent much of the day lazing around, but my family (and extended family) really wanted me to see my new home. We took a dreamy stroll throughout the entire town at twilight, and let me add that my town, a suburb of a larger city, lies directly on the Atlantic Ocean. Each sunset is a fairly moving event, and whilst on our walk, in the spontaneous Moroccan fashion, a photoshoot ensued:
After the sun dipped below the horizon line, we moseyed back to my house, ending our 24-hour celebration of the Prophet’s birth the same way we started it—toasting with steaming cups of mint tea.