Milad originates from the Arabic word mawlid. Institutionally, it means the time, date or place of birth, or the celebration of the birthday of a person, especially of the Prophet muhammad (Sm). The word milad is, however, used to mean the time of birth. In the subcontinent, Maulud or Maulud Sharif in place of milad is in vogue, although at present, milad is a common word in Bangladesh. Milad is observed on the 12th Rabi al-Awwal to celebrate the date of birth of Hazrat Muhammad (Sm). Milad mahfils are also held throughout the year on occasions such as births, marriages, the start of a new business, and the moving to a new home.

The episodes relating to the environment in which Hazrat Muhammad (Sm) passed his life are always considered by Muslims as sacred. One of the sacred sites is the Mawlidun-Nabi, the house in today's Suk al-Lail area of Mokkah where Prophet Muhammad (Sm) was born. Not much importance was given to the house in the early days of Islam. Khaizuran, the mother of Khalifa Harunur Rashid, converted the house to one for salat (namaz) in the 2nd century of the Hegira calendar. Muslims used to go to this place of the Prophet's birth and showed reverence as they did it to his tomb in Madina. In time also the reverence in which the house was held found expression in its development in a fitting architectural fashion.

The practice of making written accounts of celebrations of the birthday of Hazrat Muhammad (Sm) as a sacred day began much later. The first such accounts were presented by Ibn Djubair (died 1217), who described that the birthday of the Prophet (Sm) used to be celebrated as a special festival which was different from all festivals observed at the household level. The essential feature of this august festival was a considerable increase in the number of visitors to the Mawlid house (where the milad took place), which was exceptionally open the whole day for this purpose. The rituals observed on the occasion followed as a whole the methods followed by older Muslim dervishes (cult of saints).

With the introduction of new customs in celebrating the birthday of Prophet Muhammad (Sm), the day began to be observed in different ways in different Muslim countries. There are indications of observance of Mawlid-un-Nabi in Egypt during the middle and towards the end of the Fatimid rule. But the consensus opinion of the Muslim writers about the origin of mawlid suggests that mawlid was first introduced by al-Malik Abu Sayyid Muzaffarud-Din Kokburi, a brother-in-law of Sultan Salah-al-din.

The first formal Milad Sharif in history to mark the birthday of Prophet Muhammad (Sm) was held on 12 Rabiul Awwal of 604 Hegira (1207 AD) in Iraq, at a place named Arbela near Mussel. Noted historian Ibn Khallikan gave a detailed description of the observance of the milad or mawlid. Other writers also continued to give description of this first milad of Arbela based on the accounts of Ibn Khallikan (Al-Suyuti, Husn al-Maqsid fi 'amal al-Mawlid). At the suggestion of Kokburi, Ibn Dih'ya composed the manuscript of his book Kitabut-Tanwir fi Mawlidi al-Siraj during his stay at Arbela. The book became a famous one on mawlid.

Mawlid was introduced in Egypt during the period of Gazi Salah-ud-din with the advent of political and religious movement called Saljuk. The custom of observing the festival later spread from Egypt to Mokkah. This resulted in changes in the ways milad had been observed in Mokkah since very old days and milad in Mokkah and Egypt became similar in the form.

The various events of the life of the Prophet (Sm) and the Islamic code of life are discussed on the occasion of milad. Also different verses of the Holy Quran are recited, na'ats that praise the Prophet (Sm) are sung. On special occasions, sermons on Islamic idea of death are presented. Na'ats are usually sung in a chorus.

Milad is recognised by many as the finest expression of reverence for Hazrat Muhammad (Sm), the last Prophet of Islam. According to them, milad evolved for meeting a religious need. This idea has been spread through the Sufi Movement. The idea, however, was opposed by many Muslims since the days of its observance at Arbela. The opponents argue that the festival is a bid'a ie, an innovative custom and is contrary to the Sunnah. But in many Muslim countries, especially in the subcontinent, milad acquired a firm position in the religious life of the people and had, therefore, received sanctions from most alims. In principle, the alims recognised this bid'at as bid'a hasana. According to them, many good deeds are accomplished through the observance of milad. These include, the recital of the Holy Quran, discussion on the Sunnah, expression of delight on the occasion of the birthday of the Prophet (Sm), salutation to and prayers for him, and making of donations and offering of food to the poor.

The opponents hold that milad is to be avoided because the Sufis dance on the occasion (in Turkey), and emotional and un-Islamic manners are seen in a milad. They also argue that some section of people use recitations in milad as a business and on the occasion, tell such false stories for which the real identity of the Prophet (Sm) is shrouded with mystery. They also oppose the practice of recitation of poems in a standing position in honour of the Prophet (Sm) during the period of Ki'am.

The controversy on milad reached its hight in the eighth and ninth centuries but later it subsided. The controversy, however, was revived with the advent of the Wahabis.

Despite the absence of a consensus, Hanafis in Bangladesh (except those of the Deoband School) accepted milad as an auspicious event. (Ahl-e-Hadith sect, however, consider milad as bid'at and thus they consider Ki'am unacceptable.) Milad is observed in Bangladesh on 12 Rabiul Awwal, as well as on many other occasions such as inauguration of a business establishment, entering a new house, birth of a child, death of a person, the anniversaries of birth or death of a person, and the marriage ceremonies. The milad ends with a dua, prayers asking for God's blessings, following which sweets or other foods are distributed among the persons present.

In Bangladesh, milads are held separately for men and women. Women, however, can take part in a milad of men, but they sit in a secluded room. In a milad, the famous na'at written by Sheikh Sadi (R), Balagal-ula bi Kamalihi ... Sallu Alaihi Walihi, relevant portions from the biography of the Prophet (Sm) written by the Bengali poet golam mostafa, and the na'at written by the National Poet kazi nazrul islam are usually presented. [Syed Ashraf Ali]