In 1994, the First International Mawlid al-Nabi Conference was held in Chicago, Illinois, organized by the Peoria-based Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education (NFIE). At the conference, shaykhs and scholars from around the world argued for both the religious precedence and cultural importance of the celebration of the birth of the Prophet. More than 1,200 people from across North America and from overseas attended this spiritual conference, the theme of which was “Love of God and His Prophet.” A second conference, “Spiritual Aspects of Islam,” was held in 1995. Lectures were presented by eminent scholars and Sufi leaders from around the world; devotional poetry in praise of the Prophet Muhammad was delivered in Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Kurdish, Bosnian, and English. Planning for the third annual conference in Chicago included efforts to coordinate with other Muslim organizations to hold similar gatherings in major North American cities during the month of Rabi’ al-Awwal. In 2011, the conference was held in Edison, N.J., with corresponding festivals held in London and Pakistan.
The various ethnic groups in the American Muslim community bring their distinct customs to this festival observance. Some Islamic centers hold special programs for children, where they learn about the character and life of the Prophet, examine the way he dealt with important moral issues and with political and military affairs, how he handled challenges, and how he responded to his enemies and his friends. Children often prepare essays or skits that present important teachings or events in Muhammad’s life. Many Muslims feel that the celebration of the Prophet’s birthday is particularly important in the American context. As one Islamic publication explains: “In our Islamic countries, love of the Prophet…is found everywhere and is encouraged by the society… However here, in the West, no such environment exists and we find ourselves cut off from that connection.”