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Bilal Chisthy and the National Sufi Ensemble playing Qawwali.

Photo Credit: Rooya Rahin / The Daily Princetonian

Hundreds gathered in the University Chapel on Friday, Feb. 7, to celebrate Mawlid, a Muslim holiday commemorating the birth and life of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The crowd included students, faculty, and residents of Princeton and surrounding areas.

Now in its 11th year, the event brings Muslims and non-Muslims together for the biggest Muslim event on the University’s campus. The show was hosted by the University’s Muslim Life Program (MLP). This year’s show included recitations from the Q’uran, the Muslim holy book, along with performances of Qawwali, a form of spiritual music derived from South Asian traditions.

According to MLP Coordinator and University Chaplain Imam Sohaib Sultan, coming together to celebrate the Prophet (pbuh) also means “coming together to celebrate the greatest potentialities within us” and reminds the community of how people should aspire to live.

“It’s a great symbolic act that the most historically and culturally significant space on this campus, for one evening, becomes a place of Muslim devotion and Muslim contemplation. It speaks volumes about how Princeton University … has become increasingly multi-faith,” said Imam Sohaib on the significance of holding Mawlid in the Chapel.

The Muslim holiday of Mawlid is celebrated in Rabī' al-Awwal, the 3rd month on the Islamic lunar calendar. Imam Sohaib noted, however, that Muslims are always celebrating Mawlid and the Prophet (pbuh). 

While Mawlid is marked by an official date, according to Imam Sohaib, “the spirit of the Mawlid is celebrated throughout the year.” Imam Sohaib also stated that by MLP tradition, the University community marks Mawlid on the first Friday of each spring semester. 

This year’s Mawlid event brought Qawwali singer Bilal Chishty and the National Sufi Ensemble to the University to perform traditional songs.

“Qawwali is a way of accessing the inner beauty of the human voice … it’s about making sounds that are universal and using those sounds to allow the soul to roar,” Imam Sohaib said.

Shafaq Khan ’21 and Cameron Khan ’23 led the evening as co-hosts. Many of the night’s performances outside of the main event were organized by students in the University’s Muslim Students’ Association (MSA).

“I am Pakistani American and so it was exciting for me to co-host an event on South Asian Sufi devotional music,” said Khan ’21. “As I’ve grown up in a Punjabi household, my parents have always enjoyed Qawwali music and it was really powerful to listen and appreciate that independently in college.” 

Several community members led prayers and performed music. For example, Shaykh Muhammad Adeyinka Mendes, the Imam at the Muslim Center of Greater Princeton, shared an original song.

“Imams can write songs too,” he said, with a laugh.

“The event was great, and the people on stage were amazing. It made me really happy,” said attendee Rena Kashari ’23.

Alaa Ghoneim ’20 agreed, saying she found the event meaningful.

“It was really wonderful,” she said, noting that while she has attended every Mawlid celebration since her first year at the University, she most enjoyed this year’s event and performances.

Afterwards, the performers and audience members gathered at the Chancellor Green Cafe for a potluck dinner. The next day, the MLP hosted a workshop, taught by Bilal Chishty, on Qawwali music.