Fact Check

FALSE: Muslims Declare December 24th an Islamic Holiday

No, Muslims didn't recently decide to reschedule their celebration of the birth of the Prophet Mohammed in order to disrupt Christmas.

Published Dec. 17, 2015

Muslims recently decided to celebrate the birth of the Prophet Mohammed on 24 December (Christmas Eve) in order to preempt Christmas.

On 15 December 2015 anti-Islam blogger Pamela Geller published an article titled "Muslim World Marks December 24 as MUHAMMAD's birthday," tweeting:

As is often the case with Geller's articles, the piece was made up of two lines written by her, followed by an article aggregated from another source. Under the category "Advancing Islamic Lies," Geller wrote:

Nothing is sacred. Everything non-Islamic must be co-opted, falsified, erased.

Not even Christmas, the birth of Jesus, is off limits.

Beneath it was reproduced the entire text of a 13 December 2015 Emirates 24/7 article titled "December 24 is UAE Public Holiday to Mark Prophet's Birthday," the relevant portion of which reported:

Hussain bin Ibrahim Al Hammadi, Minister of Education, and Chairman of the Federal Authority for Government Human Resources, has declared Thursday, December 24, an official holiday for the public sector to mark the birth anniversary of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), postponed from December 23.

Geller's assertion that "[n]othing is sacred" and that "[e]verything non-Islamic must be co-opted, falsified, erased" with respect to the celebration of the Prophet Mohammed's birth was bizarre, given that the article she reproduced in its entirety clearly originated with and described a public holiday in the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is a majority Muslim country, where fully 76 percent of the citizens follow Islam while only 9 percent identify as Christian.

That distinction appeared lost on a large number of people sharing the article and subsequent reproductions of it on social media. Many seemed to believe that the UAE's declaration in some way disrupted American Christmas festivities, while others ordered Muslims to do so "in your own country where you came from." Social media users appeared to interpret the claim presented by Geller to mean that the celebration was a direct analog to Christmas: that just as Christians celebrated Jesus Christ's birth on the fixed date of 25 December, so too would Muslims now (the sudden change clearly being a Muslim encroachment on Christian turf.)

Malaysia's public holidays web site lists the dates of the commemoration of the prophet's birthday this year and next year as 24 December 2015 and 12 December 2016, explaining that:

Prophet Muhammad's birthday is commemorated by Muslims during the month of Rabi' al-awwal, the third month of the Muslim calendar. Prophet Muhammad's birthday is also called Maulud Nabi in Malaysia, and is commonly marked by religious lectures and readings of the Quran.

The web site timeanddate.com describes annual scheduling of the holiday in a more American context (and separately in a global one):

Eid Milad ul-Nabi (Mawlid, Milad-un-Nabi) celebrates the Prophet Muhammad's life. It falls on the 12th or 17th day of the Islamic month of Rabi' al-awwal. Some Muslims in the United States mark this occasion by fasting or holding communal meals, special prayers or outdoor celebrations.

Bear in mind that "the 12th or 17th day of the Islamic month" doesn't indicate that such a celebration would fall on the 12th or 17th day of the month by the Gregorian calendar used by most of the Western world. Islamic dates are based on a lunar calendar and therefore move around from year to year with respect to the solar-based Gregorian calendar. Therefore, an Islamic holiday that coincides with 12 December on the Gregorian calendar will not always fall on that date; the following year that holiday will likely fall somewhere between 30 November and 2 December.

Timeanddate.com provides a list of the dates on which the observance of the prophet's birthday fell between 2010 and 2020, also noting that:

Regional customs or moon sightings may cause a variation of the date for Islamic holidays, which begin at sundown the day before the date specified for the holiday. The Islamic calendar is lunar and the days begin at sunset, so there may be one-day error depending on when the New Moon is first seen.

The dates for that ten-year range were provided as follows:

Feb 26 2010
Feb 16 2011
Feb 5 2012
Jan 24 2013
Jan 14 2014
Jan 3 2015
Dec 24 2015
Dec 12 2016
Dec 1 2017
Nov 21 2018
Nov 10 2019
Oct 29 2020

Some versions of the "co-opted Christmas" rumor held that the observance "used to be" held in late winter or early spring, which again reflects an ignorance of that fact that Islam uses a lunar-based calendar, and therefore their dates move around from year to year as charted by the Gregorian calendar.

Essentially, all that has occurred is that in 2015 the prophet Muhammad's birthday happens to coincide with 23 December on the Gregorian calendar, and in some places local government had postponed celebration of that event until the following day, which happens to coincide with Christmas Eve. No attempt has been made by Muslims to permanently co-opt "Christmas" dates for the celebration of the birthday of one of the most important figures in their religion.

Observance of the prophet's birthday holiday is far from universal, even in predominantly Muslim countries, and the Islamic Supreme Council of America describes it as a "spiritual and social occasion for the Muslims who are so inclined to celebrate it":

Regardless 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 around the Muslim world. Along with the two Eids, this holiday is now widely celebrated by Muslims of different sectarian and tariqa backgrounds.

A 2 January 2015 article published by On Being examines the disparity between Muslims who observe or celebrate the holiday and those who don't. The concluding paragraphs of that article noted that the observance in 2015 would fall close to Christmas (further indicating Muslims didn't just decide in 2015 to co-opt the Christian holiday):

For the Muslims who honor Muhammad's Mawlid, it's the deep love for Muhammad that brings them closer to God. For those who identify as Salafi, and wish to abide only by practices that they believe originate in the Qur'an and the example of Muhammad, it is a way of honoring the desire to practice Islam as Muhammad would have wanted us to do, without what is deemed to be later accretions and potentially dubious practices. As the Prophet himself is to have said, disagreement among the scholars is a mercy.

And here's a fun little thought: next year, the birthday of Muhammad will fall even closer to ... the birth of Christ. Whatever brings you closer to God, Christmas and Mawlid, may it be blessed.

A very rudimentary primer on the workings of the Islamic calendar handily explains that the "Islamic Calendar has twelve months but, unlike Western calendars, has only 354 days." The mathematically-inclined might notice that in the list of days on which the observance has historically fallen, it has fluctuated by roughly eleven days from year to year.

As calendar information documents, the assertion that Muslims worldwide have suddenly decided to steal Christmas from Christians is absurd. Anyone could look up the dates on which the observance of the Prophet Mohammed's birth has fallen throughout the years and see that they fluctuate due to the structure of the Islamic calendar and are clearly unrelated to anything Christians happen to be doing. Whether the claim spread through ignorance of this freely available information or willful misrepresentations of it is unclear, but the proximity of the observance of the birth of the Prophet Mohammed to Christmas in 2015 is neither a surprise, a new thing, nor a decision made by the Muslim world to aggravate Christians.

In 2015, Geller similarly falsely reported Muslims had canceled the 4th of July and attempted to ban the national anthem. She also advanced a falsehood maintaining that large chain stores were implementing Sharia-friendly checkout lines.

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.