|Also called||Mawlid an-Nabawī (المولد النبوي), Eid-e-Milad un-Nabi, Havliye, Donba, Gani|
|Observed by||Mainstream Muslims|
|Significance||Birth of Muhammad|
|Observances||Hamd, Tasbih, Naat, Fasting, public processions, family and social gatherings, decoration of streets and homes|
|Date||12 Rabi' al-Awwal|
|2021 date||18 or 19 October (Sunni, Ibadi)|
23 or 24 October (Shia)
|Frequency||once every Islamic year|
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Mawlid[a] (Arabic: مَولِد, lit. 'Birth [of Muhammad]') is the observance of the birthday of the Islamic prophet Muhammad which is commemorated primarily on 12th of Rabi' al-Awwal, the third month in the Islamic calendar.
The history of this celebration goes back to the early days of Islam when some of the Tabi‘un began to hold sessions in which poetry and songs composed to honour Muhammad were recited and sung to the crowds. It has been said that the first Muslim ruler to officially celebrate the birth of Muhammad in an impressive ceremony was Muzaffar al-Din Gökböri (d. 630/1233). The Ottomans declared it an official holiday in 1588, known as Mevlid Kandil. The term Mawlid is also used in some parts of the world, such as Egypt, as a generic term for the birthday celebrations of other historical religious figures such as Sufi saints.
Most denominations of Islam approve of the commemoration of Muhammad's birthday; however, with the emergence of Wahhabism-Salafism, Deobandism and Ahl-i Hadith, many of the followers of these movements began to disapprove its commemoration, considering it an illicit religious innovation (bid'ah or bidat). Mawlid is recognized as a national holiday in most of the Muslim-majority countries of the world with the exception of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Some non-Muslim majority countries with large Muslim populations such as India also recognise it as a public holiday.
Along with being referred to as the celebration of the birth of Muhammad, the term Mawlid refers to the 'text especially composed for and recited at Muhammad's nativity celebration' or "a text recited or sung on that day".
In some countries, such as Egypt and Sudan, Mawlid is used as a generic term for the celebration of birthdays of local Sufi saints and not only restricted to the observance of the birth of Muhammad. Around 3,000 Mawlid celebrations are held each year. There has been a Mawlid for Ahmad al-Badawi, a local 13th-century Sufi saint, in Egypt.
According to the majority of Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims, Muhammad was born on the 12th of Rabi' al-awwal. Prominent Shia scholars such as Muhammad ibn Ya'qub al-Kulayni, Ibn Babawayh, and Zayn al-Din al-Juba'i al'Amili have affirmed the date of the 12th of Rabi' al-Awal. However, few Twelver Shia Muslims on the other hand assert that Muhammad was born on the 17th of Rabi' al-awwal. It stands as a matter of ikhtilaf or disagreement. Nonetheless, others contend that the date of Muhammad's birth is unknown and is not definitively recorded in the Islamic traditions. The issue of the correct date of the Mawlid is recorded by Ibn Khallikan as constituting the first proven disagreement concerning the celebration.
Apart from scholars, there are mystics prioritizing knowledge gained through supernatural means over traditions, who have commented on Mawlid. For example, according to the Moroccan Sufi Abdulaziz ad-Dabbagh, the Prophet was born precisely during the last one third of the night before the 7th of Rabi' al-awwal in the Year of the Elephant before the arrival of the elephant. The weak ahadith in Sahih Muslim claiming that he was born after dawn can be explained by the fact that his placenta was expelled after the dawn.
In early days of Islam, observation of Muhammad's birth as a holy day was usually arranged privately and later was an increased number of visitors to the Mawlid house that was open for the whole day specifically for this celebration.
The early celebrations, included elements of Sufic influence, with animal sacrifices and torchlight processions along with public sermons and a feast. The celebrations occurred during the day, in contrast to modern day observances, with the ruler playing a key role in the ceremonies. Emphasis was given to the Ahl al-Bayt with presentation of sermons and recitations of the Qur'an.
The exact origins of the Mawlid is difficult to trace. According to Muhammad in History, Thought, and Culture: An Encyclopedia of the Prophet of God, the significance of the event was established when Muhammad fasted on Monday, citing the reason for this was his birth on that day, and when Umar took into consideration Muhammad's birth as a possible starting time for the Islamic calendar. According to Festivals in World Religions, the Mawlid was first introduced by the Abbasids in Baghdad. It has been suggested that the Mawlid was first formalized by Al-Khayzuran of the Abbasids. Ibn Jubayr, in 1183, writes that Muhammad's birthday was celebrated every Monday of Rabi' al-awwal at his birthplace, which had been converted into a place of devotion under the Abbasids.
According to the hypothesis of Nico Kaptein of Leiden University, the Mawlid was initiated by the Fatimids. It has been stated, "The idea that the celebration of the mawlid originated with the Fatimid dynasty has today been almost universally accepted among both religious polemicists and secular scholars." Annemarie Schimmel also says that the tendency to celebrate the memory of Muhammad's birthday on a larger and more festive scale emerged first in Egypt during the Fatimids. The Egyptian historian Maqrizi (d. 1442) describes one such celebration held in 1122 as an occasion in which mainly scholars and religious establishment participated. They listened to sermons, distributed sweets, particularly honey, Muhammad's favourite and the poor received alms. This Shia origin is frequently noted by those Sunnis who oppose Mawlid. According to Encyclopædia Britannica, however, what the Fatimids did was simply a procession of court officials, which did not involve the public but was restricted to the court of the Fatimid caliph. Therefore, it has been concluded that the first Mawlid celebration which was a public festival was started by Sunnis in 1207 by Muẓaffar al-Dīn Gökburi.
Start of a public holiday
In 1207, Muẓaffar al-Dīn Gökburi started the first annual public festival of the Mawlid in Erbil (modern day Iraq). Gökböri was the brother-in-law of Saladin and soon the festival began to spread across the Muslim world. Since Saladin and Gokburi were both Sufis the festival became increasingly popular among Sufi devotees which remains so till this day.
Mawlid is celebrated in almost all Islamic countries, and in other countries that have a significant Muslim population, such as Ethiopia, India, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, France, Germany, Italy, Iraq, Iran, Maldives, Morocco, Jordan, Libya, Russia and Canada. The only exceptions are Qatar and Saudi Arabia where it is not an official public holiday and is forbidden. However, In the last decades of the late 20th century there has been a trend to "forbid or discredit" Mawlid in the Sunni Muslim world. In Albania, Bektashis have observed Mawlid by doing ceremonies.
In Turkey, Mawlid (Turkish: Mevlid Kandili or "the candle feast for the Prophet's birthday") is widely celebrated. Traditional poems regarding Muhammad's life are recited both in public mosques and at home in the evening.
Often organized in some countries by the Sufi orders, Mawlid is celebrated in a carnival manner, large street processions are held and homes or mosques are decorated. Charity and food is distributed, and stories about the life of Muhammad are narrated with recitation of poetry by children. Scholars and poets celebrate by reciting Qaṣīda al-Burda Sharif, the famous poem by 13th-century Arabic Sufi Busiri. A general Mawlid appears as "a chaotic, incoherent spectacle, where numerous events happen simultaneously, all held together only by the common festive time and space". These celebrations are often considered an expression of the Sufi concept of the pre-existence of Muhammad. However, the main significance of these festivities is expression of love for Muhammad.
The first Sunni mawlid celebration that we have a detailed description of was sponsored by Muzaffar al-Din Kokburi and included the slaughtering of thousands of animals for a banquet which is believed to have cost 300,000 dirhams. The presence of guests and the distribution of monetary gifts at mawlid festivals had an important social function as they symbolized “concretizing ties of patronage and dramatizing the benevolence of the ruler” and also held religious significance, as “issues of spending and feeding were pivotal both to the religious and social function of the celebration.” Early fatwas and criticisms of the mawlid have taken issue with the “possibility of coerced giving” as hosts often took monetary contributions from their guests for festival costs.
Jurists often conceptualized the observance of Muhammad's birthday as a “form of reciprocation for God’s bestowal of the Prophet Muhammad” as a way of justifying celebrations. According to this thought, the bestowal of such a gift required thanks, which came in the form of the celebration of the mawlid. Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (1392 CE) and Ibn Hajar al-Asqalini (1449 CE) both expressed such ideas, specifically referencing the hadith about the Jews and the fast of ‘Ashura’, but broadening the conception of “thanks to God” to multiple forms of worship including prostration, fasting, almsgiving, and Qur’anic recitation. The only limitation Ibn Hajar places on forms of celebration is that they must be neutral under Shari’a.
In Qayrawan, Tunisia, Muslims sing and chant hymns of praise to Muhammad, welcoming him in honor of his birth. Also, generally in Tunisia, people usually prepare Assidat Zgougou to celebrate the Mawlid.
Among non-Muslim countries, India is noted for its Mawlid festivities. The relics of Muhammad are displayed after the morning prayers in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir at the Hazratbal Shrine, where night-long prayers are also held. Hyderabad Telangana is noted for its grand milad festivities Religious meetings, night-long prayers, rallies, parades and decorations are made throughout the city.
Along with being referred to as the celebration of the birth of Muhammad, the term Mawlid also refers to the 'text especially composed for and recited at Muhammad's nativity celebration' or "a text recited or sung on that day". Such poems have been written in many languages, including Arabic, Kurdish and Turkish. These texts contain stories of the life of Muhammad, or at least some of the following chapters from his life, briefly summarized below:
- The Ancestors of Muhammad
- The Conception of Muhammad
- The Birth of Muhammad
- Introduction of Halima
- Life of Young Muhammad in Bedouins
- Muhammad's orphanhood
- Abu Talib's nephew's first caravan trip
- Arrangement of Marriage between Muhammad and Khadija
- Al-Mi'radj, or the Ascension to heaven
- Al-Hira, first revelation
- The first converts to Islam
- The Hijra
- Muhammad's death
These text are only part of the ceremonies. There are many different ways that people celebrate Mawlid, depending on where they are from. There appears to be a cultural influence upon what kind of festivities are a part of the Mawlid celebration. In Indonesia, it is common the congregation recite Simthud Durar, especially among Arab Indonesians.
Among Muslim scholars, the legality of Mawlid "has been the subject of intense debate" and has been described as "perhaps one of the most polemical discussions in Islamic law". Traditionally, most Sunni and nearly all of the Shia scholars have approved of the celebration of Mawlid, while Salafi, Deobandi and Ahmadiyya scholars oppose the celebration. In the past, the Mawlid was thought of as a bidah. Saudi Arabia currently forbids the celebration of the Mawlid.
Examples of historic Sunni scholars who permitted the Mawlid include the Shafi'i scholar Al-Suyuti (d 911 A.H.). He was a scholar who wrote a fatwa on the Mawlid, which became one of the most important texts on this issue. Although he became famous outside of Egypt, he was caught in conflicts in Egypt his entire life. For example, he believed that he was the most important scholar of his time, and that he should be regarded as a mujtahid (a scholar who independently interprets and develops the Law) and later as a mujaddid (a scholar who appears at end of a century to restore Islam). These claims made him the most controversial person of his time. However, his fatwa may have received widespread approval and may not have provoked any conflicts.
He stated that:
My answer is that the legal status of the observance of the Mawlid – as long as it just consists of a meeting together by the people, a recitation of apposite parts of the Qur'an, the recounting of transmitted accounts of the beginning of (the biography of) the Prophet – may God bless him and grant him peace – and the wonders that took place during his birth, all of which is then followed by a banquet that is served to them and from which they eat-is a good innovation (bid'a hasana), for which one is rewarded because of the esteem shown for the position of the Prophet – may God bless him and grant him peace – that is implicit in it, and because of the expression of joy and happiness on his – may God bless him and grant him peace – noble birth.
Al-Suyuti thought that the Mawlid could be based on the fact that Muhammad performed the sacrifice for his own birth after his calling to be the Prophet. He said that Abu Lahab, who he called an unbeliever, had been condemned by what was revealed in the Qu’ran but was rewarded in the fire “for the joy he showed on the night of the birth of the Prophet” by releasing from slavery Thuwayba when she had informed him of the birth of Muhammad. Therefore, he talked about what would happen to a Muslim who rejoiced in his birth and loved him.
In response to al-Fakihani, al-Suyuti said a few things. He said that “because a matter is not known it does not necessarily follow that the matter does not exist nor ever has existed.” He also said that a “learned and judicious ruler introduced it,” in responding to al-Fakihani's statement that “on the contrary, it is a bida that was introduced by idlers… nor the pious scholars…” Al-Suyuti also said in response to “Nor is it meritorious, because the essence of the meritorious is what the Law demands,” that “the demands of meritorious are sometimes based on a text and sometimes on reasoning by analogy.” Al-Suyuti said that bidas are not restricted to forbidden or reprehensible, but also to the permitted, meritorious, or compulsory categories in response to al-Fakihani's statement that “according to the consensus of the Muslims innovation in religion is not permitted.” In response to al-Fakihani's statement that “This, not withstanding the fact that the month in which he… is born namely Rabi'I, is exactly the same as the one in which he died. Therefore joy and happiness in this month are not any more appropriate than sadness in this month,” al-Suyuti said that “birth is the greatest benefaction which has ever befallen us, but his death the greatest calamity that has been visited upon us.” He said that the Law allows expression of gratitude for benefactions, and that Muhammad had prescribed the sacrifice after the birth of a child because this would express gratitude and happiness for the newborn. Indeed, al-Suyuti said that the principles of the Law say it is right to express happiness at Muhammad's birth.
As for what is performed on the day of the Mawlid, one should limit oneself to what expresses thanks to God, such as the things that have already been mentioned: [Qur'anic] recitation, serving food, alms-giving, and recitation of praise [poems] about the Prophet – may God bless him and grant him peace – and asceticism which motivate people to perform good deeds and act in view of the next world.
The Damascene Shafi'i scholar Abu Shama (died 1268) (who was a teacher of Imam al-Nawawi (d 676 A.H.)) also supports the celebration of the Mawlid. The Maliki scholar Ibn al-Hajj (d 737 A.H.) also spoke positively of the observance of the Mawlid in his book al-Madhkal. Al-Hajj addresses his thoughts on the paradoxical problem of misguided Mawlid observance when he says:
This is a night of exceeding virtue and what follows from an increase in virtue is an increase in the thanks that it merits through the performance of acts of obedience and the like. [However], some people, instead of increasing thanks, have increased innovations on it.
Likewise, the Shafi'i Egyptian scholar Ibn Hajar al-Haytami (d. 974 A.H.) was an avid supporter of the Mawlid and wrote a text in praise of it. This was supported and commented on by the Egyptian scholar and former head of Al-Azhar University Ibrahim al-Bajuri and by the Hanafi Syrian Mufti Ibn Abidin. Another Hanafi Mufti Ali al-Qari (d. 1014 A.H.) too supported the celebration of the Mawlid and wrote a text on the subject as did the Moroccan Maliki scholar Muḥammad ibn Jaʿfar al-Kattānī (d. 1345 A.H.). Ibn al-Jazari (d. 833 A.H.), a Syrian Shafi'i scholar considers the celebration of the Mawlid to be a means of gaining Paradise.
In the Muslim world, the majority of Sunni Islamic scholars are in favor of the Mawlid. Examples include the former Grand Mufi of Al-Azhar University Ali Gomaa, Muhammad Alawi al-Maliki of Saudi Arabia, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the primary scholar of the Muslim Brotherhood movement, Habib Ali al-Jifri, Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, Muhammad bin Yahya al-Ninowy of Syria, Muhammad Ibn Ahmad al-Khazraji, president of the Heritage and History Committee of the United Arab Emirates and Zaid Shakir, all of whom subscribe to Sunni Islam, have given their approval for the observance of Mawlid.
Ibn Taymiyya's position on the Mawlid has been described as "paradoxical" and "complex" by some academics. He ruled that it was a reprehensible (makrūh) devotional innovation and criticised those who celebrated the Mawlid out of a desire to imitate the Christian celebration of Jesus's birthday. At the same time, he recognised that some observe Muhammad's birthday out of a desire to show their love and reverence of him and thus deserve a great reward for their good intentions. The Salafi writer Hamid al-Fiqi (d. 1959) criticised Ibn Taymiyya for holding this view and stating that "How can they receive a reward for this when they are opposing the guidance of God's Messenger (pbuh)?".
The Mawlid was not accepted by the Salafi scholar. Taj al-Din al-Fakihani (d. 1331), an Egyptian Maliki, considered Mawlid to be a blameworthy innovation that was either makruh or haram. Al-Fakihani said that there was no basis of this in the Book of God, nor in the Sunnah of Muhammad, and that there was no observance of it on authority of scholars of the umma. He said that it was a “bida that was introduced by idlers, and a delight to which gluttons abandon themselves.” He mentioned how the five legal categories included whether it is compulsory, meritorious, permitted, reprehensible, or forbidden. He said it was not compulsory, meritorious, or permitted, and therefore it was reprehensible or forbidden. He said that it was reprehensible when a person observed at their own expense without doing more at the gathering than to eat and abstain from doing anything sinful. The second condition of the category of forbidden, according to al-Fakihani, was when committing of transgressions entered into the practice, such as “singing–with full bellies–accompanied by instruments of idleness like drums and reed flutes, with the meeting of men with young boys and male persons with attractive women–either mixing with them or guarding them–, just like dancing by swinging and swaying, wallowing in lust and forgetting of the Day of Doom.” He also said, “And likewise the women, when they come together and there lend their high voices during the reciting with sighing and singing and thereby during the declaiming and reciting disobey the law and neglect His word: ‘Verily, your Lord is on a watchtower’ (Sura 89:14).” He further said, “Nobody with civilized and courteous manners approves of this. It is only pleasing to people whose hearts are dead and do not contain few sins and offenses.” Finally, he said that the month where Muhammad was born was also the month in which he died, and so implied that joy and happiness in that month are not more appropriate than sadness in that month.
Fellow Egyptian Maliki Ibn al-Haj al-Abdari also considered Mawlid as a blameworthy innovation that was either makruh or haram, who added that the celebration was never practiced by the Salaf. However Ibn al-Haj affirms the auspicious qualities of the month of the Mawlid in the most effusive terms and considers Muhammad's date of birth as a particularly blessed time of the year. The Maliki scholar Al-Shatibi considered Mawlid an illegitimate innovation. The Andalusian jurist Abu 'Abd Allah al-Haffar (d. 1408) opposed Mawlid, noting that had the Sahaba celebrated it then its exact date would not be a matter of uncertainty. The former Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abd al-Aziz ibn Baz, along with Hammud ibn 'Abd Allah al-Tuwayjiri (d. 1992), another Saudi scholar, in their opposition also argued that there were many worthy occasions in Muhammad's life which he never commemorated, such as the revelation of the first verses of the Qur'an, the Night Journey and the hijra.
In 1934, the minister of education in Egypt criticized the "useless stories" which filled Mawlid poetry, as he believed these were incompatible with a modern and scientific viewpoint that represented Muhammad on a more sober level. Similar criticism arose in 1982 when a chairman of the Mecca-based Orthodox Muslim Organization Rabita declared celebrations of Mawlid an "evil innovation."
While the Ahmadiyya deem the perpetual commemoration of Muhammad's life as highly desirable and consider the remembrance of him as a source of blessings, they condemn the common, traditional practices associated with the Mawlid as blameworthy innovations, Gatherings limited to the recounting of Muhammad's life and character and the recitation of poetry eulogising him, whether held on a specific date of Rabi' al-awwal or in any other month, are deemed permissible. Formal gatherings called Jalsa Seerat-un-Nabi commemorating Muhammad's life and legacy, rather than specifically his birth, are frequently held by Ahmadis and are often oriented towards both Muslim and non-Muslim audiences. These gatherings could be held in the month of the Mawlid but are promoted often throughout the year.
Ibn al-Hajj praised carrying out ceremonies and expression of gratitude during the festival, but rejected the forbidden and objectionable matters that took place at it. He objected to certain things, such as singers performing to the accompaniment of percussion instruments, pointing to their blameworthiness. He asked about what connections there might have been between percussion instruments and the month of Muhammad's birthday. However, he said that it was right to honor and distinguish the birthday because it showed respect for the month. He also said that excellence lied in devotional acts. Therefore, al-Hajj said that “the respect of this noble month should consist of additional righteous works, the giving of alms and other pious deeds. If anybody is not able to do so, let him then in any case avoid what is forbidden and reprehensible out of respect for this noble month.” He said that even though the Quran might be recited, the people actually were “longing for the most skilled adepts of folly and stimulating means to entertain the people,” and said that this was “perverse.” Therefore, he did not condemn the Mawlid, but only “the forbidden and objectionable things which the Mawlid brings in its wake.” He did not disapprove of preparing a banquet and inviting people to participate. In addition, Ibn al-Hajj also said that people observed the Mawlid not just from reasons of respect but also because they wanted to get back the silver they had given on other joyous occasions and festivals, and said that there were “evil aspects” attached to this.
Skaykh al-Islam, abu I-Fadl ibn Hajar, who was “the (greatest) hafiz of this time,” said that the legal status of the Mawlid was that it was a bid'ah, which was not transmitted on the authority of one of the pious ancestors. However, he said that it comprised both good things, as well as the reverse, and that if one strove for good things in practicing it and evaded bad things, the Mawlid was a good innovation, and if not, then not. He said that the coming of Muhammad was a good benefaction, and said that only the day ought to be observed. He said that “it is necessary that one restricts oneself to that which expresses gratitude to God… namely by reciting the Quran, the giving of a banquet, almsgiving, declamations of some songs of praise for the Prophet and some ascetic songs of praise, which stimulate the hearts to do good and to make efforts to strive for the Hereafter.” He also said that the “sama and the entertainment and the like” may have been in line with the joyous nature of the day, but said that “what is forbidden or reprehensible, is, of course, prohibited. The same holds true for what is contrary to that which is regarded as the most appropriate."
Mawlid an-Nabawi celebrations in Cairo in 1878
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- Katz (2007), p. 109. "If Abu Lahab, the unbeliever whose condemnation was revealed in the Qur'an, was rewarded (juziya) in hell for his joy on the night of the Prophet's birth, what is the case of a Muslim monotheist of the community of Muhammad the Prophet who delights in his birth and spends all that he can afford for love of him? By my life, his reward (jaza ') from the Beneficent God can only be that He graciously causes him to enter the gardens of bliss!"
- Katz (2007), p. 169: "In the eighteenth and nineteenth century, the celebration of the Prophet's (s) birthday and the recitation of mawlid texts were ubiquitous practices endorsed by the majority of mainstream Sunni scholars... by the modern period the celebration of the Mawlid was overwhelmingly accepted and practiced at all levels of religious education and authority. Prominent elite scholars continued to contribute to the development of the tradition."
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- Ukeles (2010), pp. 324–325: "At the same time, Ibn Taymiyya recognizes that people observe the mawlid for different reasons and should be recompessed according to their intentions. Some, for example, observe the mawlid out of a desire to imitate the Christian celebration of Jesus's birthday on Christmas. This intention is reprehensible"
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Not only does Ibn Taymiyyah recognize the pious elements within devotional innovations, but he asserts that sincere practitioners of these innovations merit a reward. As I argue elsewhere, Ibn Taymiyyah's paradoxical position stems from a practical awareness of the way that Muslims of his day engaged in devotional practices. Ibn Taymiyya states that: "There is no doubt that the one who performs these [innovated festivals], either because of his own interpretation and independent reasoning or his being a blind imitator (muqallid) of another, receives a reward for his good purpose and for the aspects of his acts that confirm with the lawful and he is forgiven for those aspects that fall under the scope of the innovated if his independent reasoning or blind obedience is pardonable."
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The Mawlid is among the most commonly mentioned examples of praiseworthy innovation. This view is shared even by some of the most strident opponents of most other modalities of popular Islam. Ibn Taymiyyah, the Kurdish reformer who most Indonesian and other Islamists take as their spiritual ancestor and mentor, was subdued in his critique of the Mawlid. His position was that those who performed it with pious intent and out of love for the Prophet Muhammad (s) would be rewarded for their actions, and forgiven any sin from bid'ah that they might incur.
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