Thursday, January 24, 2013
Today is a special day for Egyptians. It is the holiday called the mawlid or Moulid al Nabi, meaning “birth of the Prophet” and celebrates the birth of this great religious figure. The tradition of making this day a festival began in Egypt early in the Fatimid era under the rule of Caliph al-Mu’iz Lideen Allah around AD 1566. At that time, the event included public sermons and the caliph awarding gifts to his officials. Religious scholars hold different views on the importance of this celebration and among some groups of Muslims, the event is not a recognized feast. In other places, observance is carried out by time spent contemplating the Prophet’s life and the impact his birth made to the world. In Egypt and the Sudan however the style is definitely celebratory and the day not only honors the Prophet, but also the birthdays of local Sufi saints. One such celebration takes place in a town in the Egyptian delta, Tanta, where residents honor Ahmad al-Badawi, a 13th century saint. The event attracts a huge number of people. In Egypt today, the holiday will begin with a ceremony celebrated by the Ministry of Religious Endowments and attended by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, the Prime Minister, Al-Azhar clerics and other dignitaries.
In parts of Cairo, such as Hussein and Sayeda Zeineb, and in the towns of upper Egypt where we are living, there are elaborate localized traditions, which include families visiting large tents that offer recitations of religious texts and singing of religious songs. There are also folk art shows and games for children and this day is an enjoyable way for children to learn more about Islam. Another important custom is the making and sharing of special sweets made especially for this holiday. Nuts, honey, rice, and semolina are important ingredients in many puddings and candy one sees for sale or made in homes. One distinctive sweet takes the form of figurines made from sugar dyed a bright pink.
There is a special phrase that people exchange with each other today when they meet and we wish to all our readers, families, friends, and colleagues “all year, your health.”
Diana Craig Patch