Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Hear it from the wise elders

This is the true Egyptian religion; that of love and celebration of the divine - not the Saudi perversion of Wahhabism that has crept on us in the last few decades. Hear it from Naguib Mahfouz:

Mahfouz: Your felicitations to me on the occasion of the birthday of the Prophet (Peace be Upon Him) have transported me back to my childhood days. This was one of the most important times of the year for us children. All restrictions were lifted. We would play as much as we liked and return home without being tied to a certain hour.

When we moved from Gammaliya to Abbasiya there was a large plot of empty land which we used to call, "the land of the Mulid ". Celebrations for Mulid Al-Nabi, the Prophet's Birthday, were held there every year. Tents were set up and troupes would perform religious songs and zikr (incantations) all night and sing in praise of the Prophet.

In those days the state gave great attention to celebrations of the Mulid, in which all of the ministries participated. Each ministry would set up its own "tent" and vye with the others in performing songs and zikr. The employees of each ministry would go to their respective tents and encourage the troupes performing there.

The first time I heard Mohamed Abdel-Wahab sing was in one of those tents where he would sing in praise of the Prophet. At the time he was considered to be a follower of the sufi orders. After that, Abdel-Wahab would sing his well-known song "I love to see you every day" in allusion to the Prophet, peace be upon him.

There were fire-works which I used to watch in the sky every year. I was greatly awed by them. I do not remember having ever seen such a magnificent display again in all of my life. My old friends from Gammaliya would come on that day to attend the Mulid. After I moved to the more "up-scale" neighbourhood of Abbasiya I started to yearn for Gammaliya. So I persuaded my new friends whom I had made in Abbasiya to accompany me on my many visits to my old neighbourhood.

The day of Mulid was different because it was when all of my friends, from both neighbourhoods, would come to attend the celebration.

Salmawy: What happened to this plot of land?

Mahfouz: It is no longer empty but has become crowded over the years with ugly concrete buildings.

Salmawy: Were your visits to the "land of the Mulid " restricted to that day of the year alone ?

Mahfouz: Not at all. I used to go all year round. After the Mulid was over and the tents put away, the land would become a football field. We would spend the best of times there playing in matches held between different teams from Abbasiya.

Salmawy: Did this help you overcome your nostalgia for Gammaliya?

Mahfouz: Not for long. I would invite teams from Gammaliya to come and play with us. All of this used to take place on the plot of land we called "the land of Mulid Al-Nabi", the land of the Prophet's Birthday. But the land is no longer there after it was swallowed in construction and vanished, along with one's childhood memories.

Here are the pictures of the Mawalid again:

Egyptians celebrate Mulid El Rifaei

Women attendees

Together at the mosque of Ahmad El Badawi

Egyptian muslims celebrate the Mulid of the Virgin Mary

Zaffet El 'Adra: procession of the Virgin Mary

El Leila El Kebira

* Photos by Sherif Sonbol, from "Mulid! Carnivals of Faith".

* A "mulid" is a festival inaugurating the birthday of the holy.


forsoothsayer said...

a believe a mulid is a birth. incidentally, protestant egyptians do not like ceremony and keep everything very low scale in accorance with the teachings of protestantism. we also celebrate only christmas and easter.

Seneferu said...

Thanks, your translation may be better than mine. But I think the meanings of 'festival' and 'carnival' have become synonymous with the term 'mulid' because of the celebratory connotations of the word.

Here is why Protestantism is different:


Protestantism took a stance on these ancient practices, evolved through the Catholic and Egyptian Orthodox churches, that they are animist and idolatrous. Besides the valid political reasons behind Protestantism, I think on the spiritual side it was also an attempted 'purification' of the faith similar to the idea behind Wahhabism gone astray. I don't have deep knowledge on these matters but this is my opinion as far as I can tell.

I added a photo of the Zaffa of the Virgin Mary.

Jewaira said...

Fascinating... and pictures that I have not seen before.

Seneferu said...

It's good to see you here, Jewaira.