The birth of the Prophet: Of zikr, sweets, and identity debates

Dina Ezzat , Sunday 24 Oct 2021

The celebration of Al-Moulid Al-Nabawy, the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, has been seeing new developments in Egypt over recent years

Aroussat Al-Moulid
Even Aroussat Al-Moulid received a facelift. Photo: Sherif Sonbol

On Thursday evening, the first day of Rabie Al-Awwal, the third month of the Hijri year, Omar Asran, a follower of a Sufi order in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Qena, joined fellow Sufis in an open-air gathering to remember the birth of the Prophet Mohamed that falls on the 12th of the Hijri month.

For Asran, both as a Sufi and as a resident of Upper Egypt, celebrating the birth of the prophet is an annual ritual that reflects the love of the prophet and brings joy to him and others who attend the celebrations. These include zikr and madih (uttering the names of the Almighty and singing the praise of the prophet) and dars (a lecture on religion).

It is also an opportunity to offer food, drinks, and sweets to all in an act of compassion.

“It is the tradition that during the first 12 days of Rabie Al-Awwal, every evening we spend a few hours celebrating the birth of the prophet. On the eve of the 12th and the day of the 12th itself, we call upon people to join us, irrespective of their association with our order or even if they are not all Muslims,” Asran said.

Asran has been joining the Al-Moulid Al-Nabawy festivities celebrating the birth of the prophet for as long as he can remember.  

As a child in the late 1980s, he remembers “getting into minivans with many young and old men to drive through the streets of the villages of Qena singing the praise of the prophet. We would come across other parades, and women would be looking down from their windows and singing along and throwing down pieces of candy to kids on the streets. In the evenings there would be extended feasts for everyone to join,” he said.

However, these parades gradually disappeared. “I think it was 15 years ago when I last saw one, as they became an issue because followers of radical Islamist ideologies that had infiltrated our society started casting doubt over our way of celebrating the memory of the prophet. As a result, even those who wished to keep the old traditions feared them, and now there are much-abridged versions of the original celebrations,” Asran said.