Al-Ahram Weekly Online   18 - 24 October 2012
Issue No. 1119
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

The jolly shrine

THE LARGEST of the annual moulids or saints' festivals, and the most famous, Moulid Sidi Ahmed Al-Badawi (1199-1276) has for the longest time transformed the city of Tanta -- where the Spanish immigrant known after his style of headdress settled down and was eventually buried -- into a centre of mystical Islam. With its al-lailah al-kabirah (or the Big Night, the night of the birth of the saint) on the lunar Hijra calendar coinciding this year with 11 October, the moulid buzzed with excitement, commercial as well as devotional, demonstrating yet again the resilience of this mode of bringing humanity in contact with God despite pre-25 January brushes with the police and, increasingly, post-25 January pressure from Salafis. Boding ill for the future of mysticism and public space alike, for the first time ever, since last year, the pageant or dora (circuit) headed by the living representative of the saint, the khalifa, to take place on the day of the anniversary (12 October), has been cancelled altogether.

(photos: Sherif Sonbol)

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