Lost among the crowds of Sufi dancers dancing and spinning in a trance like state, you are overwhelmed with feelings of joy and peace amid loud Islamic chants that sweep you up. This must be the Moulid Sayeda Zeinab.
At the heart of Cairo, close to downtown, hundreds of people gathered on Tuesday to celebrate the birth of Sayeda Zeinab, the maternal granddaughter of the Prophet Mohammed. Islamic songs were chanted over loud speakers and food was distributed to those in need. People danced and cheered and spent their night in the memory of Sayeda Zeinab, believing that it brought them closer to God.
One of the Sufi groups that attends the Moulid on every year is the Ahmed Gaber group. Every year they come from Sharqeya governorate, north of Cairo, to perform Sufi songs for the holy festival.
Using the Oud, drum, tambourine, and Qawalli, they perform folklore and historic music pieces with a modern touch to attract the younger generations to this type of music as well as amuse the older generation.
El-Sheikh Ahmed, the head of the group, inherited the art of chanting from his ancestors and he’s currently teaching his son to follow in the same path.
Some of the musicians have performed in many countries around the world, like France. The group makes sure to perform at every Moulid in every governorate of Egypt, all for free, for the sake of becoming closer with God and maintaining the holy, traditional rituals.
The Moulid is a traditional festival in which people gather for entertainment. Moulid translates to birth in Arabic. Islamic Moulids are synchronised with the Islamic Lunar calendar. Other popular Moulids include Al-Moulid Al-Nabawy, Moulid Al-Hussein, and Moulid Al-Sayyed Al-Badawi.
Performance tents have been set up near the Sayeda Zeinab mosque, where she is believed to be buried, for a week prior to the main day. The neighbourhood, which is named after the prophet’s granddaughter, is considered one of Cairo’s most crowded neighbourhoods. For days prior to the festival’s start, the residents welcome people from around Egypt to stay in the areas around the mosque. All of the festivities usually last for a week.
Moulids are celebrated by both Christians and Muslims in Egypt. Moulid Al-Adra, the Virgin Mary, and Moulid Mari Girgis are the two largest Coptic Moulid celebrations.
Photos by Moustafa Eissa, Mahmoud Nasr, and Mohammed Omar