Celebrating the birth of the Prophet Mohammed, “El-Mawled El-Nabawi”, is a huge Islamic celebration that sees preparations in Islamic countries months before its date. In Egypt, just like any other spiritual ceremony, celebrations have a unique taste, different forms, and inherited legacies in the forms of celebrating the birthday of Islam’s messenger. Coloured lamps hang on trees, brightly lighting streets, Islamic chanting airs from radio stations, and most significantly, “Arouset El-Mouled” (the bride doll of the birth date) and “Halawet El-Mouled” (the birth date’s special sweetened nuts).
Egypt is the only Islamic country known for having Arouset EL-Mouled and Halawet El-Mouled as an inseparable part of celebrating the event; a traditional heritage that is currently facing a huge challenge to sustain itself in Egyptian society due to the crazy hikes in their prices.
Ever since the current tradition came into existence for the first time in the Fatimid era, not a single year passed without millions of Egyptians rushing to purchase the doll and sweets of the Mouled for their children. Nonetheless, after the prices saw an almost 20% increase since last year, causing doll prices to reach up to EGP 500 and a box of Halawet El-Mouled costing up to EGP 1,500, the situation has changed.
Since the floatation of the Egyptian Pound, prices of exported nuts have increased, exceeding double the price, leaving any sort of sweet they are included in extremely expensive. As for the doll, its categorisation under exported products raises its prices to an extent never witnessed before.
Dealing with the crisis, Egyptians turned to buying separate individual bars of Halawet El-Mouled aiming to buy the types they love the most, instead of a whole wrapped box containing all kinds of sweetened nuts. As for Arouset El-Mouled, getting smaller size dolls was the option most Egyptians turned to, and for those who still could not afford it, making their own decorated Arouset El-Mouled out of coloured cards was the only option they had.
The story of how Arouset Al-Mouled found its way into the history books differs from one source to another. The most popular theory states that Fatimid ruler Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah went with one of his wives to celebrate El-Mawled El-Nabawi with the public. His wife looked so beautiful wearing a white gown that a confectionary artist modelled a doll out of honey to emulate her look. As for Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, he was portrayed as a knight on his horse, which came to be known as “Housan Al-Mawled” (the horse of the birth date) afterwards.
The couple was commemorated long after their death through the doll and the horse that became the traditional gifts and toys of El-Mawled El-Nabawi.
Both the doll and horse were made out of eatable honey up until the 1990s. However, when the invasion of plastic dolls took over local markets, people started replacing sweets with actual dolls. Soon after, people started only purchasing Arouset El-Mouled, leading the horse to disappear.
When it comes to Halawet El-Moulid, it is said that the Fatimid rulers used to influence and abate the masses by distributing sweets made of a mixture of nuts and honey. The sweets were mostly distributed during El-Mawled El-Nabawi and soon, it became an inseparable part of the annual celebration.
All photos taken by Ahmed Hendawy.