Every year, hordes of Egyptians head to Al-Hussein Mosque in Al-Azhar district to celebrate the Mouled (birthday) of Al-Hussein ibn Ali ibn Abi Taleb, Prophet Muhammad’s grandson. This year, the Mouled came in the same day of Western Christmas. Al-Hussein has a great significance to Muslims and especially Shia and Sufis, who celebrate his birthday every year.
The mosque was built in 1154 during the Fatimid Caliphate. It is believed that Al-Hussein’s head was buried in the mosque.
Sufism, which is the mystic branch of Islam, emphasises the inner search for God and the renunciation of worldly matters.
Sufis regularly visit the shrines of the Ahl al-Bayt (the family of Prophet Muhammad), and “walis” (people deemed to be favoured by God or the Islamic variation of saints), and attend festivals that celebrate their birthdays.
It is estimated that Egypt has more than 15 million Sufis, who are part of 78 tariqa (Sufi order), the most prominent of which is Al-Rifaaiya, which has more than two million followers, and Al-Azmiya, which has about a million.
The festivities in Old Cairo have a fair-like nature, including games, performances and a market place. This year, Mouled of Al-Hussein lasted from 20 to 25 December, ending on what is known as Laila El-Kebera (big night).
The festivities include food distribution, singing of Islamic enchantments, various games, where traditional “Tanoura” dancers roam the place to revive his memory. With these enchantments, attendees perform the famous “Zikr” where they move back and forth.
Photos by Mahmoud Fekry