A version of this article originally appeared in Folklife Magazine on January 17, 2023.
Read the article in Arabic
Walking down the narrow and winding streets of the Tunisian city of Cairo, we heard the sound of drums. On this warm October day, we moved to the sound of the music, followed another group of people and embraced the shade. Dressed in traditional costumes, the majority of the crowd played songs they knew by heart and beat drums, opening in a square full of lei. The infectious beat and rhythm chant spread through the crowd, young and old, and their families and friends who tirelessly danced to the beat, sing-song. Young people were dancing and singing on the rooftops close to the stage.
In the year Part of the daily schedule for the annual Mawlid festival in 2022, the show was a taste of the energy of the music and the crowd-pleasing we experienced during the ten-day event, attracting more than a million people. They celebrate in the streets of Cairo.
Mawalid is the celebration of Prophet Muhammad’s birth. Muslims around the world gather to hear poems and stories about the Prophet’s life, recite the Qur’an, and enjoy music and festive food. It is a big event in North Africa. Egypt hosts the largest celebration of the Prophet’s (PBUH) birthday; It was followed by Tunisia. Most people are familiar with the three holiest sites in Islam: Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, but Kairouan is often referred to as the “fourth of the three”, proving it to be the holiest city in North Africa. Muslims. A suitable party. During the festival, the town turns into a huge market, camping ground and music festival.
No Tunisian party would be complete without sweet, savory and sweet dishes, and no signature dish would be complete without a mold: the sweet pudding is made in abundance. Accompanied Olive oil made with ground almonds and dates and honey. As the two friends joked: “Our moms only do it for birthdays, even if we want it any other time of the year, they never do it!” When neighboring countries eat porridge, Zogugu acid A typical Tunisian dish made from Aleppo pine nuts. McRod , another unique Cairo delicacy fills the streets with locals and visitors buying kilos of the sweet, gummy candy. No matter how much acid or mekrud you give us, no matter how much we fix it, we always say yes!
The festival used all aspects of Cairo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to showcase its rich history and the community that lives and works and celebrates its heritage. The ancient city, or historic walled city, hosts musical performances, festive parades and art exhibitions during the festival. In all seasons of the year, the city is full of skilled artisans making traditional scarves and clothing, copper furniture, agricultural products and especially carpets. The Aqaba Mosque was the central location of the city where it hosted competitions for Quran recitation, prayer or the call to prayer and surrounded the city and was the starting point for many festivals. Shelter for weary pilgrims and travelers. Kairouan’s squares, with its 9th-century Aghlabid pools and cisterns, provide the backdrop for well-organized concerts where hundreds of thousands of visitors enjoy Sufi music and dance. The festival has deliberately included events in these culturally significant areas of the city, hoping to show visitors how Cairo’s long and proud history can be combined with modern celebrations.
In addition to celebrating the birth of the Prophet, the Mawlid Festival Association said, “This festival is an opportunity for the city’s economy to flourish because Kairouan is known for its traditional handicrafts and local gastronomic specialties.” This allows us to market the products of these industries and organize exhibitions during the festival to show people what Cairo has to offer, it also creates more current job opportunities and better community ties as everyone in Cairo contributes to the success of the festival and feels more proud. Showing the whole history of the city.
One might think that a party based on a religious festival accompanied by sacred music would not appeal to young people, on the contrary, these songs and performances are appreciated by enthusiastic audiences of all ages. Islamic music sings the different cultures and traditions encountered around the world and this is reflected in the Mawlid Sufi performance. The audience sings and dances to classical songs from different countries, mixed with songs written in Tunisia and many local songs in cities like Kairouan and Sfax.
Sufism and music are closely related. Sufism is an Islamic body of worship and belief that emphasizes personal intimacy with God in countless expressions around the world. Sufism is deeply rooted in Tunisian culture. Recitation and singing are important forms of worship in Muslim communities around the world, especially during holidays, and are part of weekly and even daily life for some Tunisian Muslims. music, singing Zikr ) and performing is central to Sufi worship, contributing to meditation and often creating unique experiences of joyous closeness to God. Happiness ). Each Sufi branch or section (masar or way ) has its own collection of dhikr hymns, devotional texts and hymns. Many of these strings of songs intertwine during the molid, as do many of the Sufi holy figures from Tunisia’s history in the great madrassas, cities, markets, hospitals, and anti-colonial movements.
Throughout the festival, we were able to have a complete experience of Hatra , a musical performance with up to eighty people, featuring a spectacular band and musical concert. Extended performances include choreographed dances, important moments in the Prophet’s life, and other accompaniments such as fire, camels and horses. In Tunisia and North Africa, hadra has become a popular performance form, featuring songs from many Sufi orders and geographical areas. At these shows, audiences go wild (sometimes literally jump) and tens of thousands of people sing along to classic songs. People dance with their hands raised in the same position as placing their hands in prayer.
“Sufi music has been making a resurgence in recent years,” said Ali Bin Said, one of the organizers of the festival. “Music travels to unknown times and places, allowing you to discover them, find your soul, and give you revelations. It is a path that leads you away from hatred and prejudice to virtue and love. Sufi music is an art that takes you to the spiritual world. It takes the listener away from the physical music that is being presented now, so it is a conversation with soul and soul.” is it.
Although many people may associate Sufi music with the famous Dervishes – we have seen – Tunisia brings more cultural aspects. Stambley An example is the musical tradition of spiritual manipulation and healing developed by sub-Saharan African slaves and their descendants. Although its place in Tunisia is uncertain, today it appears on the list of holidays, especially in the capital, Tunis. Tunisia’s complex history and the Islamic music celebrated throughout the country are also influenced by classical Arab-Andalusian malof instruments and musical style, Tunisian and northern folk music mixed with traditional themes, and some Tunisian Jewish practices.
Balancing tradition and culture with changing times is not without challenges and criticism. Especially when it comes to musical and religious traditions, musicians are challenged to maintain the spirit and theme of the event while adding modern aspects that appeal to both young and new fans. In addition to traditional drums and woodwinds, the Mawlid celebration included electric guitars and keyboards. The view is between mosques, mausoleums and baths surrounded by colorful lights and projections from a thousand years ago. As musicians and festival organizers attempt to revive these aspects of their culture, they are bound by the weight of tradition and what is required to be effective: a close bond between those who believe that tradition should remain traditional and those who want it. They do this to adapt their cultural practices to modern life.
In any case, the focus of the Mawlid Festival is to connect people with the heritage of Cairo in an accessible way, the organizers of the festival set out to organize the festival and their desire to keep it growing.
Bin Saeed said: “Celebrating the Prophet’s birthday provides an opportunity for exchange and exchange between members of the Islamic community and local and international communities, and to support peaceful coexistence between different religious groups.” . Cairo has always celebrated the Prophet’s birthday with a focus on moral elevation and social inclusion. The history of heresy is characterized by radicalism and conflicting differences that have contributed to various conflicts between followers of Islam and followers of other monotheistic and positive religions. Therefore, celebrating the Prophet’s birthday on this occasion is an opportunity to call for tolerance, cooperation and unity between different Islamic groups and peoples.
Another significance of Kairouan for Sufi practices in North Africa is the presence of shrines of sacred images associated with the tradition of visiting Sufi shrines and venerating saints. The journeys, processions and poetic and musical stories about the life of the Prophet (pbuh) and Sufi saints are commemorative works. Cairo’s scenes create multi-layered experiences that can strengthen belonging and community bonds. The Nativity Festival is a social gathering for locals, pilgrims and visitors from all over Tunisia and neighboring Algeria to Indonesia.
We can’t wait to go back and dance with the crowd while drumming on our heads and reminiscing about the art, music and community we experienced at the Nativity Festival. .
Sloane Keeler and Rebecca Fenton are working on. USAID visit to Tunisia project as a part The center Cultural heritage tourism program . Join the Mawlid Festival as part of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival Incubator, an intensive capacity-building project with six Tunisian cultural festivals.