Mawlid sweets are an Egyptian tradition

A shop in Cairo sells al-Mawlid sweets. [Waleed Abu al-Khair/Al-Shorfa]

A shop in Cairo sells al-Mawlid sweets. [Waleed Abu al-Khair/Al-Shorfa]

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Large tents have been set up near Egyptian mosques and shrines to celebrate Prophet Mohammed's birth (al-Mawlid al-Nabawi), which this year falls on Thursday (January 24th).

The Egyptian Ministry of Religious Endowments will celebrate al-Mawlid with a ceremony to be attended by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, the Prime Minister, Al-Azhar clerics and other dignitaries.

Traditional rituals, from singing religious songs to the preparation of special sweets, have long been associated with the celebration of al-Mawlid in Egypt.

"The ritual of celebrating the birth of Prophet Mohamed started in Egypt at the beginning of the Fatimid era, during the days of Caliph al-Mu'iz Lideen Allah (in 1566 A.D.)," said Hamed al-Zaini who teaches Islamic history at Al-Azhar University.

"This marked the start of celebrating al-Mawlid as an official and folk occasion that became one of the other six main birthdays celebrated by the Fatimids," he said.

Festivities have a traditional flavour

During the time of the Fatimid rule, public squares were decorated for the occasion. Tents were set up for Sufi singing and the retelling of the Prophet's journey, and there were games for children and specially-made sweets – a tradition that still lives on, al-Zaini added.

"In spite of efforts by the Ayyubids and other rulers to ban this celebration claiming it has no bearing on the Muslim religion, Egyptians' love of celebratory rituals in general allowed this tradition to continue until this day," he told Al-Shorfa.

Festivities take on a traditional flavour, particularly in the Upper Egypt region and poorer residential districts, where Egyptian families celebrate al-Mawlid and visit the large tents and religious recitation sessions to listen to religious songs and watch folk art shows.

"Celebrations for the occasion, called Dawrat al-Mawlid, resemble a huge carnival," al-Zaini said. "In cities, people roam the streets and visit the holy shrines while in villages, people parade around the village and visit the shrines of the prophet's followers".

Families give away sweets, meat and vegetables to their married daughters and everyone exchanges sweets that are specially made for the occasion, he added.

A sweet tradition

Al-Zaini described a custom in which the husband or fiancé gives his wife or betrothed Arous al-Mawlid (al-Mawlid bride), a doll made of sugar and nuts and decorated with coloured paper.

"There is also al-Fares sweet, a knight doll on a horse waving its sword as a sign of conquest and war victories," he said.

The price of al-Mawlid sweets this year starts at five Egyptian pounds ($0.75) and goes up to 100 pounds ($15), according to Saleh Adham, who owns a shop that sells sweets and dried fruits and nuts.

In addition to Arous al-Mawlid, there are different kinds of sweets, he told Al-Shorfa: al-simsimiya (sesame), al-humusiya (dried chickpea), al-foulia (beans), al-malban (Turkish delight), as well as sweets made from coloured sugar and shaped as fruits.

"The al-Mawlid bride sweet has a special place in my childhood as I don't ever remember celebrating without it," said Haifa Ali, a 45-year-old homemaker, who described al-Mawlid as "a happy and joyous occasion for Egyptians, which brings children closer to religious rituals".

Tariq al-Anzi, a Saudi student studying at Cairo University's College of Engineering, has enjoyed celebrating al-Mawlid in Cairo since he came to Egypt four years ago.

"I go with a bunch of my friends to the Cairo squares that are famous for these celebrations, especially the squares near Imam al-Hussein Mosque and Sayyida Zainab," he said. "You can only find such sights in Egypt where there is a beautiful traditional and religious spirit."

His wandering introduced him to "beautiful Sufi celebrations and music accompanying religious songs", he said.

A popular product

Al-Mawlid also is good for business, according to Safi Qadri, of the confectionary section at the Cairo Chamber of Commerce.

There are "nearly 5,000 factories working during this time of year to meet demand, and around 40 tonnes of goods that cost at least 4 billion pounds ($603 million)", he said.

"This figure resuscitates the Egyptian market," he added.

Prices for al-Mawlid sweets have risen in recent years due to an increase in the cost of basic ingredients, particularly cooking oil, sugar and nuts, he said, estimating this year's increase at around 7%.

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    محمد عزت

    2013-2-2

    We, the Egyptian people, are celebrating the birth of the prophet Mohammed in these beautiful days. We hope this great commemoration reminds us of the morals of the beloved Mustafa, peace and blessings of God be upon him. When we talk about the ceremonies celebrating the birth of the Prophet, we will find that it brings happiness to all the young and old people, and all the people are waiting for it. Everywhere in Egypt there are preparations. For example, the sweets should be prepared and all the people should buy them, even if they buy little, according to their ability. In addition, we can find children promenading in the public places. Also, the mosques should prepare for this occasion, as everybody likes to participate in it. If we talk about the sweets on this day, my comment won’t be enough, because there are too many kinds of them; everybody loves them and we love to find them on the day of the Prophet’s birth, because they are related to this occasion. We cannot buy the doll for this day on any other days, because we won’t feel the happiness of this day. Many happy returns to the whole Islamic nation. May God gather the Arabs under one word. This is my wish on this occasion.

  • عمران أبو شالة

    2013-2-2

    Despite the calls made by some Salafis to prohibit celebrating the occasion, the popular neighborhoods displayed the candy doll, the horse with sugar and starch, and the ornamental papers side by side with the plastic Chinese dolls.

  • نافع عمر

    2013-1-28

    In Tunisia, the families start preparing for this day early, and Zqoqo fruit (Aleppo Pine) would be sold in all streets, and markets to be used in making gruel, which is a traditional food prepared by the eldest and most skillful in the family during this night. In the morning, the families exchange the visits while they carry the Zqoqo gruel plates in Kairouan. The city celebrates the occasion of the birth of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and they continue this celebration until the dawn.

  • احمد برغش

    2013-1-28

    I wish that the Muslim nation would be fine. I think that the sweets that are usually eaten on the occasion of the birth of the Prophet, peace be upon him, are essential in our life. We have to celebrate the occasion of the birth of Prophet, peace be upon him, at any scale. This should not be so festive, and there is no need to buy all kinds of sweets. The necessary thing is to make our children happy on this occasion, because they like these celebrations. We also need to entertain ourselves and keep away from the politics, economy in Egypt, and worldwide. I think that an occasion like the birth of the Prophet, peace be upon him, deserves the celebration. We also know that the Idol of the Mawlid is part of the heritage and it was necessary when we were young. It is made of sugar and it is mostly red. We used to receive them happily. As for the boys, they used to get a horse made of sweets to make them love the horsemanship and war. Our heritage is so beautiful and we should celibate it as long as this does not harm any of us. The Fatimid state was the first to invent this occasion. Hence, I ask God provide us with many festivals where we gather away from any violence, bloodshed, or revolutions.

  • رعد حمودي

    2013-1-28

    The month Rabiul Awwal has arrived and it has brought along much joy with it to all Arab countries. The mosques have been ornamented and manifold varieties of sweets have been made available at stores in celebration of the birthday of the best of created beings. All (Muslim) nations agree in holding Quran recitation, remembrance (of Allah) and prayer sessions and each country has its unique type of sweets that are served on this occasion.

  • حمزة قاسم

    2013-1-28

    There are some folks who say that celebrating the birthday day of Prophet Mohammed is not permissible according to Islam. They also say that these sweets are a form of heresy, but I will not comment on the matter since I’m not a religious scholar. But I am curious as to why we consider joy and happiness impermissible according to Islam? I’m not really trying to make an objection, but I want to know why do we always seek anything that kills joy and happiness? Muslims are already having enough tough times that they are having everywhere, so why are we having problems with these sweets and why are we denying the young kids the chance to enjoy themselves? In my opinion, I think that other countries do not have the same problem as Egypt. As far as I’m concerned, I used to like very much celebrating the birthday day of Prophet Mohammed when I was young and I used to enjoy walking along the procession and the car. But things have really changed nowadays, and only god knows whether the sweets will also be banned. Everything is disappearing and nothing looks the same as before. In the previous days, we used to get out of schools in the morning and run around with flags that had Islamic writings on them. We used to sing poems in praise of the Prophet and people used to hand us out sweets that were specially made for the birthday celebration and we used to gorge on them until our bellies start to have cramps. But I feel that those good things have now become less and people are in a state of semi sadness and people are no longer like they were in the past. This could be attributable to the unfavorable economic conditions in Egypt or to the revolution; it could be due to anything. But it is not acceptable to let the Prophet’s birthday pass without greeting and wishing good for each other. Man, even if we buy one kilo of sweets, no harm will be done since the kids are the ones who will be happy and the current crisis has nothing to do with this. Our kids should have fun the same way we had fun and should live the same way we lived, and this tradition observed by Muslims must not be abolished. I ask god to bring us and all Muslims together and make us show love and respect for each other.

  • مهند المطيرى

    2013-1-28

    The celebrations of Prophet Mohammed's birth have not changed, especially in the villages, and popular neighborhoods in the main cities. Every year, by the beginning of the Hijri month Rabia al-Awal, great marquees are held in the vicinity of major mosques like Imam Hussein and Ms. Zainab Mosques (PBUH). The marquees include the visitors of the celebration from different villages in Egypt and all categories street vendors. The pilgrims play games. The participants include sellers of candy and other food as well as a primitive circus including some acrobatics. There is also a corner for religious chanters. The latter are specialized in praising the Prophet (peace be upon him).

  • حامد اللميع

    2013-1-28

    The best annual event ever is the Birthday of the Prophet. The best celebrations of this holy event are held in the Egyptian villages and rural regions. Indeed, you could see the authentic Egyptian heritage, especially in my Damietta. This region is distinguished by sweets. The celebration of the Birthday of the Prophet includes the production of various types of sweets. I wish all the Arabs many happy returns, God willing. O Allah, I hope that we will be able to celebrate the next Birthday of the Prophet in Syria and with the Syrian people. I also hope that Egypt will be at its best and that the great Iraq will be relieved following the eradication of terrorism. Personally, I am ready, God willing, to send the sweets of the Birthday of the Prophet to anyone next year. O Allah, let us celebrate the prevalence of the Arabs. O Lord, I would be very happy to share Arabs their joy upon the celebration of the Birthday of the Prophet. The event would be very special for me. I swear by God the sweets of the Birthday of the Prophet could not lessen the bitterness we feel because of the pain of our brotherly Arabs who are really suffering. The situation in all Arab countries is too painful. The Arab Prophet, peace be upon him, commanded us to stand united and to cooperate. Indeed, we are supposed to be as complementary and interdependent as the parts of the body. Whenever an organ is wounded, the other organs are affected, too. I swear by God that we are overwhelmed by sadness. However, we should wish everyone in the Arab and Muslim world many happy returns on the occasion of the Birthday of the Prophet. I hope that the next events will be celebrated while the Arabs are in good health.

  • فهد مصعب

    2013-1-26

    Certainly, celebrating the memory of the birthday of the Prophet, peace be upon him, is very old and it is part of the popular heritage. Hence, I wish that all Egyptians would meet during this celebration, which started at the time of the Fatimid state, which transferred many innovated religious festivals and traditions such as the Mawlid (birthday of the Prophet, peace be upon him,) and Ramadan’s Fanous (lantern). We all love the lanterns and they are necessary during the month of Ramadan to entertain the children and make them happy. The Mawlid celebration also is important and it makes all the people happy, particularly the children, who love the sweets and Mawlid Toys, which are made of sweets. The children love them because they are for playing and eating. However, we need to develop this celebration so that all people could join it. It is one of the greatest festivals that are celebrated by the people of Egypt. It is a way to get rid of all the political and economic crises in life. Many people work harder to celibate this memory despite the economic crisis. All the Egyptians must buy sweets during the Mawlid even if they are expensive. On the other hand, many people make their living during it. The amazing thing is that about five thousand factories make sweets to meet the needs of the Egyptians during this celebration. Thus, we can say that the celebration itself provides jobs to many people in the factories and shops. I would like to say to all the Egyptians through this website: Happy New Year. I wish that all the people would love each other all the time.

  • فارس معتـز

    2013-1-26

    The people are screaming because of the soaring prices and we all wait for the consequences of the coming days in the light of the further deterioration of the security situation. However, the people celebrated the memory of the birthday of the Prophet, peace be upon him. Indeed, the purchasing power declined and the festival activities became fewer, but this is still an occasion, during which the people try to please their children with the sweets, which is integral part of our popular heritage.

  • شادي قصي

    2013-1-26

    The prices are not significantly different form the previous year, but the economic conditions in the country are the main cause of the weakness of the purchasing power of the citizens.

  • راشد معاذ

    2013-1-26

    The sales dropped by 50% compared to the previous years as a direct result of the sharp rise in prices, which resulted from the increase in the prices of the sugar, oils, and gasoline. The factories raised their prices too, but the purchasing power is reasonable. However, the cheap types such as Peanut, Sesame, chickpea sweets are mostly demanded.

  • خالد مازن

    2013-1-26

    We cannot deny that many people and customers demand it and that it is spreading widely in a various forms. However, this is the case in the popular districts, which is different from the affluent districts. Therefore, we could say that the quality of the sweets differ according to the value of the ingredients used in the manufacturing process.

  • امل عثمان

    2013-1-26

    Today, we celebrate the memory of the birth of the Prophet, peace be upon him, may God always make this memory come over and over while we are safe and well. We are going to celebrate the memory of the birthday of the most honorable of all people our leader Muhammad, peace be upon him. When we see that this holy day is approaching, I buy sweets on this occasion. This whole Egyptian people celebrates this great occasion and the celebration of the Egyptian people increase in the markets. When we walk in the Egyptian, we see the sweets of this occasion everywhere. During this period, we are usually overwhelmed by this wonderful occasion. We hope that the officials would be more interested in the occasion rather than sufficing with providing sweets. The celebration needs a different approach, as it is the celebration of the birth of the most honorable human being. I think that this may include imitation of the Prophet, peace be upon him, and adopting his great manners, as this is the best way to celebrate this occasion. As for those who do not agree with me, they have the full freedom to disagree with me, but based on the upbringing I have received, I see that the sweets of the Mawlid symbolize the sweetness of the human soul.

  • احمد الشناوى

    2013-1-26

    The demand this year was weak, unlike the previous years as a result of the deterioration of the economic conditions at the public level in the country.

  • غاده عبد الرازق

    2013-1-26

    The memory of the birthday of the Prophet, peace be upon him, coincided with the second memory of the 25th of January revolution and the possibilities of the escalation in the demonstrations. Hence, the sweets market was affected by the deteriorating economic conditions. The sharp rise in the prices and economic deterioration in Egypt caused decline in the sweets’ sales during the memory of the birth of the Prophet, peace be upon him, which is integral part of the Egyptian heritage. The premiums sweets’ shops seemed empty from the usual shoppers, who preferred the cheap sweets and wholesale and semi- wholesale markets, which are not of high quality.