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On snacks and saints: when discourses of rationality and order enter the Egyptian mawlid 1

Samuli Schielke
p. 117-140


Les festivités entourant les mawlids en Égypte font régulièrement l'objet de critiques qui visent leur caractère « inculte » et l'accusent de constituer une innovation non-islamique (bid‘a). Ces critiques ont eu pour effet de susciter différentes tentatives de réformer le déroulement de ces festivités. Dans le passé récent, les institutions d'État se sont efforcés de donner une apparence plus « civilisée » et « ordonnée » aux célébrations et cet objectif est partagé dans une grande mesure par certains ordres soufis qui ont également cherché à réformer les mawlids. Le caractère utopique de ces festivités a été modifié de manière considérable par l'introduction de nouvelles pratiques qui visent à transformer le mawlid, lieu de suspension de l'ordre normal des choses, en un spectacle éducatif qui contribuerait justement à consolider cet ordre par le renforcement de ses normes et ses valeurs.

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1Mawlid festivals, which are celebrated annually at the shrines of saints, 2 are probably the most colourful and most controversial element of Sûfî practice in contemporary Egypt. These festivities are typically characterized by a special festive atmosphere where devotion and entertainment come together in an overwhelming spectacle of crowds, lights, music, pilgrims, Sûfî dhikr, trade and amusements. 3 Although the number of visitors at mawlids has been declining since the mid-1990s, they still attract up to hundreds of thousands of visitors and represent an extraordinary moment of public mobilization.

2Mawlids have a close bond to specific locations and a specific arrangement of space. A mawlid is a celebration of the shrine, and a celebration around the shrine. All of these shrines have their share in a grand sacred history – both physical and imagined – of holy women and men 4 and of sacred places. It is not my intention, however, to analyse this history here. Islamic or pre-Islamic continuities of the sacred spaces are not the focus of my attention here. Instead, this study will focus on some very contemporary discontinuities and ruptures in the festive practices at sacred Islamic locations around Egypt. Through the analysis of present-day mawlids I intend to shed light on the contemporary tensions that exist between different understandings of sanctity, festivity, and the respective arrangement of space and time.

Critics of mawlids

3Ever since they exist, 5 mawlids have been subjected to criticism. 6 This criticism, part of a tradition of ritual reform as represented by Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, was based on the claim that mawlids are a bid‘a, an illegitimate innovation in Islamic ritual. 7 Although historically mawlids are an innovation in Islam, it is worth noting that this critical tradition remained largely marginal for a long time, and in an intellectual and religious atmosphere favourable for Sufism, mawlids were seen to be a bid‘a hasana, a praiseworthy innovation. 8 This old and still ongoing debate about bid‘a calls into our attention how much the religious assessment of a practice depends upon social and ideological factors external to the religious scripture. What in Muslim scholarly tradition makes a practice an illegitimate bid‘a, is not just that it is not sanctioned by the Qur'ân and the Sunna, but that it is seen to compromise the purity of sacred practices, the validity of the canonic texts and rituals, or the identity of Islam against other religions. 9 Hence, what counts as forbidden bid‘a is always related to historical and ideological circumstances. These circumstances changed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the critical tradition underwent a qualitative change as part of the modernizing and nationalist discourses. For many of the modernizing elites and the Islamic reform movements, mawlids became a symbol of the dark backwardness and ignorance which, in their view, held back the development of Egyptian society. The critical discourse shifted from individual moral and salvation to the civilizational and moral quality of the nation. In this discourse – which today represents one of the common grounds of modernism and Islamic reform in Egypt – mawlids appear as an expression of ignorance and backwardness, an illegitimate innovation in Islam, a shameful remainder of primitive rituals, the very opposite of religion and rationality. 10

4Closer examination reveals, however, that there is actually little inherently un-Islamic or anti-modern about celebrating a saint. Salafi discourses do judge the veneration of saints to be a form of shirk, arguing that the belief in the intercession (tawassul) and blessing (baraka) of the walî is opposed to the absolute power of God. However, although the actual practice of saint veneration is highly contested, only the most radical Wahhabi critics actually dare to question the very basics of sainthood. 11 After all, the special status of saints or “friends of God” (awliyâ' Allâh) is explicitly mentioned in the Qur'ân (10:62), and the major saints of Egypt enjoy a high level of public recognition. What really makes a mawlid appear irrational and un-Islamic in the view of so many modernists and Salafi reformists, is primarily its specific festive and ecstatic character. In the following I will argue that mawlids are primarily a problem for the specific interpretations of order and rationality, religiosity and sanctity that predominate in the official public sphere of contemporary Egypt; and that this is also the starting point of all attempts to reform mawlids.

Festive time and space

5When the participants of a mawlid are asked what the festivity is about, the answers they provide vary significantly: some refer to the pilgrimage to the shrine, the love of ahl al-bayt and the saint's baraka, while others speak of the congregation of friends and brethren, the dhikr sessions, the meditation and recitation. Others simply find the mawlid great fun, with crowds, lights, music, and the colourful fascinating world of inexpensive popular amusements. The festivities also provide a livelihood for a large number of people.

6In most cases the different motives for celebrating a mawlid are not clearly distinguished. The search for blessing and spiritual experience goes hand in hand with the fascination of the festive atmosphere. Like no other occasion in Egypt, a mawlid is an ambivalent mixture of religious and profane elements. Much of the religiosity expressed in a traditional mawlid is emotional and ecstatic and expressed in conjunction with music and dancing and a strong belief in miracles.

7Unlike many other festive occasions in Egypt, a mawlid is a carnivalesque utopian festival, during which many of the boundaries and norms of ordinary life are temporarily suspended. I refer here to Mikhail Bakhtine's understanding of the carnival as a symbolic, temporary suspension of the “normal” order of things. According to Bakhtine, carnival time is not merely a “safety-valve” that helps people to endure the hardship of daily life, carnival is also a time in its own right, a cheerful, grotesque popular utopia of freedom and equality. It is ambivalent by default; it serves the cohesion of society, but also has a subversive element. 12

8In the narratives of pilgrims and visitors, the mawlid indeed emerges as a utopian moment beyond the boundaries of daily life, a place where all people from all classes of society unite and where the mystic and the thief come together in the realm of the saint – a beautiful congregation with the Sûfî brethren, a moment of freedom far removed from home and daily routines. During the mawlid you can “leave behind your work and family and set for a long, hard journey”, “get a breath of fresh air”, “see strange, new things” and “forget all your worries and live in the moment.” 13

9The festive space of the mawlid is characterized by an overwhelming and chaotic appearance. The streets are filled with pilgrims' carpets, merchants' stands, tents of the Sûfî orders, popular amusements and roaming crowds. This is also reflected in colloquial Egyptian idioms in which the term mûlid (colloquial for mawlid) is used to express chaos and confusion. 14

10This festive chaos is not total; it does follow a certain pattern of order, however the order in question is festive and ambivalent in nature. One can best imagine the festive space of the mawlid in the shape of a space consisting of a series of overlapping circles: in the middle of it all stands the shrine of the saint, the focal point and the very reason behind the festivity and a source of holiness and baraka. Around it, the Sûfî festivities take place, a strongly spiritual and ecstatic experience for the participants. But the mosque is also encircled by countless stands of the vendors, and – sometimes mixed with the Sûfî celebration, sometimes further out in the margins of the festivities – swing boats, popular singers and all of the other popular amusements that make up the mawlid. Surrounding streets and alleys are filled by a neighbourhood celebration, with families sitting in front of their houses and in cafés. People move continuously between the different spots and the huge crowds (zahma) are part of the standard imagery of the festivity. This festivity does not have a clear programme, a clear meaning or a clear plan, however it has a clear centre in its festive geography (both physical and imagined): the shrine of the saint which radiates the aura of sacredness over all of the festivity, encompassing everything and everyone. Thus, even the most profane parts of the festivity are neither separate from nor opposed to the sacred centre; on the contrary they become part of the sacred-profane spectacle. 15

11This festive space and atmosphere are highly problematic for the discourses of modernism and Islamic reform: they are fundamentally opposed to their standards of order and serious and rationalistic knowledge. Yet it is not so much the content of dominant values and norms that is relativized in the mawlid, but the boundaries which mark these: not only that between the sacred and profane, but also those between fun and seriousness, male and female, public and private, living and dead, day and night, city and countryside. 16

12The festive order of the mawlid is based on a social order that allows for ambivalence and the temporary reversal of boundaries. In that order, the mawlid is part of the circle of life and plays a legitimate role in both sustaining and criticizing the surrounding ordinary time. As opposed to this, in the modernist discourse of the 19th and 20th centuries, of which the Islamic reform movement is a part, society is seen in a process of cumulative development, rationalization and perfection. In this kind of discourse, boundaries are universal and the festive time and space of the mawlid appear as a form of retrogression. Hence, what appears as an aura of sanctity over a festivity that unites all of human life in the overlapping circles, mawlid becomes, in the modernist world view, a collection of profane, backward and ridiculous practices that taint the purity of the sacred sphere.

13This phenomenon is illustrated particularly well by the issue of roasted chickpeas – a cheap tasty snack and a common souvenir purchased at a mawlid. In the mawlid the chickpeas share in the sacred aura of the festival as carriers of baraka, to the degree that in the colloquial idiom chickpeas have come to represent something like an archetypical symbol of mawlids. 17 In the critical discourse on mawlids, chickpeas become a problem. A religious newspaper 18 commented disapprovingly on the mawlid of the late TV preacher Muhammad Mutawalli al-Sha‘rawi: 19 “The mawlid of al-Sha‘rawî turned into a playground of dervishes, a festival of chickpeas, sweets and children's play.” Although in themselves chickpeas are in no way opposed to Islam, modernity, civilisation or anything such like, their presence in the celebration of the saint can make them appear so. Here, chickpeas – part of the flourishing trade in sweets, snacks, amulets, toys and souvenirs – symbolize the blurring of the boundaries which ought to define the proper place of both snacks and saints.

Reform discourses and practices

14Most of the critics of mawlids in the official public sphere do not demand that the festivities be abolished. After all, there are good reasons for the continued organization of mawlids. They represent a major medium of religious mobilization. For Sûfî orders a mawlid is the occasion on which the members of the order meet, the message of Sûfî religiosity can be propagated and the identity of the order is demonstrated towards both members and outsiders alike. 20 For the state, mawlids represent an apolitical conservative form of religiosity, which should be encouraged in presenting something opposite to Islamist movements and which also provides a good opportunity for the propagation of the official Azhari interpretation of Islam. 21 In addition, the markets and amusement areas are often important for the local economy.

15In response to the numerous critical views which describe mawlids as an uncivilized and un-Islamic bid‘a, attempts to reform mawlids have emerged in the recent years. These attempts originate mainly from two directions: from state institutions, which attempt to reorganize the public space of mawlids to give them a more “correct” and “ordered” appearance, and from reformist Sûfî groups, 22 which criticize the ambivalent atmosphere and the ecstatic rituals of mawlids and reshape their own festive practices to fulfil the requirements set by reformist discourses and the modern public sphere. 23

16Although they appear separate at an initial glance, these two reformist trends are, in fact, closely interconnected through the influence exerted by the state on the Sûfî orders and the close relationship between reformist Sûfî groups, the Azhar and the state, 24 all of whom participate in the same discourse on “true” Sufism and “true” mawlid. In this discourse, which is connected to the more general discourses of authenticity, modernity and civilisation, mawlids are seen as occasions of remembering, learning and charity. Any deviations from these ideals that exist are presented as external influences that have nothing to do with the true Islamic core of the mawlid. Consequently, the aim is to eradicate such deviations in the festivity so as to make the mawlid what it ought to be: an occasion for learning from and practising the pious example of the walî. 25

17Since its emergence in the late 19th century, this discourse has been accompanied by attempts to reform the festivities. Ritual and moral reform have the longest history. The emergence of ritual reform coincides with the growing public (both colonial and local) criticism of ecstatic Sûfî rituals, and was marked with the famous ban in 1881 on the spectacular ritual of dawsa, whereby the shaykh of the Sa‘diyya order would ride on a horse over the bodies of his disciples. Since the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century, official Sûfî dignitaries tried and to some extent managed to ban other scandalous rituals such as snake-charming and eating broken glass, and – with less success – the use of musical instruments and the participation of women. 26

18The moral reform of mawlids went hand in hand with the growing concern for public morality in Egypt since the 19th century. One possible starting point of this development could be a decree issued in 1834 prohibiting female dancers – who in those days were an inseparable element of all major festivities – from performing in public places. 27 However, the decree – which never extended beyond Cairo in the first place – was short-lived, and 100 years later dancing, gambling, alcohol and prostitution were still common and visible at mawlids although the state did attempt to alter the situation by closing down some of the most infamous mawlids. 28 More far-reaching measures to “clean up” the festivities were introduced in the second half of the 20th century. Since the 1950s and 1970s, the sale of alcohol has been banned at most mawlids and, today, it is often impossible to find a single bar at a mawlid. Some cities, most importantly Tanta, even impose general prohibition during the festivity. Female dancers, who could still be seen performing on the streets in the immediate vicinity of the mosque in the 19th century, have been forced to move to the outermost periphery of the festivity and are banned from performing altogether at the majority of mawlids. 29 Gambling is still a common sight at most mawlids, however it appears to enjoy only a semi-legal status.

19The large-scale reorganization of the festive space and the rituals has reached its peak since the 1990s, the period which I will analyse in the following. What is involved here is a more fundamental reform that goes beyond the elimination of the most immoral and scandalous elements from the festivities. The practices I will analyse in the following section are part of the discourse of “true” and “correct” mawlid and their objective is to change the festive space and time of the celebrations.

The making of a mawlid

20Despite its at times very chaotic appearance, a mawlid is by no means a spontaneous event. Major organizational effort is required to stage these apparently chaotic scenes and this provides a means of changing the form and character of the festivity.

21Several local-level state institutions participate in the organization of a large mawlid. The festivity is planned and organized by a board comprising different branches of the administration, typically the province governor's office, the city administration, the security, electricity and health authorities and the Awqâf administration. If the mawlid is held in honour of a Sûfî shaykh, the Sûfî order affiliated to him may also participate in the organization. The state institutions allocate space for different parts of the festivity (Sûfî orders' tents, market stands, amusements, cafés etc.) and are responsible for the planning and maintenance of the public space (buildings, streets, parks etc.) and for security and order during the festivity. 30

22The state provides the physical framework for the festivity, but – with exception of official celebrations organized by the Awqâf administration and the Organisation for Cultural Centres (hay'at qusûr al-thaqâfa) – it does not produce the content of the festivity. Most of the actual celebrations are organized on a decentralized basis within the framework provided by the state. The more profane elements of the festivity – cafés, restaurants, amusements, small trade etc. – are commercial and run by countless private entrepreneurs, while most of the religious celebrations are organised by Sûfî orders and Sûfî-minded individuals.

23The basic physical unit of Sûfî celebrations at a mawlid is khidma, the services offered to Sûfî brethren and visitors. It is the place where pilgrims sleep during the festival, where free food is offered to the people and where Sûfî gatherings – which traditionally consist mainly of collective dhikr – take place at night. The concrete form of a khidma can range from a simple carpet on the pavement with a gas-cooker and a teapot to a lavish tent with bright coloured lights where food is served to thousands and where famous munshids perform at night. Each khidma is independently organized by a Sûfî group, as is the form and programme of the gatherings. 31

24Hence, two main channels exist where the discourse of reform can take shape in practice: the involvement of the state in the organization of the festivities, which allows for the manipulation of the festive space, and the Sûfî hadras which provide reformist groups with the best opportunity to practice their version of what mawlid is about.

Reorganizing the public space

Tanta: sharpening the boundaries

25Over the past ten years, the sites of almost all major mawlids in Cairo have been substantially reconstructed by public authorities. Similar projects have also been carried out in major pilgrimage sites in the provinces, notably in Tanta, Disuq and Qena.

26In the Nile Delta city of Tanta, the mawlid of al-Sayyid Ahmad al-Badawî, 32 Egypt's largest and most famous mawlid, has a long history of government presence. 33 Due to its tremendous size, 34 this festivity stretches over several kilometres of festive grounds. The mawlid traditionally has three main spaces: the surroundings of the mosque in the centre of the city, a fair ground behind the railway line, and behind that, the fields of Sigar where most of the tents of the Sûfî orders and pilgrims are located. 35

27State involvement in the festivity has not affected the basic layout of this festival, however it has continuously tended to draw the lines between the different spaces more rigidly so that vendors' stands and entertainment areas are only allowed in specified locations. Most recently, in the 1990s, part of the square in front of the mosque, which used to host a market and a bus station, was surrounded by a fence to turn it into a sanctuary (haram). 36 During the mawlid, the area inside the fence is covered by pilgrims' carpets and temporary cafés. The large tents of the police, health service, fire brigade and some Sûfî orders stand just outside the fence.

Disuq: creating a representative space

28The reforms of the public space in Tanta have largely followed the pre-existing layout of the mawlid. However they have resulted in a far more rigid differentiation between the divisions within the festival. State involvement in some other mawlids clearly opposes the pre-existing festival order. This is the case in the nearby city of Disuq, home to the mawlid of Sîdî Ibrâhîm al-Disûqî. 37 In the mid-1990s, the mosque square was expanded to give the mosque that houses the shrine a more prestigious environment and to create more space for the mawlid. Since then, the spacious new square hosted the main part of the mawlid. The tents of the Sûfî orders stood in front of the mosque and the rest of the square was filled with trading stands and pilgrims' carpets. The amusements were located in a nearby street. In 2002, however, by order of the province governor ‘Ali ‘Abd al-Shakûr, 38 it was forbidden to put up any stands or tents at all in the square during the mawlid (which lasted one week). As a result, the square was only sparsely crowded during the festival, and the celebrations moved to the crowded side streets. The emptiness of the central square was further underlined by an unusually heavy security presence.

29Most participants were disappointed about the shape of the festivity. Vendors, Sûfîs and the city's inhabitants all expressed discontent about this new order, complaining that this year the mawlid was “weak”, “all government” and “spoiled”. The local authorities, however, considered it a great success in making the festivity more ordered, beautiful, representable and religious. 39

Qena: modernizing the city, relocating the festivity

30This new order that was imposed in Disuq aimed to create an empty ordered and, most of all, representable space in the centre of the mawlid, however it did not attempt any far-reaching relocation or redefinition of the festivity as has been the case in the Upper Egyptian city of Qena, home to the mawlid of Sîdî ‘Abd al-Rahîm al-Qinâwî. 40 This mawlid had traditionally taken place in the immediate vicinity of the mosque, in the large open square in front of the mosque and in the graveyard behind it. Sûfî khidmas, trade and amusements used to spread over the area, often standing side by side. All this changed when the city of Qena experienced a large-scale development campaign after the new governor, State Security General ‘Âdil Labîb assumed office in late 1999. 41

31One part of the campaign involved the improvement of the pilgrimage site and the reorganization of the annual mawlid. The mosque in which the shrine is located was renovated and extended. 42 The open square in front of the mosque, where vendors' stands and large khidmas were previously located, was completely surrounded by a fence and became accessible only from two gates facing the main street, not from side streets or from the graveyard behind the mosque. Unlike in Tanta and Disuq where the squares are open for the public to picnic on and wander about, in Qena most of the square was turned into a park that is completely closed to the public.

32During the mawlid, no tents or stands were allowed inside the passage marked by iron fences (one to separate it from the streets, the other to separate it from the park). On the final night of the festival, at maghrib prayer, the entire area of the mosque was closed to the public because the governor and the shaykh al-Azhar were arriving for the official celebration.

33As a result of these measures, the physical shape of the mawlid changed significantly. Not only were khidmas and a considerable number of the trade stands forced to wander to the side streets, the graveyard, which had hosted much of the mawlid in the past, was largely cut off from the festive grounds. Furthermore, the amusements were given a new location in the nearby stadium, approximately half a kilometre away from the mosque and the Sûfî tents. The entire festive space was fragmented by numerous fences and gates.

34The secretary-general of Qena province 43 argued in an interview, that these measures had turned the mosque and the mawlid of Sîdî ‘Abd al-Rahîm into a beautiful modern Islamic pilgrimage site, a representable and clean place “for people to perform ziyâra and to listen to religious hymns and lectures and the biography of Sîdî ‘Abd al-Rahîm”, completely isolated from any kind of “transgressing activities” (a‘mâl mukhilla), such as amusements, gambling, trade, and eating and sleeping in the open.

35All these attempts at reorganization result from a specific understanding of the festive order which opposes the traditional model of overlapping circles. The state authorities tend to organize the mawlid increasingly on the basis of a model of separate spheres. In Tanta, this is done by sharpening the boundaries of the existing spatial arrangement, in Disuq through the creation of an empty representative space in the centre that is separate from the popular festivity in the side streets, and in Qena through the radical relocation of the festivity, which was conceived as part of the modernization of the entire city.

36In each case, the mawlid space has been restructured in accordance with a functionally differentiated system of order. In this new order, the sacred and the profane, the official and the popular celebrations are separated. Everything (i.e. everything that the planners consider important) has its place. The state symbolically takes possession of the centre of the mawlid by creating an empty, representative space. In the words of the responsible officials and religious dignitaries, this space is “beautiful” and “ordered” (munazzam). Nizâm, meaning order, discipline and organization, is, perhaps, the most common word that is used in the context of the reorganization of mawlids. 44

37This new spatial order of the mosque and the surrounding area looks prestigious and is suitable for official ceremonies. However, it is rather dysfunctional in the context of a mawlid as it fragments the open space required for the large crowds that attend the festivities. The contingent and ambivalent space of a mawlid is turned into a prestigious, well-ordered space in a modern city inhabited by well-disciplined citizens as apparently conceived by planners of such projects. 45

38This emphasis on discipline and order is also expressed in the increased emphasis on religious preaching and propaganda and the large official celebrations (consisting of speeches by religious and political dignitaries and some recitation of the Qur'ân and religious poetry) which are held in the immediate vicinity of the mosque. It is further reflected in the television coverage of the festivities. Neither the street festivities nor the Sûfî dhikr sessions are broadcast. What can be broadcasted are religious lectures, official celebrations, Friday prayers (during or following the mawlid) and folkloric arts (such as mirmâh, a traditional Upper Egyptian horse race). This is the mawlid as the state institutions would like to show it: a well-organized and precisely orchestrated festivity for the propagation of official religious discourse. Religious dignitaries, not the ordinary visitors, are the focus of attention. The festivity is turned into a medium of religious propaganda, possibly enriched with some elements of folklore.

39However, the chaotic ambivalent traditional mawlid does not disappear. It is merely moved out of sight. By symbolically occupying the centre of the festivity (the mosque and the surrounding open space), the state can demonstrate its concern for a civilized ordered and representable mawlid and simultaneously allow the margins of the festival to follow an order of their own. After all, many of the responsible officials are well aware that this is what makes a mawlid really interesting for the majority of the participants:

We could make the mawlid even more ordered. We could go to the side streets and organise them the same way [i.e. restrict trade and amusements and decrease the pressure of the crowds], but that would make the mawlid lose its flavour. It's the crowds that make the mawlid (il-mûlid fî zahmituh). 46

40Thus, the state institutions must strike a balance between the interests of public appearance and order and those of the popular street festivity. This is the fundamental problem of street festivity: its continuation is in interest of the state, but at the same time it represents a potential threat to the public authorities' understanding of order and beauty and of a festivity as an officially orchestrated show.

Remaking the Sûfî hadra

41Sûfî gatherings constitute the other important area in which attempts to reshape mawlids can be observed. Collective dhikr is the most important element of a public Sûfî hadra at a mawlid. This can take many forms; a dhikr involving ecstatic bodily movement and melodic, emotional music is the most prominent form at mawlids, and most commonly subject to criticism and seen as in greatest need of reform. 47

42Unlike the festivity on the streets, Sûfî dhikr is essentially religious in nature, however the kind of bodily disposition expressed in it is controversial. Dhikr is the main event in this most controversial kind of Sûfî gathering. After an opening ceremony with ritual speeches, prayers and recitation of the Qur'ân, the participants – members of the order or general public – stand up and start to invocate names of God while simultaneously moving to the tone of the music. The music is melodic and emotional and the munshid is usually accompanied by a band. The dhikr can last for anything from an hour to an entire night. It is usually concluded by a closing ceremony which, again, involves ritual speech and prayers. There are no lectures, no rhetorical speeches and no intellectual content. This kind of dhikr is very ecstatic and – to a certain extent – spontaneous. During a mawlid the dhikr typically takes place in a tent open to the street and it is usually quite informal: people come and go, women commonly participate in the gatherings, there are different levels of participation and only a weak differentiation between performers and audience.

43Critics see the use of melodic instrumental music as compromising the spiritual content to a lower level of animalistic instincts. They also often find the mixing of men and women scandalous. The physical movement itself, i.e. the waving and dancing, is often viewed as something opposed to religion. Based on its ecstatic and spontaneous character, on the one hand, and the way it is embedded in the informal lower-class habitus of the mawlid, on the other, this kind of dhikr breaks the boundaries set for religious ritual in the dominant religious discourses.

44The debate about the use of music and dance in Sûfî dhikr has a long history. 48 However it has gained new urgency in the 20th century, as attempts of modernisation have been accompanied by a tendency of objectification and rationalisation of Islam as a religion. 49 From the point of view of an aesthetic of systematic, disciplined and rational piety, such practices oppose two of the fundamental principles of Islamic ritual: rationality and discipline. 50 From this perspective, constrained disciplined intellectualism is the very cornerstone of the Revelation and inherently opposed to uncontrolled, ambivalent emotion: “God opened the Revelation with the word ‘Read!' (iqra'), He did not say: ‘Dance!'” 51

45As a result, all recent attempts to reform Sûfî gatherings tend to intellectualize the content and give discipline a clear priority over emotional, ecstatic and ambivalent elements. Thus, what is important is to include intellectual, rhetorical elements in the ritual, eliminate uncontrolled expression, create clear discipline and give the whole event a more organized and morally respectable appearance.

46One of the most important proponents of ritual reform is the Supreme Council of Sûfî Orders (al-Majlis al-a‘lâ li-l-turuq al-sûfiyya), a government-controlled institution responsible for Sûfî affairs in Egypt. 52 In reality, however, the Council only has a limited influence on the actual course of mawlids. It acts primarily as a vehicle for a reformist Sûfî discourse. 53 Actual reforms of festivities and rituals are implemented by reform-minded Sûfî orders and individuals. 54 However, just as there are different Sûfî groups with different social and ideological backgrounds, there many different ways of making a Sûfî hadra fit the requirements of official religious discourses in the public sphere. In the following section, I will discuss three different solutions which I observed at different mawlids around Egypt during 2002 and 2003.

Shaykh Salâh: the traditionalist

47Shaykh Salâh al-Dîn al-Qûsî (born 1940), the holder of a degree in science from a Czechoslovak university and owner of a chemical factory in the military sector, is the leader of a Sûfî group which organizes one of the largest khidmas in the mawlid of al-Sayyida Zaynab in Cairo. 55 During the day, the tent, which is in a good location next to the wall of the mosque, is filled by visitors who enjoy the free meals offered by the shaykh. Public hadras are held on five consecutive nights during the mawlid. I observed the opening hadra on 26 September 2002.

48This hadra is traditional in much of its style, but it is clearly organized in a way that is intended to avoid the controversial aspects of Sûfî dhikrs: everybody is seated, which makes the entire event far more static and disciplined. The munshid performs without a band and in a style that consciously avoids to generate an excessively ecstatic atmosphere. Sometimes the recitation is interrupted to explain the meaning of the verse (which is authored by the shaykh). Women are seated separately from men.

49Nonetheless, Shaykh Salâh's gathering remains close to the milieu and atmosphere of mawlids in many ways, and can be historically related to the long tradition of more contemplative Sûfî gatherings. There are very few speeches; the hadra consists of an opening ceremony, the performance of the munshid and a closing ceremony. 56 It is open to all, people sit on the ground and not on chairs, and there is no special dress to distinguish active murîds from passers-by. The crowd participates in the inshâd, which makes the atmosphere turn ecstatic at times towards the end. This gathering has eliminated the most controversial aspects of a traditional standing musical dhikr, but it is still clearly committed to the form and occasion of a traditional mawlid, 57 while simultaneously attempting to create a higher level of discipline and order.

Al-Tarîqa al-‘Azmiyya: radical reform

50Other reformist Sûfî gatherings go much further than that of Shaykh Salâh. An outstanding example is the mawlid of the ‘Azmiyya order. The order, which was founded in 1933 by the prominent anti-colonial activist Muhammad Mâdî Abû l-‘Azâ'im, is known for its radical anti-Salafi polemics and outspokenly modernist orientation. The ‘Azmiyya defends mawlids vehemently against Salafi criticism while simultaneously calling for a reform of the celebrations. 58

51The mawlid of al-imâm al-mujaddid (as he is considered to be by his followers) Muhammad Mâdî Abû l-‘Azâ'im is consciously organized as an exemplary instance of a true and correct mawlid and in clear contrast to a traditional Sûfî gathering. The entire festivity consists solely of a religious-political celebration and there are no amusements and no trading to be found anywhere. The mawlid lasts four days and the atmosphere is far from festive. In 2002, the first day was devoted to a conference discussing the contribution of Sufism to religious discourse. On the second day, which was also the day of al-isrâ' wa-l-mi‘râj, a celebration was held in the order's mosque involving a short dhikr – seated and without musical instruments – followed by some learned and many highly political speeches. The main public celebration took place on the two following nights, first in a tent in front of the mosque, and in the final night in a theatre.

52During the public celebrations on the two last nights of the mawlid, all of the people are seated on chairs. The women are separated from men more strictly than in the hadra of Shaykh Salâh where women simply were given one part of the room whose boundaries were not physically marked. In the mawlid of the ‘Azmiyya, there is a metre-high wall between the female and male audiences. In the final celebration in the theatre, women are seated on the balcony and men on the floor. There is also a clear separation between the seated audience and the order's dignitaries who are seated on the podium.

53The atmosphere of the entire festivity is very formal. There is no dhikr during the public celebration. The first three and half hours of the celebration consist entirely of speakers and preachers praising the founder of the order and discussing political topics (mostly sharp attacks on Israel and Jews in general, and Saudi Arabia and Wahhabis in general). Awards are given to outstanding members of the order and persons of public prominence.

54Music finally follows the three and a half hours of speeches. It is performed by an orchestra and a uniformed choir. The music is much softer and more elaborate than the music performed by most munshids in mawlids. It represents the officially recognized and more orchestral form of Sûfî music which can be appreciated as high art and broadcasted on the radio. 59 The only opportunity for public participation is through applause.

55Not only does the festivity lack emotional, ecstatic and entertaining elements, the space itself is also more sober. While in other hadras, brightly-coloured traditional textiles are used for the tent, here the cloth of the tent has a simple square pattern with only two colours. This is common in many reformist hadras as well as official celebrations. Otherwise, this type of tent is used for funerals rather than mawlids.

56This gathering is organized in conscious opposition to traditional mawlids. It no longer looks like a mawlid. However, it does look very much like the many official political and religious gatherings shown on Egyptian television. In fact, it represents a clear attempt to fulfil the norms of the modern official public sphere: the form is that of a conference, the public is disciplined and passive and the content is intellectual, educational and rationalistic. It is not intended to be fun.

Al-Tarîqa al-Jâzûliyya: some emotion, some discipline

57The Tarîqa al-Jâzûliyya al-Husayniyya al-Shâdhiliyya, a relatively new order (established in the 1950's) that deliberately targets supporters from the well-educated upper and middle classes, adopts a different approach to making Sûfî gatherings more in tune with the dominant religious discourses. While the spiritual teachings of the order are more conventional than those of the ‘Azmiyya, the Jâzûliyya is very keen to perform a “clean”, orderly and well-organized dhikr. 60

58I observed a public gathering of the order at the mawlid of Sîdî ‘Abd al-Rahîm al-Qinâwî on 18 October 2002 in Qena and at the mawlid al-nabî celebrations on 12 May 2003 in Cairo. The space for these gatherings is colourfully decorated; a brightly coloured tent, balloons and strips of coloured paper underline the festive atmosphere. The hadra features many preachers and speeches of a rhetorical – as opposed to primarily ritual – nature. However, the emphasis lies on the dhikr. The munshid performs with a band and the music bears a similarity not only to traditional Sûfî inshâd – intense, rhythmical and emotional – but also to the elaborate melodies of commercial pop music. 61 The programme is based on a fixed set of songs, leaving little space for spontaneous performance. Only members of the order participate in the rituals. Some members of the order perform the music while others participate by singing and clapping hands. Many of the participants are clearly in an ecstatic state. Despite the ecstatic atmosphere, people remain seated on the ground, which is an unusual combination. Female members of the order are seated at the side of the tent and merely watch the hadra without actively participating in it. The most outstanding feature, however, is the uniform dress of the disciples, which is unique in an Egyptian mawlid. There are white gallâbiyyas and caps for normal murîds, green caps for those who perform and work for the khidma and blue caps for those who take care of security and order. A member of the order, who was wearing a green cap, explained that the dress code is adopted “so that there is some kind of discipline”, so that different functions are clearly distinguished and so that members of the order are distinct from the crowd. As a result of this arrangement, the atmosphere is far more emotional and ecstatic than at other reformist Sûfî gatherings, however there is a clear sense of discipline which is evoked most visibly by the functional differentiation based on the uniforms.

59The dhikr practised by the Jâzûliyya is very interesting because it represents an attempt to present an aesthetic of order and discipline while being festive and ecstatic at the same time. This is a central problem for all Sûfî gatherings: just as state authorities face a balancing act between the interests of public order and those of the street festivity, reform-minded Sûfîs must also strike a balance between the aim of presenting a “pure”, “correct” and disciplined gathering, and the expression of festive and ecstatic tendencies. This tension between ecstatic states and group discipline, which is present in every Sûfî dhikr, has been analysed by Michael Gilsenan as the polar tension between “freedom and control, between unrestrained emotional ecstasy and formal regulation, between the individual and group experience which must be one, though the first always threatens the second.” 62

60It would be too simplistic to describe this balancing act in terms of the opposition between “orthodox” and “popular” Sufism. 63 Different types of Sûfî gatherings have always existed side-by-side at Egyptian mawlids with more contemplative gatherings taking place right next to more ecstatic and spontaneous ones. 64 Reformist Sûfî gatherings are not simply an expression of “orthodox” Sufism (whatever that is); they are part of a complex redefinition and remaking of spirituality, festivity and religiosity. They are closely related to the political, intellectual and economic development of Egyptian society in the 20th century, where being both modern and a Muslim has been increasingly associated with a rational, disciplined and constrained habitus. 65

61For this reason, the dimension of class distinctions must not be omitted from the exploration of this phenomenon. Reformist Sûfî orders consciously try to attract educated middle or upper class followers. As a result, reformed Sûfî gatherings often stand out from the general lower-class milieu of the mawlids. Many of these gatherings have emerged only recently, and they often combine a constrained, educational atmosphere (which in itself is a marker of class distinction, especially of educational capital) with two significant innovations concerning the material side of the khidma: instead of sitting together on the carpet around the plates of food, the people are seated on chairs and offered individual meals. The food is often of much higher quality than usually is provided in mawlids (it sometimes even includes elements symbolic of restaurant service, such as refreshment towels).

62Many Sûfîs feel rather uncomfortable about this development, and with good reason: these “five-star khidmas” (as other Sûfîs call them), and the hadras held in them, are in some respects opposed to the milieu and atmosphere of the Sûfî mawlid, firstly, because they are associated with the outspoken criticism of the more ecstatic and emotional forms of hadra and, secondly, because of the clear statement of class difference they make by using chairs and “five-star” service. 66

Conclusion: the new mawlid

63Based on an understanding of “discourse itself as practice”, 67 the reformist discourse on mawlids is not something distinct from the festive practice itself: the game of redefining the celebrations in the public sphere goes hand in hand with changes in the time and space of the festivity.

64Interestingly, this redefinition and reshaping of mawlids is largely decentral. Except for the authorization to stage the festivity, which is required from the Ministry of the Interior and in some cases from the Supreme Council of Sûfî Orders, there is no policy on mawlids at central government level. The decisions concerning the organization of a mawlid are all taken at local level by the provincial administration and by individual Sûfî orders. 68

65What we have here is not a centralized policy, but a diffuse discursive practice: the similarities in the reorganization of different mawlids around the country follow an implicit understanding of how large popular religious celebrations should look. This kind of discursive common sense is disseminated through the religious and civilizational discourses in the official public sphere, the institutes of higher learning, the education and training of police and security officers and the debates and discussions that take place within the Sûfî establishment.

66These discursive practices of reorganization and reform primarily concern the visible aspects of the mawlids, i.e. their appearance. However, the form of the festivity is actually directly related to its content and meaning. These practices tend to eliminate or to diminish the ambivalence that is so characteristic of the traditional form of mawlid. The mawlid shall now have one clear meaning. Everything shall have its clear place in a spatial order and a festive programme and the people are expected to behave accordingly. These reforms attempt to transform the mawlid from a chaotic, ambivalent, utopian festivity, during which the normal order of things is suspended, into a disciplined educational celebration that reinforces norms and values. This happens in different degrees, of course. State institutions (secular and religious alike) acknowledge the ambivalence and complexity of the mawlid, but attempt to limit and control it (this is especially the case in Tanta). The ‘Azmiyya Sûfî order represents an extreme position, determined to replace the traditional mawlid by an entirely different one.

67According to Foucault's 69 understanding of discourses as “practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak” what we have here is indeed an entirely new object: a mawlid that does not look or sound like a mawlid. However, what is happening is more complex than the mere replacement of one object by another. In practice, so far, the reforms have not led to the elimination of the more carnivalesque and syncretistic aspects of mawlids: the new object – the reformed representable mawlid – must exist in parallel to other objects, all of which are known as mawlid: the ecstatic dhikr, the pilgrims in search of baraka, the children enjoying playgrounds, sweets and toys and the youths roaming the streets seeking entertainment and excitement. However, these different experiences and practices of the mawlid are being increasingly separated from each other, they are being transformed from an all-encompassing festival into separate spheres, each representing a mawlid of its own kind.

68On a final note, it is important to relate the festive reform to the recent decline of mawlids 70 and related traditions in Egypt. This development began in the 1990s and is most visible in the shrinking number of visitors to most mawlids and the decline of certain traditions, most importantly processions. The possible reasons for this development – changing patterns of religiosity, modern entertainment industry, the educational system and the current economic crisis – are too complex to be examined here. It is necessary, however, to be aware of the relationship between the reforms, the increasing fragmentation of the festive experience and the current decline of the festivities: the traditional, carnivalesque mawlid has always been simultaneously a moment of libertine joy and a form of religious performance. When this unity of religious and festive experience breaks, the mawlid loses much of its attraction and much of its power to draw pilgrims from all parts of the country to spend a week in the temporary utopia of a sacred holiday.

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1 This article is based on papers presented in a public lecture at the Netherlands-Flemish Institute in Cairo on 23 January 2003, and in the workshop “Modern adaptations of Sûfî-based popular Islam: concepts, practices and movements in a translocal perspective” at the Centre for Modern Oriental Studies, Berlin on 4 April 2003. An earlier version was published in Georg Stauth, ed., On Archaeology of Sainthood and Local Spirituality in Islam. Past and Present Crossroads of Events and Ideas (Yearbook of the Sociology of Islam, vol. 5), Bielefeld, Transcript Verlag, 2004, p. 173-194.
2 In Egypt, Muslim saints (awliyâ') are usually Sûfî shaykhs and/or descendants of the Prophet. Hoffmann, 1995, p. 89ff. The term mawlid (colloquial mûlid, pl. mawâlid) derives from the Prophet's birthday (mawlid al-nabî). Elsewhere in the Muslim world similar festivals have different names, for example mawsim in Morocco, urs in the Indian sub-continent, haulî in East Africa and khawl in Indonesia. (Cf. “Ziyâra” in Encyclopaedia of Islam). A rich tradition of Christian saints, monasteries and mawlids also exists in Egypt (Frankfurter, 1998; Meinardus, 2002), however as the Christian tradition has not been subject to controversies and reforms to the same extent as the Muslim tradition has, I have not included Christian mawlids in this study.
3 For descriptive studies on mawlids, see McPherson, 1941, Mustafâ, 1981 and Biegman, 1990.
4 Cf. Sha‘rânî, 1997.
5 The origin of mawlids is subject to controversy. It is often assumed that mawlids represent a pre-Islamic continuity of Pharaonic traditions (McPherson, 1941; Stauth, 2001), but this possible continuity is highly speculative and lacks evidence from historical data (Mayeur-Jaouen, 1995, p. 71). Another current theory is that mawlids were introduced by the Fatimid rulers of Egypt between the 10th and 12th century and represent a continuation of Fatimid Shiite practice (Mustafâ, 1981, p. 80-84). However, the mawlids of the Fatimid court were essentially public celebrations of the ruling elite rather than popular festivals. Mawlids as we know them today – popular pilgrimages to a saints' shrine, combining religious and profane festivities – are only documented from the 14th and 15th centuries on (de Jong, “Mawlid”, Encyclopaedia of Islam, Shoshan 1993, p. 17).
6 Shoshan, 1993, p. 17ff.; Kaptein, 1993.
7 Fierro, 1992, p. 204.
8 Winter, 1982, p. 179-184.
9 Fierro, 1992, p. 214.
10 ‘Umar, 1902, p. 255ff.; ‘Abd al-Latîf, 1999; Johansen, 1996, p. 134ff., 161ff.; Schielke, 2003.
11 Interview with activists of the Wahhabi group Ansâr al-Sunna al-Muhammadiyya in Cairo, 15 December 2002.
12 Bakhtine, 1968, p. 5ff. One could also analyse this festive time in terms of Victor Turner's (1974) concepts of liminality and communitas. However, Bakhtin's model has the major advantage that it helps to explain the subversive nature of mawlids, the potential threat they constitute to concepts of order. According to Bakhtin's logic as opposed to Turner's, the festive days and nights of the mawlid are not merely a passing moment of anti-structure about to turn structure again, but a temporary alternative reality that is strongly utopian in character.
13 Descriptions recorded in Tanta and Disuq in October 2002 and provided by the imam of a mosque in Tanta describing his journey to a mawlid in the desert, a young woman who travels every year with her parents and a Sûfî group to a mawlid, a young woman from a family of landless farmers running a temporary café in a mawlid and a male teacher and recent university graduate who visited a mawlid with his friends.
14 As for example in the expression “a mawlid without its master (i.e. the saint)” (mûlid wa-sâhbu ghâyib).
15 Madœuf, 2001.
16 Madœuf, 2001; Pagès-el-Karoui, 2002.
17 For example, “leaving the mawlid without chickpeas” (tili' mi-l-mûlid bi-lâ hummus), which means “missing an opportunity”.
18 ‘Aqîdatî, 22 June 1999.
19 For the the person of al-Sha‘râwî and his mawlid, cf. Iskander, 2000; Schielke, 2001; Chih, Mayeur-Jaouen, 2002.
20 Gilsenan, 1973, p. 61-64.
21 Interview in Cairo 8 July 1999 with shaykh ‘Abd al-Mu‘izz al-Jazzâr, deputy secretary general of Islamic Research Academy (Majma‘ al-buhûth al-islâmiyya) of al-Azhar; interview in Kafr al-Shaykh 21 January 2003 with Fu'âd ‘Abd al-‘Azîz Muhammad, director of the Awqâf administration of the province Kafr al-Shaykh; cf. also Luizard, 1991, p. 46ff.
22 Luizard, 1991; Johansen, 1996.
23 One must observe, however, that reformist Sûfî groups are not separated from the rest of the Sûfî movement in Egypt. There is a wide-spread Sûfî apologetic discourse which is used by various people from the Sûfî milieu to defend Sûfî doctrines and practices against anti-Sûfî discourses. The basic apologetic strategy is to deny that Sufism has any relation to controversial practices and to construct an ideal model of “true” Sûfî practice. Reformist Sûfî groups remain part of the Sûfî milieu, but they stand out from it through the way they act out this discourse in their ritual practice. This is most commonly the case with groups that try to attract members from the upper and middle classes – where Salafi and modernist anti-Sufism have high currency. These groups most urgently need to adapt to the requirements of the dominant public discourses. Cf. Hoffman, 1995, p. 52; Frishkopf, 1999, p. 1034-1047; Chih, 2000, p. 141-153; 343-347.
24 Luizard, 1991, p. 46f. State control of Sûfî orders and sponsorship of Sûfî reform are not a new phenomenon: they have a history dating back to the late 19th century. Cf. de Jong, 1978.
25 Abû l-‘Azâ'im, 1991; Ibrâhîm, 1996; al-Liwâ' al-islâmî, 1 August 2002.
26 De Jong, 1999, 2000, p. 91ff.; Luizard, 1991, p. 28f.; Gerholm, 1997, p. 140.
27 Wallin, 1864, vol. 2, p. 44; Lane, 1989, p. 566, n. 28.
28 McPherson, 1941, p. 5-16; 286.
29 Van Nieuwkerk, 1995, p. 65.
30 Pagès-el-Karoui, 2002; interview with shaykh Muhammad Hammâd, shaykh of the mosque of Sayyid al-Badawî, on 28 June 1999 in Tanta; interview with Sa‘îd Mar‘î, secretary general of Qena governorate, on 15 January 2003 in Qena.
31 Cf. Chih, 2000, p. 270-275.
32 Qâdî, 2001; Mayeur-Jaouen, 1994.
33 Wallin, 1864, p. 123; 135; 143; Martinovich, 1912; Pagés-el-Karoui, 2002. I am indebted to thanks to Philipp Reichmuth for translating Martinovich's article from Russian.
34 The mawlid is estimated to have two million visitors. (Interview with Shaykh Muhammad Hammâd, shaykh of the mosque of Sayyid al-Badawî, on 28 June 1999 in Tanta.) However, as such estimates tend to be vastly exaggerated in Egypt, and there is no reliable way of providing an objective count of the number of visitors, this estimate is little more than a wild guess.
35 This has been the case since the 1940s at least (Interview with Shaykh ‘Abd al-‘Azîz Faysal, a regular visitor to the mawlid since that time, on 16 October 2002 in Tanta), but this basic arrangement of the festive grounds has been roughly the same much longer (Wallin, 1864, vol. 2, p. 39-44; Martinovich, 1912).
36 Interview with regular Sûfî visitors to the mawlid on 15 October 2002 in Tanta.
37 Ja‘farî, 2001; Hallenberg, 1997.
38 In a bizarre twist of fate, the governor died of heart attack on 5 November 2002 (al-Wafd 6 November 2002) only five days after the mawlid, which many Sûfîs immediately interpreted as a divine punishment for his restrictive measures during the mawlid.
39 Interview with Fu'âd ‘Abd al-‘Azîz Muhammad, director of Awqâf administration in the province Kafr al-Shaykh, on 21 January 2003 in Kafr al-Shaykh city.
40 al-Hajjâjî, 1996.
41 Al-Ahrâm, 1 November 1999; 29 August 2002.
42 In many other pilgrimage centres, the renovation of the mosque went hand in hand with a higher degree of gender segregation; however this was not the case in Qena.
43 Sa‘îd Mar‘î, Qena 15 January 2003.
44 Interview with Sa‘îd Mar‘î; interview with General ‘Âdil Labîb, governor of Qena, and his secretaries on 15 January 2003 in Qena; interview with Fu'âd ‘Abd al-‘Azîz Muhammad.
45 Mitchell, 1988, p. 79ff.
46 Interview on 18 January 2003 in Cairo with ‘amîd Sayyid Ahmad, member of the National Assembly (Majlis al-Sha‘b) and former police chief of Fûwa (province Kafr al-Shaykh) who has many years of experience in the mounted police during the mawlid in Disuq.
47 Frishkopf, 2002; Hoffman, 1995; Johansen, 1996; Waugh, 1989.
48 Shehadi, 1995; Johansen, 1996, p. 74-82.
49 Cf. Eickelman, 1992.
50 Starrett, 1995.
51 Discussion with an Egyptian academic, Cairo, 23 January 2003.
52 Luizard, 1991, p. 29ff.
53 Interview on 17 February 2002 in Cairo with shaykh ‘Alâ' Abû l-‘Azâ'im, shaykh of the ‘Azmiyya Sûfî order and a member of the Supreme Sûfî Council, who complained that the government authorities would not take seriously the Supreme Sûfî Council's proposals to eliminate deviations from mawlids.
54 It is common for living Sûfî shaykhs to have no formal order of their own, only an informal circle of friends and disciples. This is also the case with shaykh Salâh al-Dîn al-Qûsî whose hadra is described below.
55 Shaykh Salâh's supporters are not organized in a formal association, but in an informal group known as al-Ashrâf al-Mahdiyya. Cf.
56 In other hadras of Shaykh Salâh the programme is different. It then consists of a long sequence of prayers and hymns performed collectively by the participants. The basic setting remains the same.
57 Supporters of shaykh Salâh also abstain from criticizing other Sûfîs whose gatherings are more ecstatic and colourful. They argue that the standing dancing dhikr is simply a more basic rudimentary part of the Sûfî way, which they no longer need, thanks to the spiritual power of their shaykh. Interview with computer engineer ‘Umar al-Jundî who was active in the organisation of the khidma on 29 September 2002 in Cairo.
58 Luizard, 1991, p. 37; Abû l-‘Azâ'im, 1991; 1993.
59 Frishkopf, 2002.
60 Hoffman, 1995, p. 147, 152, 247; Johansen, 1996, p. 82-88; Frishkopf, 1999, p. 542-621.
61 Frishkopf, 1999, p. 573.
62 Gilsenan, 1973, p. 174.
63 Gerholm, 1997, p. 143.
64 Frishkopf, 2002; Abu-Zahra, 1997, p. XI; Schielke, 2002.
65 Starrett, 1995; Armbrust, 1996; Eickelman, 1992.
66 It should be kept in mind that the temporary suspension of class distinctions is a central motif of the festive time of the mawlid. Interviews with Ashraf Faysal, son and prospective successor of a Sûfî shaykh, on 1 November 2002 in Disuq; and with shaykh Hasan al-Dirîni, on 30 October 2002 in Disuq.
67 Foucault, 1972, p. 46.
68 Interviews with Sa‘îd Mar‘î, General ‘Âdil Labîb and ‘amîd Sayyid Ahmad.
69 Foucault, 1972, p. 49.
70 It is not possible to predict the future of the mawlids. Throughout the 20th century, they were predicted as likely to disappear soon and went through many alternating periods of decline (e.g. the 1930s) and growth (e.g. the 1980s). Cf. McPherson, 1941; Biegman, 1990.
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Samuli Schielke, « On snacks and saints: when discourses of rationality and order enter the Egyptian mawlid  », Archives de sciences sociales des religions, 135 | 2006, 117-140.

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Samuli Schielke, « On snacks and saints: when discourses of rationality and order enter the Egyptian mawlid  », Archives de sciences sociales des religions [En ligne], 135 | juillet - septembre 2006, mis en ligne le 16 octobre 2009, consulté le 06 décembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Samuli Schielke

International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World (ISIM) Leiden

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