Moulid Sayeda Zeinab: a birthday to remember

Michaela Singer
5 Min Read

If you’re looking for a quiet night in, a Sufi Moulid is something to avoid at all costs – i.e taking a metro trip to Sayeda Zeinab and actually alighting then finding your way into town wouldn’t be ideal.

This week, the Sayada saw thousands of Cairenes, governorate residents and real country-bumpkins make their way to the heart of the Capital in her name.

Zeinab, in case you’ve been condemned yourself to an expat world of blissful ignorance whilst resident in Egypt, was granddaughter of the Prophet Mohamed and child of Ali Ibn Abi Talib, the fourth – and according to the Shia sect – last Caliph of Islam.

The source of her venerated status stems from devotion she displayed to her two brothers, Al Hassan and Al Hussein. Al Hussein was brutally murdered at the Battle of Karbala, whilst Zeinab, according to belief, was taken hostage by opposition forces.

The mosque and quarters erected in her name are tribute to the respect and awe her late spirit commands throughout the Islamic World.

But it is her familial ties to Prophet Mohamed and the favor said to have shown her that marks her out as a Sufi saint, an intermediary between the higher and mortal world.

The Moulid itself, a kind of mass birthday party for the Sayeda Zeinab, is, for Sufi followers, one of the highlights of the year. There are 77 Sufi sects in Egypt, not including those that, for sundry reasons, are not officially recognized.

Last week, most of them were parked up in makeshift tents, tucked into walls and spread out in flattened building sites, on the road to Sayeda Zeinab Mosque.

“We’ve come from Menufiya, said Ayman, a follower of the Khalili Tariqa, “as we do every year, before pointing his relative, Sheikh Khalid.

Khalid, dressed in a long galabiya and Sufi turban, according to Ayman “was in control of the tariqa from A to Z. This was unfortunate, because Khalid was missing most of his front teeth, and understanding distinguishing certain consonant sounds would be a battle.

“Mohamed Abu Khalil. Everything he did or said was for God. He did everything demanded of him by God, and he established this Tariqa (way) on the word of God.

Khalid went on to explain that the Khalili Tariqa, is distinguished by its absolute and singular devotion to God. It’s hard to understand how this differs from religions in general, but according to many Sufi practitioners and academics, it’s something that needs to be experienced to be realized. An abstract explanation falls way short of compensating for a lived experience, the essence of Sufism.

Perhaps in a sense the comprehension of the nature of the almighty by Sufi disciples can be grasped by the lack of distinction many make between religions. “There’s no difference from religion to religion, said Sheikh Khalid. “All believers are sons of God, and all say ‘in God’s will.’

Walking towards the mosque on Tuesday evening, it was difficult to translate Sheikh Khalid’s unadulterated love for God, to the drab scenes lining the sides of the roads. Sweet sellers and circus folk had set up stall to entertain trails of excited children.

One scene doomed to stay in my memory, is that of the make-shift circus stand, upon which sat two middle aged men. Bald and paunched, they sat slumped on the rotting wooden boards dressed in the polyester clown garb, complete with red noses.

Further along the road, hordes of whiskered teenage boys crammed themselves around equally make-shift- shoot out stalls catered for by busty young women.

Approaching the mosque itself, is somewhat a feat, especially when guarded by bodily parts from would-be man-handlers. One is met by a scene that was compared by one of our party, to Ramsis bus station on a busy day.

He might have been right, most of these people live under an edifying wave of chronic poverty; and the Sufi moulids offer some brief respite to that day by day monotony of hand to mouth living.

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