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The big night in Egypt.

Summary: CAIRO - He was struggling to protect her from the crowd. They were young and looked like foreigners, which was why people were gazing at them. But the atmosphere was really amazing.

He was very happy to see how fascinated she looked, but he was also afraid that someone in the crowd might harm her.

The unusual appearance of this couple was what attracted me to el-Sayyeda Zeinab Square, which was very crowded because of the Moulid, a massive festival held there every year to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Mohamed's granddaughter, Zeinab.

Moulids are something very Egyptian, with their own unique flavour. People come from everywhere to attend this spiritual event, like the couple, eager to discover the magic of el-Sayyeda Zainab during the Moulid, always held outside el-Sayyeda Zeinab Mosque in Islamic Cairo.

Dedicated to and named after the granddaughter of the Prophet Mohamed, el-Sayyeda Zeinab Mosque, with its tin dome, has been renovated many times over the centuries.

El-Sayeda Zeinab sought refuge in Egypt after the Ummayads slew her brother, el-Hussein, in AD 680. Her body is entombed inside a mausoleum that lies to the west of the mosque, surrounded by a compartment glided with yellow golden copper and topped with a dome.

Many Egyptians - especially women - visit el-Sayyeda Zainab Mosque seeking her baraka (blessing) in matters of fortune and health. While the mosque is not perceived as a tourist site, foreign visitors may enter if they dress modestly and act respectfully.

The Moulid ritual consists of three elements: the visit to the shrine (to honour el-Sayyeda Zainab and appeal to her for support), al-zikr (reciting the name of God) and the procession.

Also outside the mosque, there are many things to do, like sitting in one of the open-air coffee shops and ordering a shisha, or buying very cheap, folkloric items like el-ra'aas (a wooden doll holding sagat (percussion instruments).

Some people like playing the popular games that are played everywhere in the Square. In fact, the young couple were not the only strange thing about the Moulid.

This year's Moulid, which was held on June 28, also witnessed other contradictions.

It was the last day of el-Sayyeda Zeinab's Moulid - it was el-laila el-Kebira (The Big Night) as they call it. Sufis from everywhere in Egypt came to the square to perform their rituals, which the people loved.

It was the first moulid since the recent revolution and there were a number of tents, erected by some of the Sufi political parties, that displayed their slogans.

Although people came to enjoy the spiritual atmosphere of the Moulid, the political parties exploited it for their own ends. These tents with their microphones blaring out political slogans lowered the tone of the festival.

It was like ordering a delicious dish of chicken, rice and molokhiya (Jew's mallow), only to discover that you'd been given frogs' legs instead of chicken. The French might like eating frogs, but Egyptians don't!

It was best to try and ignore all this and concentrate on the voices of the monshedeen (people who praise el-Sayyeda Zeinab and recite from the Holy Qur'an), blending with the sound of the popular songs.

But it must be said that, in spite of all the contradictions, the atmosphere was just as magnificent this year as usual.

The Egyptian Gazette 2011 All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Egyptian Gazette (Cairo, Egypt)
Geographic Code:7EGYP
Date:Jul 4, 2011
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