Thousands of Cairo residents take to streets to celebrate Prophet Mohammed's birthday

Despite a fourth wave of Covid-19 and a government ban on mass religious celebrations, crowds visit Egyptian capital's landmarks on Monday

Despite a recent rise in Egypt’s Covid-19 cases and a clear mandate from the country’s highest religious authorities banning mass celebrations, thousands descended on the capital’s Islamic landmarks on Monday night to celebrate the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday.

Cairo’s patisseries lay out elaborate displays of the traditional mawlid sweets, an assortment of sugar-coated nuts, and Turkish delight to celebrate the occasion, which is on October 19 this year.

The bustling area, home to some of the country’s oldest and most prominent landmarks such as Al Hussein Mosque, Saladdin’s citadel and Al Sayeda Zainab Mosque, was particularly lively on Monday night.

Thousands of Egyptians travelled through the packed narrow streets holding balloons and mawlid sweets.

Street sellers tempt crowds with thousands of dolls made of sugar, which are a quintessential part of the Prophet's birthday each year, and other memorabilia including pendants, clay mugs and brass plates with the Prophet’s name.

In celebration of one of the most important holidays of the Islamic calendar, dozens of passers-by also wore commemorative bandanas and banners bearing various expressions of love and devotion to the Prophet Mohammed.

In the district of Al Hussein, a small and densely populated area of Islamic Cairo named after the Fatimid mosque at its centre, young people sat at the cramped tables of the many coffee shops overlooking the mosque’s main courtyard.

Some brought out their ouds and their tablas to play mawlid songs for visitors to enjoy.

Among the large number of visitors who went to Al Hussein on Monday night, many expressed their disappointment that the usual celebrations were not taking place this year.

“Before the pandemic, a stage would be set up here in the middle of the square and folklore groups would perform, dancers would dance in the middle of the streets and everyone would clap and join in," said Ibrahim Maher, a barista at one of the cafes overlooking the mosque.

"It really was something special."

To curb the pandemic, Egypt’s Awqaf, or Religious Endowments Ministry, has continued its ban of mass religious celebrations.

But while the ban might have deterred the country’s event planners from throwing their usual parties, it certainly has not kept Egyptians indoors.

As the area's more devout visitors lined up to enter Al Hussein Mosque, a voice on a loudspeaker resounded through the square urging people to wear masks and keep a safe distance before entering.

The inside of the mosque was markedly less crowded than the streets outside.

“I thought about staying home this year, especially considering all the warnings of a fourth wave, but to my family, this is such an important tradition and we decided not to miss it,” said Ali El Beblawy, 29, a carpenter and father of three.

A few streets over in Khan El Khalili, one of Cairo’s most popular tourist destinations, shopkeepers brought out their best goods to the front of the store, many highlighting their most beautifully crafted Qurans and prayer beads.

“People get pretty nostalgic around the mawlid every year," said Ismail Shaaban, a shopowner in the area.

"I usually witness a sharp spike in people purchasing Qurans as gifts for their loved ones."

Updated: October 19th 2021, 5:22 AM