Moulid Moods and Moves

On October 28th and 29th, 2017  Sherifa Zuhur and Amina Goodyear offered the Mulid Moods and Moves Workshop in San Francisco, California culminating in a Mulid Masri (at Al Masri restaurant, San Francisco).   Here we emulated the Mulid of Sayyid al-Badawi, held annually in Egypt at the end of cotton harvest in October, including the new dance and music styles which we covered in the workshop. 

Workshop Summary from Sherifa Zuhur, Ph.D.   

Our workshop explained the background and basis for a modern hybrid form of music and dance in Egypt called Moulid.  The Moulid (mawlid in classical Arabic) festivals come from the Sufi or mystical tradition and methodology of Islam.  Moulid means birth or birthday.  There is one annual Moulid which is an actual birthday, of the Prophet Muhammad – Moulid an-Nabi.   Hundreds of other mawalid celebrate the death days of the Friends of God, the AWLIYA or saints of Islam.  The festivals center on tombs, or shrines of the awliya.  

The awliya are holy men and women who possess BARAKA (blessedness and spiritual charisma).  Many Muslims believe they can intercede (SHAFA’)  for ordinary believers, now, or on the Day of Judgment to ensure acceptance in heaven, a cure from a disease, or for other requests.  The awliya perform miracles or supernatural feats known as KARAMAT.   The wali or walia (singular of awliya) may be a descendent of the Prophet Muhammad; his family is known as the AHL al-BAYT.  Some were great scholars, or past leaders of Sufi orders, the mystical brotherhoods of popular Islam.  Many composed poetry which is sung to music during the celebration of the mulid.

Not everyone who attends a mulid is a Sufi.  Many ordinary Egyptians (or Algerians, or Moroccans or other Muslims) also travel to celebrate them.

There are Sufi orders (TARIQAT) all over the Islamic world and in diaspora.  However, it was in Egypt specifically, where the counterculture music called Moulid emerged.

The Religious Aspect of Mulids

A Sufi is a Muslim who seeks the truth, the haqiqa, which is to know God through ma’arifa – esoteric knowledge -  rather than extensive knowledge of formal religious doctrine.   To the Sufis, or muhibbin (which means those who love) the mulid also centers around love:  for God, the saint, the Prophet, of fellow Sufis and the mulid attendees.  This relates to a Hadith Qudsi about Allah: "I was a Hidden treasure and I loved to be known and so I created the creation.”

There used to be hundreds of Muslim mulids observed by the many Sufi orders in Egypt, as many as 800.  There are also Christian moulids, many held in the summer and one Jewish moulid held in Damanhour for Abu Hasira.     

Sufis who attend the mulids may be called darawish (dervishes), or muridin – led by a shaykh, who may also be called a murshid.  The darawish/muridin are organized into Brotherhoods or TARIQAT.   The leadership of the tariqa form a silsila or a chain of leaders tracing back to the originator of the order. The tariqa of Sayyid Ahmad al-Badawi, is called the Ahmadiyya, one of the largest tariqat in Egypt.  Each tariqa holds ceremonies called dhikrs (in Egyptian Arabic, a zikr)  these are remembrances of Allah.  Usually, a shaykh leads the hadhra (zikr).  A singer and a band may perform at the hadhra and the muhibbin may dance or sway or turn (spin). 

The singer is called a munshid – which comes from the word INSHAD – a hymn or a religious poem (plural = anashid)  The poetry of the great al-Farid of Egypt and ibn Arabi of Spain are very famous examples of anashid

The mulids have many activities, but every night a hadra will be held – which may also be called a layla (night).  Some munshidin are very famous, like the great Shaykh Yasin al-Tuhamy, who sells far more recordings than pop stars.   People will travel from other parts of Egypt to listen to these munshidin and participate in the mulid.  The anashid connect the munshid to the spirit of the poet who composed the lyrics and to the saint being celebrated, and inspire the participants. 

New and ‘Old’ Mulid

The new Mulid style of music refers to all of these elements in their style and their lyrics.  I explained the traditional and the new elements in the workshop and how they interrelate.  

The ‘new’ moulid singers/dancers and DJs  and also mahraganat artists may set up on the streets near a moulid.  People will come and enjoy their sets, and then go eat, smoke, or take part in the moulid’s activities.  

I described the way the moulids suspend and overturn normal ways of moving and living in Egypt from the spatial and social aspects described by Schielke to others. 

And, the commercial aspect of the moluids and their activities which vary from Cairo and Lower to Upper Egypt; and the timing of the moulids (now only 3 – 4 days) and the programmatic sequence of events.  

New Moulid Music

This new genre developed from sha’bi music.  Not all sha’bi singers do moulid music.

Mulid is also different from mahraganat.   Moulid music is a cool, hip, urban style, yet it has integrated some aspects of  anashid lyrics and aural effects.  The most important aspect of this music is that it creates a special mood-altering feeling.  This ‘new’ music is not so new – it dates back to 2004, but only recently have some of its singers performed in Los Angeles and we feel that many dancers are unaware of it, and its significance.  The lyrics of Moulid can be quite existentialist, and realistic; and it is meant for dancing, not sitting and listening.   Dancers of the Moulid style are NOT usually Sufis – they are young, and may not want to or even know how to join into a DHIKR (zikir).   The genre also has a commercial aspect; certain singers, DJs and labels have gained some success. 

Here are some great photos of traditional moulids: