Jahaliya in Tanta

Dan Murphy goes to the Badawi moulid in Tanta after a run-in with the US Ambassador in Egypt.

Al Azhar and the Brotherhood don't like it, though:

They lean their foreheads against the metal cage that surrounds the tomb, and murmur prayers for health, better financial fortune, or a child's success in school. The practice - similar to Catholic prayers to the Virgin Mary seeking intercession with God or Shiite prayers to Imam Ali - is strictly at odds with Sunni Islam, which is generally thought to prevail here.

Indeed, the leaders of Al Azhar University, the arbiters of Sunni orthodoxy in Egypt, have long assailed this and other popular moulids, or saint's festivals, like the ones to mark the Prophet Muhammad's birthday or the death of Zeinab, his granddaughter, whom the faithful believe is buried in Cairo. To these leading Sunni imams, praying to saints or even celebrating Muhammad's birthday is akin to idolatry.

But their long-standing efforts and those of groups like the Muslim Brotherhood to discourage expressions of popular Egyptian Islam have gained very little traction. A senior Brotherhood official rolls his eyes when asked about the moulids. "We're against it, it's a relic of jahaliya," he says, using the Arabic term for the age of ignorance before Muhammad's time. "We would really like this to stop."
And people say the Brothers are more in touch with the people.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.