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Luxor is pretty centrally situated in Egypt, and people therefore come from all over the country to Luxor’s most famous festival: “The Moulid of Abu Al Haggag”
Abu Al Haggag was a famous sheik in these parts, and the Mosque on top of Luxor Temple is dedicated to him. It recently had a 7,000,000LE facelift, which gives some idea of the veneration in which he is held. To an outsider to both religions; the veneration of certain sheiks is similar to the Roman Catholic veneration of saints, complete with icons and iconic items as well as saints’ days and moulids.
Come Moulid time (around 15 days before Ramadan for the actual Parade) Luxor gets pretty crowded, as visitors from far and wide cram into the town. Many cannot find (or possibly even afford) lodgings so they just sleep in the streets, it’s very unlikely to rain, after all!
Just the very mixture of types is fascinating. Some, from the desert places, look quite wild and frightening, while others are obviously men of considerable wealth, dripping with gold and wearing costly garments. Still others are boringly “normal”, like one of the local shopkeepers, who joins the procession of Holy Men every year. Here he is at the extreme left of the picture with the greying hair:
Everything is set aside for the Moulid, the procession takes a different route each year, and one-way streets are of no consequence where Abu Al Haggag is concerned! All of the route is lined with cheering crowds, families and friends come together to really let themselves go. Sweets and nuts are thrown from upper storey windows to the revellers, bottles of water appear as if from nowhere, the older celebrants stopping off for a glass of tea every now and then too.
The procession (or carnival, as the locals refer to it as) is a very exciting day for the whole town. The religious element is signified by tented camels representing each of the “Old Mosques of Luxor”. Here are some of them making their way up Sharia Mustafa Kamel.
All the main trades of the town are also represented in the parade, feluccas in full sail are dragged along on bogies, or on the top of trucks, bakers, covered in flour for the day, and fruit vendors throwing their wares into the gathered crowds. It can take over a half hour for the parade to pass any one point, and the NOISE is unrelenting!
Before the actual day of celebration, there is a build up in the town. This consists of zikrs being held behind the Temple on Sharia Karnak, although these are usually out of sight in closed tents erected especially for them. However, informal zikrs occur in other places too! In back alleys and the like, they can sometimes be found, and watched, and photographed, without any embarrassment on either the part of those who are trying to attain a higher spiritual plane, or those who would just be casual observers. As these tend to be very ad hoc, tourists would only see them if they stumbled on them accidentally, unless you know an amenable Egytpian?
The other grand spectacle of the Moulid is the Stick Fighting (or Dancing) which has taken place on Sharia Mustafa Kamel since time immemorial. This begins three nights before the Moulid Parade. A starting time isn’t important to the stick dancers, as long as they can go on till the have had enough. That is usually by about 3 o’clock in the morning, by which time the poor old members of the band have just about blown themselves silly!
Sharia Mustafa Kamel is closed for the duration of the stick fighting, the traffic being diverted around the small mosque at the junction with Sharia Youseff Hassan. One problem occurs sometimes though, when a large coach or truck comes along; the fighting has to stop and all the spectators and seating has to be shifted to allow the larger vehicles to pass through. Then, as quick as a flash; everything resumes. Sharia Mustafa Kamel is the main ‘bus route for the local ‘buses which are travelling in a northerly direction, so there is a constant stream of them being directed away from the crowds and around the wrong side of the Mosque. It’s great fun! Visitors will be made welcome at this extravaganza, often with appropriately dressed ladies offered seats with the best view!
An interreligious (is there not such a word?) celebration which is more apparent in Luxor than many places is the “Sham El Nessim” or “Sniffing the Breeze”. This occurs on Easter Monday, and as there is a larger proportion of Christians in Luxor than in most other places in Egypt, this is the festival where more of them are seen congregating.
This originated in Pharaonic times, or has at least been celebrated since then! It’s the welcoming of the spring winds and the approach of the summer. Everyone picnics close to the Nile, the picnic fare is salt fish and onions, and they are so strong that they make the eyes water! It’s also a time for painting eggs and wearing new clothes. Being a National Holiday, it’s a great time for having fun, and foreigners might well be invited to join the celebrations by a friendly family. Don’t be afraid to say yes, new acquaintances can soon become friends!
Of course Luxor folk celebrate all the usual Muslim festivals. The feast (Eid) at the end of Ramadan is a great rejoicing, it would be for you too if you had been struggling with not drinking water or anything between sunrise and sunset for the last 30 days!!!!!
The second most visual Muslim festival in Luxor has to be the “Moulid El Nabi” or “The Prophet’s Birthday”. During the week before the sugar dolly stalls start to appear, here there and everywhere. Any nook or cranny will do!
The number of bright pink sugar statuettes on sale in Luxor is absolutely unbelievable! The dollies, in what looks like full bridal wear, are beautiful, and I’m sure every little girl will want one.
This one suddenly appeared on Sharia Manshiya, along with about five others at various points along the way. Some were squeezed in between other shops, on tiny bits of spare land, while others are put up in front of the Mosque. This next picture was of a requisitioned fruit stall under the new flyover at Abu Jude, at the far end of the Egyptian Market.
Thanks to "ourluxorflat" who provided the photos and text for this article. Most of the pictures were taken at the junction of Youseff Hassan Street and Mustafa Kamel Street, which is about 500 metres from the Emilio Hotel in the centre of town.