While Sebastian and I were traveling 16 hours from Cairo to Detroit, via Amsterdam, Ali was busy working and attending his first Moulid. Below is a a short sequence of his experience and some photos.
A man stands above the crowd seeking entrance to the great mosque, admonishing or exhorting (it is hard to tell) the worshippers to remember God. In the room Egyptians claim houses the tomb of the Prophet’s granddaughter (Syria says her body lays there) men swarm to touch the silver frame of the oversized resting place.
A call comes out for prayer, and seemingly without a thought the men line up, hands to the sky, then heads down, then leaning forward, on their knees, then foreheads to the floor. Then heads up, down, leaning, standing, murmuring ‘Allahu Akbar’. And I am stuck between two lines, doing my best not to look out of place, shuffling forward and back to evade their prostrations. I had tried to exit the room as the prayers started, but an outstretched arm had stopped me. Once the extended prayer had finished, the man who had blocked my exit comes over to me. ‘Where are you from?’ he asks, a common enough question of a pale face in Cairo. ‘From Australia’ I say. ‘I am very sorry you did not have room to pray,’ he says, kissing my hand. I assure him I was not overly troubled.
As soon as the prayers end an even greater number of men enter the room, while in an antechamber a chorus of chanting begins and quickly rises to crescendo. An old man in a pale blue gallabiya rests against a corner of the tomb, letting out occasional plaintive cries. He seems oblivious to all but his most immediate surroundings, spittle on his cheek and a distraught look in his eyes. Hands reach out to touch the tomb and another man kisses my hand and wipes rose water across my cheek. I touch the tomb briefly and withdraw to the relative calm of the main room of the mosque before collecting my shoes and exiting to the humid night air.
writing by Alastair Sharp, REUTERS
photos by Tarek Mostafa, REUTERS