The Perils of Joy: Contesting Mulid Festivals in Contemporary Egypt

The Perils of Joy: Contesting Mulid Festivals in Contemporary Egypt

by Samuli Schielke


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Mulids, festivals in honor of Muslim "friends of God," have been part of Muslim religious and cultural life for close to a thousand years. While many Egyptians see mulids as an expression of joy and love for the Prophet Muhammad and his family, many others see them as opposed to Islam, a sign of a backward mentality, a piece of folklore at best. What is it about a mulid that makes it a threat to Islam and modernity in the eyes of some, and an indication of pious devotion in the eyes of others? What makes the celebration of a saint's festival appear in such dramatically different contours? The Perils of Joy offers a rich investigation, both historical and ethnographic, of conflicting and transforming attitudes toward festivals in contemporary Egypt.

Schielke argues that mulids are characterized by a utopian momentum of the extraordinary that troubles the grand schemes of order and perfection that have become hegemonic in Egypt since the twentieth century. Not an opposition between state and civil society, nor a division between Islamists and secularists, but rather the competition between different perceptions of what makes up a complete life forms the central line of conflict in the contestation of festive culture.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780815633006
Publisher: Syracuse University Press
Publication date: 10/15/2012
Series: Contemporary Issues in the Middle East
Pages: 292
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Samuli Schielke is a research fellow at the Center for Modern Oriental Studies in Berlin, Germany. He has published articles in American Ethnologist, the Journal for Islamic Studies, Contemporary Islam, and the Journal of the Royal Anthropo­logical Institute.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix

Preface xi

Acknowledgments xiii

1 Introduction 1

2 At the Mulid 19

3 Festive Experiences 53

4 Against Ambivalence 81

5 An "Other" of Modern Egypt 111

6 A Cultural Icon 136

7 Legitimizing Celebration 152

8 Transformations 175

9 Conclusion: A Complete Life 200

Glossary of Arabic Terms 209

Notes 213

Bibliography 241

Index 259

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