The sweet smell of candies wafts through downtown Cairo’s historic Bab al-Bahr street as the Muslim Prophet Mohammed’s birthday, known as “Al Mawlid Al Nabawi”, draws near.
Decorated sugar dolls, horse-shaped candies and nut-filled treats are on display in shops lining the busy street near Islamic Cairo, a historic district filled with mosques, tombs and caravanserais.
“We love to share this happy mood,” said one stall-holder who was adorning a candy doll with glitter and coloured paper, drawing intense interest from a group of playful children.
“We come to Bab al-Bahr during this time every year to decorate candies.”
Sunni Muslims in many parts of the world celebrate Mohammed’s birthday on the 12th day of the third month of the Islamic calendar, which this year falls on Saturday, November 9.
The Prophet Mohammed was born in Saudi Arabia’s arid mountainous city of Mecca, the holiest site in Islam, some 1450 years ago.
The Al Mawlid Al Nabawi celebrations are said to have originated in Egypt in the Fatimid dynasty which ruled the country some 1,000 years ago.
As the faithful look forward to the celebrations, Cairo’s dessert makers are preparing other mouthwatering sweets made of peanuts, sesame seeds, coconuts and pistachios.
“I have been coming here annually for the past 35 years because I love decorating the candies,” said 56-year-old Abdou, who is originally a carpenter.
“These sweets are available for the poor and the rich alike.”
Nearby, 25-year-old Sayed stood stirring a boiling sugary mix with a large wooden spatula.
“I have been working at this shop since I was 12 years old,” he said, adding that his job keeps Egypt’s sweet-tooths happy all year.
After the festivities, he said, “we go back to making chocolates and regular candies.”