Miloud and Sheik Al-Kamal

Miloud (in MSA: mawlid an-nabawi) is the celebration of the Prophet Mohamed’s birthday. It is a national holiday in Morocco and falls on Monday, December 12, this year. Although primarily a family holiday throughout Morocco, it is a special occasion in Meknes, where it coincides with a pilgrimage to honor the holy man, Sheik Al-Kamal (Mohamed Ben Issa). This was a famous Sufi who created the Isawa brotherhood in Meknes in the 15th century. The Isawa are still well known in Meknes and throughout Morocco, particularly for their religious music. To hear some of this music during a party at the AALIM center, click here.

Isawa group performing at the AALIM Institute

Isawa group performing at the AALIM Institute

On this holiday, people come from all over Morocco, many of them from small Bedouin villages. Every vacant lot in the city is occupied by large canvas tents in which people from the same family or village sleep. Local family and extended-family members in Meknes contribute huge platters of couscous to feed them. There are also restaurant tents and a general atmosphere of carnival or fair time, with stands selling everything from food to clothing, matresses to toys.

Vendors set up temporarily during the Miloud festival

Vendors set up temporarily during the Miloud festival

The pilgrims visit Sheik Al-Kamal’s tomb as well as the cemetery surrounding it; some partake in demonstrations of religious fervor while others simply watch.

Pilgrims come fromall over Morocco to honor Sheik Al-Kamal during the MIloud festival in Meknes.

Pilgrims come fromall over Morocco to honor Sheik Al-Kamal during the MIloud festival in Meknes.

Another aspect of the celebration is the famous “fantasia”, a demonstration of horsemanship by Bedouin riders. Originally a demonstration of warriors’ prowess, the fantasia now consists of mounted men in traditional garb who gather at the end of a large empty field and at a signal ride as fast as possible to the other end, where they rein in and discharge their traditional rifles, known in the Moroccan dialect as “bundukiyya”. To see a video of this, click here.

The out of town visitors stay in Menes for three days before disappearing as suddenly as they arrived.