The sweet smell of candy wafts through downtown Cairo’s historic Bab Al Bahr street as the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday draws near.
Decorated sugar dolls, horse-shaped candy 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,” says one stall-holder who is adorning a doll with glitter and coloured paper, drawing intense interest from a group of children.
“We come to Bab Al Bahr during this time every year to decorate candies.”
Muslims in many parts of the world celebrate the Prophet’s birthday on the 12th day of the third month of the Islamic calendar, which this year falls on November 9.
The Prophet Mohammed was born in Saudi Arabia’s arid mountainous city of Makkah, the holiest site in Islam, about 1,450 years ago.
The celebrations are said to have originated in Egypt in the Fatimid dynasty, which ruled the country about 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,” says Abdou, 56, originally a carpenter.
“These sweets are available for the poor and the rich alike.”
Sayed, 25, stands near by stirring a boiling sugary mix with a large wooden spatula.
“I have been working at this shop since I was 12 years old,” he says.
After the festivities, Sayed says, “we go back to making chocolates and regular candies”.