"This well-focused study unfolds along multiple lines of investigation ranging from diverse ways of experiencing the festival itself through variously couched denunciations of mulids, and attempts to reform them."—Ann G. Gold, Syracuse University
"Samuli Schielke has established himself as one of the most painstaking and innovative ethnographers of contemporary Egypt. In The Perils of Joy, he investigates the discordant interpretations that Egyptians—beggars and scholars, teenagers and parents, businessmen and police—bring to their experiences of mulids, local saints-day festivals. By exploring the mulid’s sights and sounds and tastes, its inspirations and its temptations, Schielke reveals how people’s understandings of the time and space and texture of popular celebrations mark their understanding of modernity, tradition, and freedom."—Gregory Starrett, author of Putting Islam to Work: Education, Politics, and Religious Transformation in Egypt
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.
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.
6 x 9, 292 pages, 19 black and white illustrations