A doll made of sweets, which are popular in Egypt for celebrations. Image Credit: Courtesy: Facebook

Cairo: An annual Islamic festival has triggered a dispute between Egypt’s moderate clerics and ultraconservative Salafists in this predominantly Muslim country.

Leading Salafists have condemned as bid’ah or a sinful innovation celebrations marking the birthday of the Prophet Mohammad (Peace be Upon Him). The birthday this year falls on December 11.

“Celebrating the Prophet’s (PBUH) birthday is an abominable innovation prohibited in the Holy Quran,” Yasser Burhami, a prominent Salafist, said in an online statement.

He also criticised marking the occasion in Egypt by eating festive sweets, a popular tradition believed to have been originated by the Fatimids, who ruled the country in the 10th century.

Different Sufi orders in Egypt usually celebrate the event by holding processions in praise of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), another tradition that has been slammed by Salafists.

“The Sufis’ acts contradict the authentic origin of religion,” said Mahmoud Lutfi, a Salafist preacher. “Islam has only two festivals: Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha,” he added, according to private newspaper Al Youm Al Saba.

Eid Al Fitr marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, while Eid Al Adha annually starts on the day that follows the climax of the Haj.

In an apparent repudiation of the Salafists’ objection, Dar Al Iftaa, Egypt’s official body of Islamic legislation, commended celebrating the Prophet’s (PBUH) birthday.

“This celebration is among the best deeds because it reflects joy for and love of the Prophet (PBUH). This is an original tenet of Islam,” the institution said in an online statement.

The Ministry of Waqf (religious affairs) and Egypt’s Al Azhar, the world’s most prestigious centre of Islamic learning, have announced a joint plan to celebrate the Prophet’s birthday this year by holding a ceremony in a major Cairo mosque named after the Prophet’s grandson Al Hussain. The ceremony, which will be broadcast on television, will be attended by senior state officials and Sufi leaders.

Meanwhile, Sufi orders and their followers plan a big procession on the occasion starting from the nearby district of Al Darasa and ending at Al Hussain Mosque.

Although represented in the incumbent Egyptian parliament, Salafists have largely kept a low profile since the army’s 2013 overthrow of Islamist president Mohammad Mursi following enormous protests against his rule.