Maulid Festival: Lamu comes to life
TRAVEL & DESTINATION
By Philip Mwakio and Maaruf Mohamed
| November 6th 2021
This week, Lamu was the centre of activity during the Maulid festival as action returned to the archipelago after 18 months of silence.
The archipelago has been marketing itself as an island of festivals in the recent past, and on Thursday, local and international tourists thronged the island for the climax of the four-day Maulid festival.
Security chiefs and county officials estimated that more than 6,000 people arrived at the island for the 132th edition of the festival to celebrate the birth of Prophet Muhammad.
Hoteliers and other traders reported booming business during the festivals that started on Tuesday this week.
Maulid or Mawlid is usually commemorated on 12th of Rabil Awal, the third month in the Islamic calendar.
The celebrations were organised by Riyadha Mosque and Islamic Centre Committee, said Sheikh Muhdhar Khitamy, an official of the mosque.
“Scholars and spiritual leaders from Comoros, Yemen, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania, Uganda and the United Kingdom are attending,” he said.
“Maulid is highly regarded and is held annually in the third Islamic lunar month of Rabil Awal. Month-long celebrations are observed worldwide to celebrate the birth of Prophet Muhammad,” said Khitamy.
The festival is a religious event and involves overnight prayers, usually held around Riyadha Mosque.
Other activities include Quran memorisation and Islamic forums.
Friday afternoon saw a procession by Muslim faithful chanting and beating drums in praise of the prophet.
Since Tuesday, there have been cultural, sports and athletics events sponsored by Kenya Ports Authority and Unesco.
On Thursday, activities included traditional dances, donkey races, dhow races, swimming competitions, athletics and football.
These types of events were all but absent over the past year, as health measures coupled with the government’s veto against mass gatherings put a stop to the festivals that are usually the life of Lamu’s tourism sector.
“The significance of the Maulid festival cannot be gainsaid, especially since it’s the first major festival that leads up to Lamu Cultural Festival which marks Lamu as a popular tourism destination,” Ali Bunu hotelier and owner of Sunsail Hotel stated.
The festival is marked annually by a section of Muslims in remembrance of the birth of Prophet Muhammed in the holy city of Mecca in 570 AD.
It is marked every third month of the Islamic calendar and in Lamu is usually marked in principal at the renowned Riyadha Mosque.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has indeed had an impact on this year’s festival with markedly low numbers in comparison to previous years, where we normally have as many as 30,000 people,” said Riyadha Mosque and Islamic Centre secretary general Abubakar Mohammed Badawy.
Of note, besides the festival marking the birth of Prophet Muhammed, it showcased Lamu’s various aspects that include traditional dances of various areas such as Goma la Pate, Siyu, Matondoni, and Uta, Shairi recitations, Islamic calligraphy competitions and Maulidi processions.
Donkey and dhow races are also key events of any festival in Lamu.
Street vendors interviewed said business picked up towards the end of the festival, with the first two days being dull in comparison to previous years, where the four-day event has always been marked with pomp.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has affected many local tourists many of whom have shied away from coming this year due to financial constraints,” Amina Ndungu, a food stall owner said.
She said there needs to be a lot more intervention from the county government to enable Lamu benefit more from festivals through tourism influx.
“The county government needs to invest more towards marketing Lamu as a favourable destination with an emphasis in marketing the county as an Island of festivals for which we are known for,” Lamu Chamber of Commerce Chairman, Ikhwan Omar said.
These sentiments were echoed by Lamu Tourist Association Vice-Chairman Fridah Njogu who said that the Maulid Festival presents an opportunity for tourism recovery.
Lamu Tourism Executive Josphat Musembi said the county government had already taken steps to ensure that Lamu Old Town is clean with the Lamu Municipality staff working around the clock to make the festival a success.
“The first public Maulid celebrations were held in Egypt, about 400 years after the death of the prophet in the Eighth Century. The celebrations later spread to Mecca in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and many other countries, including Kenya,” said Khitamy.
The late Sheikh Habib Swaleh, an Islamic scholar and traditional medicine man from the Comoro Islands, initiated the East African version of the Maulid in Lamu in the 19th Century, according to Khitamy.
“He also founded the Riyadha Mosque which has become a vital Islamic religious centre, which annually attracts hundreds of followers from the region and the world,” said Khitamy.
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