By Khadija Ali | Zliten, Libya
The second day of Eid El Fitr in Zliten is a day awaited for throughout the whole year, even more than the first day, all in anticipation for al-Mazaar festival. This annual festival is exclusively in Zliten and takes place during both Eid El Fitr and Eid Al-Adha, but is primarily known best for former celebrations.
Children cherish it for promises of candy, toys and a day with their fathers who are so vulnerable to buy them whatever they wish. For older members of society it is a chance to unwind the clock and relive moments from the past that bring happiness to them.
Here is an account of al-Mazaar festival. Local and foreign tourists should think of attending such festival as it provides a unique opportunity to see another aspect of Libyan cultural life and heritage.
The festival began early in the day. Early in the morning fathers, grandfathers and uncles, dressed in traditional clothes white cupped hat and all; got ready to take the little ones. Women on the other hand used the opportunity, free of kids, to spend the day at their parents’ houses or visiting relatives.
All the roads were closed off making the whole Zliten’s downtown area similar to a big circus tent. The streets were carpeted with vendors selling inexpensive toys, goodies and accessories of all sorts; children almost drooling as they stooped over the endless selection of toys they could choose from. The children carried their loot around and when they came across a friend they grinned as they showed off their treasure.
As if the center of attraction in the city, the famous mosque Sidi Abdul-Salam al-Asmar, wasn’t getting enough attention al-Mazaar festival only added to the mosque’s already bountiful popularity.
Sufi folk bands from all over Libya made their way to the tomb by the mosque to showcase their talent.
Vibrant straw mats unraveled like red carpets as groups of men paraded through the courtyard. There were flags everywhere, some representing Sufi bands while other flags colored green stating “La ilaha illa Allah, Mohamed rasool Allah” (there is no god but allah and muhammad is his prophet) in bold white.
The bands walked through the courtyard hymning and then formed groups in the square surrounding the mosque in front of Sheikh Abdul-Salam al-Asmar’s tomb. Hand held drums were taken out and after being heated, drumming, singing and traditional head-nods began forming what is called a hadra. The stairs served as bleachers for the spectators.
They stood in a circle, the men in the outer edge hymning and drumming while a few men stood in the center doing a traditional head-nod called jideeb which is considered religious dancing. At the same time the men moved slowly around in a circle; occasionally they all stopped, placed their right hand on their heads and chanted blessings on the Holy Prophet (PBUH) out loud.
Hand drums were re-heated, once in a while, over a flame to maintain their up-beat rhythm. What was surprising is that the participants were of all ages rather than the expected elderly only. Several hadrat (plural of hadra) formed all around the courtyard near the tomb attracting large crowds of spectators to each.
Many people also came to the mosque to visit the grave of Sheikh Abdul-Salam, some out of habit and tradition; others asked the deceased Sheikh for various entities. The tomb is regarded as a sacred place and the heart and soul of al-Mazaar festival activities center around visiting the tomb. Some people circumambulated around it while others who were out of reach stretched out their hands to touch the fencing around the tomb.
The hymning and drumming could be heard all the way outside the mosque where children were enjoying popcorn, cotton candy and balloons. Little sticky hands were everywhere all trying to take advantage of the few hours of out-of-control freedom. Nobody was missing out on the fun, even the physically disable found a way to make sure they were there despite the stampede making its way up and down the streets.
The morning definitely did not decrescendo; the afternoon was even more action packed especially for horse lovers. Assortments of horse races were held varying from head on to several horses in a row. The jockeys were unsurprisingly dressed in traditional clothes with a large white cotton wrap called jar’d over. The horses were also dressed for the occasion their saddles decorated, and beautiful patterns of material, of mainly maroon, green and blue, used to dress their heads and tail.
This year al-Mazaar festival was especially unique since it was on a Friday. The mosque, Sidi Abdul-Salam al-Asmar, was even more crowded as Friday sermon prayers were attended; rows of people outstretched outside the mosque, past the courtyard and out into the streets.
In a community where keeping family ties and relations are a major obligation; al-Mazaar festival is on top of all an opportunity for friends to meet, which would otherwise be impossible with so many of them. It’s an emotional time for people who haven’t seen each other for a long time and as they shake hands and hug wishing each other Eid Mubarak tears fill their eyes. It is at this time that Eid fulfils all its promises.
Palm trees towering all over Zliten, possibly out numbering the citizens themselves, the large leaves raining bliss, delight and cheerfulness. The suns radiance set on this Eid day bringing the end of al-Mazaar celebrations and the beginning of a new wait until the next festival.
In the countryside the sky that night was similar to a dark canvas splattered with glitter while the light from Sidi Abdul-Salam al-Asmar mosque in the city could be seen from almost anywhere in Zliten. Toys next to little sleeping heads and forlorn slideshows of pictures running on mobile phones in limp hands, a few loud snores in the darkness.
Source The Tripoli Post