Monday 16 April marked the Egyptian spring holiday Sham El-Nasim, one of the few days that Egyptians of all religions have celebrated together for almost five millennia. Salted fish is the main dish of the day and eggs are painted — a ritual linked to ancient Egyptian feasts in 2700BC.
However, in the wake of the January 25 Revolution, with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists dominating the political and social landscape, claims have been made by some Islamists that the ancient feast is unIslamic and ought to be prohibited.
The name Sham El-Nasim (inhaling the breeze) comes from the ancient Coptic language that in turn is derived from the Pharaonic language. It was originally pronounced Tshom Ni Sime, with tshom meaning "gardens" and ni sime meaning "meadows."
Linked to astronomy and nature, Sham El-Nasim denotes the beginning of the spring festival, when the sun is in the Aries zodiac marking the beginning of creation. The exact date is confirmed annually by sighting the sun in relation to the Great Pyramid.
Despite being a truly Egyptian celebration, the Islamists last year used its ancient heritage against the festival. A Salafist statement was widely distributed prior to Sham El-Nasim 2011 denouncing the feast because it originated from the pharaohs, who the ultra conservative group describe as infidels.
On ikhwanonline.com website, the official site of the Muslim Brotherhood, an article by Al-Azhar scholar Sheikh Atteya Saqr put forward the same idea. This is despite statements to the contrary by the awqaf ministry (religious endowments) and Al-Azhar, the highest Sunni religious authority.
Adel Afifi, president of the Salafist Asala (Authenticity) Party, said that although he supports art that serves society, especially opera, he believes that celebrating Sham El-Nasim is wrong. Many Islamists, particularly the Salafists, argue that music is not permitted under Islam.
Afifi believes that only Islamic feasts should be celebrated.
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