Tunis — Tunisians defied a salafist imam's fatwa against celebrating the birth of the Prophet.
Tunisians marked Mouled on Thursday (January 24th) despite a fatwa prohibiting any festivities.
Salafist imam Bechir Ben Hassen on January 20th issued a fatwa barring celebrations of the birth of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH). The hardline preacher also banned preparation of the traditional assida pudding.
"The birth of our Prophet is only celebrated by those with the weakest faith. The Prophet's birthday is celebrated by folks who live for their stomachs," Ben Hassan said in a video on his Facebook page.
"We talk about him (the Prophet) for one night while abandoning his tradition throughout the year; this is hypocrisy," Ben Hassen added.
The first response to the fatwa came January 21st from the Mufti of Tunisia, Othman Batikh.
"The celebrations of the prophet's birth started with the companions, who grew very fond of the Prophet, and did it out of love and not to worship him. After his death, the companions continued celebrating the birth," the Mufti told Echorouk.
"So why is this considered wrong?" Othman Batikh asked.
Resentment over the fatwa quickly spread on Facebook. Some posts called for the preparation of zgougou pudding just to taunt the salafist preacher.
Tunisians, it became clear, had no intention of abandoning their traditional assida. Families spent the night preparing the pudding and making special dishes for children.
"This is an occasion to celebrate the birth of Prophet Mohammad and we are not willing to give it up," 40-year-old oil company worker Adel told Magharebia.
Assida ingredients depend on the region. Some preparations use only flour and butter ("white assida"), while others use zgougou, the Alep pine nuts common to the northwestern Tunisia.
Retailers feared people would embrace the fatwa and not purchase assida ingredients. But even though prices were higher this year, stores and markets were filled with people buying zgougou and dried fruit.
"I did not notice any shortage of Tunisian buyers of assida ingredients," merchant Ziad Shayeb confirmed.
Ben Hassen's fatwa against Mouled was an encroachment on Tunisian culture, Ministry of Health employee Zahra said.
"This is our tradition of celebrating the birth of Prophet Mohammad and I don't see a problem with it," she added.
Tunisians also celebrated Mouled with concerts at Sufi shrines.