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For Those Who Sail to Heaven

For Those Who Sail to Heaven

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This film presents a multi-faceted portrait of the mūlid festival of Sīdī Abu’l Hajjāj, an extraordinary example of the richness and longevity of Egyptian tradition in the unique landscape of Luxor temple. 

The mūlid of the Sufi saint, Sīdī Abu’l Hajjāj, takes place annually at his mosque within the Luxor Temple complex in a celebration of the sheikh’s birth-feast and his baraka (or life-force). 

The Theban festival known as the ‘Beautiful Feast of Opet’, the precursor to the mūlid, was celebrated in 1500 BCE in what is now modern Luxor.  During this ceremony, the sacred boats of the gods would be processed from Karnak to Luxor, and the king’s divine power would be renewed through a marriage with a divine consort. Remarkably, images of this procession and its various rituals have been engraved for posterity on the temple walls. 

In the film, the principal participants describe the various rites and rituals performed for Sīdī Abu’l Hajjāj during the mūlid, and highlight various legends central to their devotion, including the story of Sitt Tarzah, former Roman/ Coptic matriarch of Luxor, who converts to Islam as a result of the sheikh’s divine power.

This festival was filmed every year from 1983 until 1986 and inevitably, since that era, aspects of the mūlid festival have changed. For Those Who Sail to Heaven, therefore, is a historical document, especially as it includes scenes from the remarkable footage of the mūlid shot by Harry Burton for the Metropolitan Museum in 1922. 

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