The tradition of setting off fireworks and bangers to celebrate the birth of the Prophet Mohammed (PBH) has spread to Algeria. Despite religious sermons denouncing the practice and a ban on importing fireworks, each year the festival of the Mouled is welcomed with more noise and sparkle than the year before:

The eve of the Mouled, which fell this year on Friday (March 30th), has a special meaning for Algerian families. Markets begin to swarm in the early morning. The prices of chicken, red meat, zucchini, carrots and turnips – the ingredients of the dinner traditionally eaten on the Mouled – begin to surge, and the housewives of Algiers find themselves torn choosing between couscous and rechta or chakhchoukha and trida, dishes traditionally eaten on the special day.

Over the years, the Mouled has also become closely associated with the increased use of spectacular fireworks ranging from bangers and Bengal lights to boxes of dynamite and the ever-popular candles. The sale of such items takes place in the unregulated grey economy and sees a lot of money change hands, only to go up in smoke on the night of the festival.

Algerian laws strictly forbid the importation of fireworks, and every year a number of containers are seized at Algerian ports by customs officers. Nevertheless, smugglers manage each year to bring in newer fireworks in greater quantities. This year’s new arrival is the Zidane, a banger named in honour of the French-Algerian footballer. There are also boxes of dynamite which make such a loud bang that they sound like real bombs. These new items have distracted people’s attention from the traditional candles and henna which children put on their hands for the occasion.

"It’s not the religious festival it used to be," remarks El Hadja Saadia, whom Magharebia met in a market in Algiers. "People used to be content with lighting candles and singing praise to God and his Prophet. We used to tell children about the life of the Prophet, and they would proudly show off their henna to their friends." But nowadays, she says, "it is firework sellers who are encouraging children to buy their wares, and all the poor parents can do is give in to the desires of their offspring."

One can see the powerlessness etched on the faces of the country’s religious figures. Despite the advice they give in their sermons, they have failed to talk the younger generation out of turning the festival into a pyrotechnic extravaganza. Salah Nadjar, Imam at the Okba mosque in Algiers, thinks that "the mosques aren’t to blame. We’ve always said that these displays have nothing to do with celebrating the birth of the Prophet. We celebrate religious festivals in mosques and try to teach the parents about their true meaning."

According to Othmane Boudjadi, a professor of Islamic studies, "the best way to celebrate the birth of the Prophet is to follow his example and to be like him, both in his behaviour towards others and in prayer." In his view, the Mouled, which some wish to celebrate in the same or more extravagant way than that in which Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, now has nothing to do with religion since "it’s good to love the Prophet and try to follow in his path, but not to put on a display."

Algerian children play on the day of the Mouled

Fireworks and bangers to celebrate birth of the Prophet Mohammed