I first met Shaikh Mohamed el-Helbawy (b. 1946) in 1995, while researching the Hamidiyya Shadhiliyya tariqa (Sufi order) in Cairo. 1 At that time he served as that tariqa’s lead munshid (chanter of hymns), as well as principal muqri’ (Qur’an teacher and reciter) at their large mosque in the upscale Mohandiseen neighborhood. Shaikh Mohamed is an established Qur’an reciter well-versed in the Egyptian tradition of mujawwad (melodically elaborate tilawa, Qur’anic recitation), regularly performing at mayatim (funeral gatherings) and specializing also in several genres of inshad dini (religious hymnody), especially tawashih (semi-composed dialogues between solo munshid, and choral bitana) and ibtihalat (improvised supplications and praises), as well as the adhan (the Muslim call to prayer); he regularly performs ibtihalat and adhan on Egyptian national radio. He also performs staged versions of these genres with his Firqat al-Inshad al-Dini (Religious Hymnody Group), comprising vocalists, duff (frame drum), and nay or kawala (reed flute). Most Egytians consider such an ensemble, and its musical sound, to be a representation of Islamic turath (heritage). This perception is reinforced by Shaikh el-Helbawy’s traditional dress, training, and milieux. Raised in the medieval Cairo neighborhood of Bab al-Shi`riyya – a district brimming with sights and sounds of mosques, madrasas, saint shrines and Sufi orders – he absorbed the styles and repertoires of traditional Islamic recitation and hymnody from the greatest performers of the twentieth century – Shaikh Mustafa Isma`il, Shaikh `Abd al-Basit `Abd al-Samad, Shaikh Taha al-Fashni, Shaikh Sayyid al-Naqshabandi – and from the senior munshidin in the Hamidiyya Shadhiliyya tariqa. More formally, he studied tilawa at the venerable al-Azhar University (established under the Fatimids c.975), and Arabic music theory with co-tariqa member, composer and musicologist Dr Soliman Gamil (see Figure 4.1).