Sevcik's Blog

A year in Cairo Egypt

Thursday, October 13, 2005

--Ramadan: First background info then Egyptian style

Ramadan falls on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar—the month when the Qur’an was revealed to Mohamed through the Angel Gabriel.
The new month begins when the new moon can be sighted (different days in different countries). There’s an observatory in the Moqattam hills to view the moon. In general, Ramadan is about 11 days earlier each year.
Ramadan is celebrated by fasting from sunrise to sunset. This tradition was started by Mohamed with the purpose to be more focused on God. The signal that the daily fast is over is the shooting off of a canon. The biggest canon is in Cairo at the Citadel (named Hagga Fatma).
During the Fatimid (Shiite) period (early 900s?) the laterns (fanous) became an important part of the celebration. They were used as part of the procession going to view the moon to start the month and also to announce the beginning and ending of each day’s fast. The fast began when the lantern was extinguished. In the 1400’s the governor of Cairo ordered everybody to put a lantern in front of their house for the entire month.
From sunrise until sunset—no food, drink (including smoking or swallowing own saliva), or sex (including thoughts—so women wear no makeup)
A child usually starts to fast around the age of seven. The child starts gradually—usually a few hours a day. The next year it may be a half day. By the age of twelve the child will be expected to do a full fast.
Pregnant woman, nursing women, and the sickly are excused. Those in temporary sickness are expected to make up the time later.
The fast is broken at sunset by the Iftar. Mohamed broke his fast with a few dates soaked in milk. Then he prayed before having a main meal. Another (lighter) meal was eaten shortly before dawn.
In Egypt it’s party time. Estimates are that 75% to 90% of the meat eaten in Egypt is during Ramadan. Most people gain a lot of weight this month. The iftar begins with a sweet juice such as Amareddin (apricot) followed by soup, meat dishes, rice, and salad. A lot of sweets are eaten during the evening. Over a million sheep are butchered each day in Cairo. 1/3 of the meet goes to the buyer, and he gives 1/3 to his family and the other 1/3 to the poor. Streets will literally shut down as trucks come in and unload tables and chairs as the wealthy cater in tons of food.
Before dawn another meal is eaten. In the villages (and city sections on the edge of the desert) a “messaharati” comes around beating on a drum to wake everyone up to eat before dawn. The before dawn meal is called “sohour”. It’s a more balanced meal of fuul or lentils, bread (perhaps with molasses for something sweet), salad (tomatoes and cucumbers), and yoghurt.
At the end of Ramadan is a feast- Eid el Fitr. Mohamed celebrated this by putting on his best clothes, giving charity to the poor, and going to the mosque to lead the prayer. The feast lasts for three days. Children receive new clothes and presents. The family picnics in the park.
Ramadan in Egypt (and what I’ve noticed)
· The workday is shortened (although not at St. Andrews). People go into work later, end earlier, and often fall asleep working. Despite what Egyptians might say, there is much less productivity this month.
· Traffic is normally awful all the time as people, especially between 3:30 and 5:30 while people go home to break the fast. Right after sunset there is no traffic except maniacs who use the time to speed race on the empty streets. The worst accidents often occur during this lull in traffic.
· People are cranky almost the whole month. No joke! I’ve seen so many more arguments and fights this month it’s pathetic!
· Spit is everywhere! Everyone is spitting all the time, even I do it now.
· During any free moment you see many people pulling out their Qur’an and mumbling the prayers to themselves. Sometimes one person will yell out the prayers and others around will repeat. Happens all the time on the Metro and tram.


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