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Ramadan begins

Yesterday was the first day of Ramadan here in Egypt. It was interesting seeing the differences between the customs that have sprung up around it here in Egypt and in Mayotte, whose population is 99% Muslim even though it is a French overseas department.

The day began calmly enough, more like a Friday than a regular weekday (Friday is the day of worship here and the start of the weekend), and things got calmer and calmer as the day went on. We went for a swim at the health club and the road there was practically empty of traffic, something I've never seen, even at 3 a.m. on the way home from the airport. When we came out of the club, the parking lot was almost empty and the sun was just setting. Some young men had put traffic cones across two of the three lanes, forcing all cars to pass in front of them, so that they could sell the drivers and passengers drinks in plastic cups. Maybe some kind of cola or juice.  We passed another set of drink sellers, these laden with trays of electric orange beverages. In front of apartment buildings, children, teens, and even adults were setting off black-cats and similar firecrackers.  Garlands of lights, reminiscent of Christmas decorations, some of them sporting stars and crescent moons decked the front of buildings and trees. Great lanterns, like those below, sold especially for Ramadan hang from entrances like bejeweled pendants. Note the size of the ones on the ground compared to the lady and her children:

ramadan lanterns

"Lights! Lights," shouted S. "More lights!"  She was pointing everywhere, with a flourish no less, like casting spells with a magic wand. She even found magic in street lamps and the outdoor light of shops that were closed for the evening...another first.

On a wide, landscaped median two trestle tables were set up, seating about 40 men and boys, who were feasting together. Bunting hung in the hot still air, lights twinkled, laughter and firecrackers were all the more audible because of the lighter traffic.  Carts of prickly pear fruits for sell stood unmanned, the sellers off breaking their fast.

We parked in front of our building and S was able to run across the intersection by herself. "Look, no cars!"

The prayers may have sounded a bit longer through the megaphones, but we have yet to hear children screaming "Amin!" at the top of their lungs for 30 minutes straight like we did in Mayotte.


( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 11th, 2013 04:57 pm (UTC)
Sounds quite festive--like a whole month of Christmas or Hanukkah. If sunset marks they time of fast breaking, then the holiday must vary a lot depending on what time of the year it comes in. What would Muslims who live in Swedish Lapland, say, or some other place beyond the Arctic Circle do? They might either get 24 hours of darkness or 24 hours of light. I guess that would affect the Jewish Sabbath as well.
Jul. 11th, 2013 05:00 pm (UTC)
frigg was telling me about the Muslims in Denmark. I'll let her answer :D
Jul. 11th, 2013 06:22 pm (UTC)
I don't know what they do in places with 24 hour sunlight, but there has been some talk about it here because they have to go hungry for so long. Like today, I believe they've had to faste from 2:46 am (Fajr Prayer) or the latest 4:39 am (sunrise) to 9:52 pm.

There has been some talk about whether they should follow the sunrise and sunset in Mekka instead, but nothing ever came of it, probably because it is not allowed according to the Koran.

Officially, in the case where there is no sunrise-sunset, I believe they have to faste according to the nearest location with a sunrise and a sunset. I read an article with one muslim in Greenland who follows the Ramadan, and he fastes for 21 hours a day.
Jul. 11th, 2013 06:30 pm (UTC)
fasting at latitudes with endless day
I was wondering about that--thanks for sharing this!
Jul. 12th, 2013 09:59 am (UTC)
Re: fasting at latitudes with endless day
You're welcome. :)
Jul. 12th, 2013 01:50 am (UTC)
one muslim in Greenland who follows the Ramadan, and he fastes for 21 hours a day.

Poor man.
Jul. 12th, 2013 09:58 am (UTC)
He did say in the article that he was tempted to go back to Lebanon for vacation during the Ramadan, but he didn't because then there would be no one to pray and faste on Greenland during the Ramadan. ;)
Jul. 15th, 2013 07:15 am (UTC)
On the other hand, if he can hold out for a decade or so, he'll have it very easy...
Jul. 15th, 2013 08:51 am (UTC)
lol :)
Jul. 11th, 2013 05:30 pm (UTC)
I've only read your entries in pieces until now, and it just dawned on me that you live in Egypt. Forgive me for being so slow. What do you do there, and have you lived there for many years? (Just curious, please only share what you want to.)

I noticed that Ramadan was starting now, with just about the longest days of the year for fasting. How is it playing out with the political unrest? Making it worse, better, or doesn't matter at all?
Jul. 12th, 2013 08:27 am (UTC)
Yes, we live in Cairo, a suburban town called Maadi to be more precise. We have only been here since the end of October of last year. My husband works for the French embassy here.

So far, things have been very calm since Ramadan started, but big protests are planned for today. An Egyptian gentlemen who works for the embassy is a Morsi supporter, and he told my husband that today will probably be the last protest. I don't know what they have planned as a follow-up, if anything. I hope that the interim government's promise that the Muslim Brotherhood will have a place in the future government will be enough to placate its supporters...
Jul. 16th, 2013 09:13 pm (UTC)
Sounds scary, but fascinating. What do you do with your time? Do you work? Have you enjoyed being in Egypt? How do the Egyptians react to you?
Jul. 11th, 2013 06:21 pm (UTC)
I always enjoy Ramadan - we do a fair bit of work in the Middle East so it's always a bit of an work event (outsider style). I was amused to get email on Tuesday announcing that while they thought Ramadan was going to start on Tuesday, but oops it was going to start on Wednesday. Everybody change plans!
Jul. 12th, 2013 08:39 am (UTC)
Yeah, my mother-in-law was telling me that apparently quite a few people in France were in a huff about the date change.

The deciding of the start is one of my keenest memories of Ramadan from Mayotte: the imams watching the moon and declaring it was time and word spreading fast-fast across the two islands.

ETA: I also hear that Egypt always sets their date for a day before (er, or is it after? now I'm forgetting) Saudi Arabia.

Edited at 2013-07-12 08:43 am (UTC)
Jul. 11th, 2013 06:31 pm (UTC)
That's a beautiful photo! What I really love about Ramadan is how it combines a time of austerity and reflection with a time of celebration--marvelous.

Jul. 12th, 2013 08:44 am (UTC)
Several times I've wanted to participate in the fasting and reflection, but each time there has been a reason why I can't...
Jul. 15th, 2013 07:16 am (UTC)
Those lamps are amazing!
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )


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