As Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr next week, Watani wishes readers a happy Eid and joyful completion of their fast. The Eid marks the end of the Ramadan fast.
Ramadan is without doubt a very special time. It is the Muslim holy month of fasting, but it is also much more. Muslims fast from dawn to sunset, eating the first meal of iftar, literally ‘breakfast’, once the sun sets; and the last meal sohour in the predawn hours. Sunset is to this day announced with a gunshot from the 10th-century Saladin Citadel on Muqattam Mountain northeast Cairo, but also with calls to prayer from Cairo’s 1,000-plus mosque minarets and broadcast on Radio Cairo.
Lighting up the night
Given that so much goes on during the night hours when there is no fast, an age-old Ramadan tradition is the lantern. In the days before modern electricity, it was a necessary accessory to light up the hours of dark. Today it has become an item not to be dispensed with during Ramadan; it comes in all shapes, colours, and sizes; and forms toys for children and decoration for the festive time.
Preparations for Ramadan start early on. A week or two before the month starts, neighbourhood youth join in hanging colourful glittering streamers across the narrow streets or alleyways, and placing giant lanterns at street corners or on balconies. Shops and homes are similarly decked. Everywhere you go, the festive decorations remind you that the countdown for Ramadan is on. The ancient tradition of sighting the crescent of the new lunar month is in practice, and Ramadan formally begins once an official announcement is made to that effect. The eve of the first day of Ramadan is celebrated by traditional songs, late-night activity, the first sohour, and the fast begins.
Fasting … feasting
Ramadan is traditionally coupled with increased worship activities, also with works of charity. This is why many hospitals and charities advertise their need for donations during the month, hoping to attract most needed funds.
Even though on the surface Ramadan is a month of austerity, in practice it is a time for feasting. Extended families and friends gather for iftar or sohour, in which cases the repasts turn into sumptuous feasts. Traditional meals which mothers might find too complicated to cook for their families on a regular basis are generously offered in Ramadan. And Ramadan desserts such as the hair-thin pastry konafa or the nuts and raisin-stuffed qatayef are especially popular, though no one seems to have a clue why they never appear on dinner tables except during Ramadan.
Following iftar, it is time to relax in front of TV sets watching prime Ramadan shows. Then it is time to go out and have a good time till sohour.
Shopping especially is a significant activity during Ramadan. Apart from the social gatherings and feasting which require preparations and gifts, new clothes must be bought for Eid al-Fitr, the feast which comes once Ramadan ends. Everyone buys new clothes, grown-ups and children; but in times of economic straits when families need to economise, the grown-ups frequently forego the new clothes so they can buy some for their children.
Not only Muslims
But it is not only Muslims who celebrate Ramadan. In Egypt, The month has always held special meaning for Copts who, as a principle, refuse to eat or drink in public in respect for those who, because of the fast, abstain from eating or drinking. This is an unwritten rule among Copts, to which they have spontaneously adhered from generation to generation.
As though traffic in Egypt were not sufficiently crazy under normal conditions, the fact that almost all Egyptians eat at the same iftar hour during Ramadan means they all have to be home at the same time, a sure recipe for disastrous traffic. Predictably, they can’t all make it; the sunset gunshot may go while some are yet on the street. At that time, it has become customary to find young men and women at streetlights, corners, or intersections, handing drivers and passers-by bottled water and a small snack. Many of these young people are Copts.
Copts frequently invite their Muslim friends for iftar or sohour. These are usually merry events during which the Copts clearly show how much they feel part of the Ramadan tradition, and Muslims are delighted to note that Copts too love Ramadan. They, too, buy their children Ramadan lanterns, and cook Ramadan foods and desserts. They greet Muslims with the traditional “Ramadan kareem”, literally “Ramadan is generous”, and take care to alert any Muslim who did not notice it was time for iftar that they can break their fast.
“Please pray for them”
This year saw an exceptionally severe spell of hot weather during Ramadan, with temperatures up to 46 degrees Celsius. Given that the days are approaching the longest in the year—the fast begins before 4am and extends to around 6:50pm—it was especially gruelling. At the time, a young Coptic woman wrote on Facebook a post which read: “Will every Copt who reads this please pray for our Muslim brothers and sisters who are fasting in this scorching heat? That God may sustain them, and give them the power to complete their fast.” The post went viral. Copts joined in with gusto, sympathising with the fasting Muslims and praying for them; and Muslims posted so many heartfelt “thank you”s and “You are so sweet”, and “We’re all one big family, aren’t we?”, that it appeared as though the thread of comments would go on forever.
And speaking of ‘forever’, may the spontaneous love that binds Egyptians extend forever and ever.
29 May 2019