As part of my Ramadan Around The World Series, I am pleased to share a post by writer Jillian Pikora about Eid in Egypt.
Last year’s Eid was one of many firsts. My first time with other Muslims, with my in-laws, and in Egypt. Prior to coming to Egypt, Ramadan had always been a stressful time. It was as though the only way I could participate was by work. I had to work hard to be included in masjid events, suhoor parties, iftars, Quran classes, and taraweeh was an elusive activity for people more pious than I because they had memorized the Quran.
As a convert my preconceived notions had forced Ramadan into be a lonely time. Egypt has been a total 180 degree change. Suddenly I am surrounded by other Muslims 24/7. I hear the adhan, salat, and taraweeh prayers. I have friends throughout the world that come to Oum El Dunya (Mother of the World-A nickname for Egypt) to celebrate the Holy Month. I am no longer alone.
I first started to realize how wonderful sharing this time was when I got to wake-up and cook suhoor for my husband and hear the mazharety bang his drum as he marched along the street calling to the neighborhood to wake and eat suhoor before it was too late because it would be time to pray soon.
Suhoor here is a special time. A time to enjoy cooking sahlab (a warm milk and nut drink) and beleila (milk, honey, and wheat berry warm cereal). It’s also the time to wake the family and eat in a dreamy sleepy haze, and stumble to a prayer mat together before crawling back into bed. Its comfortable and unifying; unifying your family unit and unifying with God.
A few days into the month, everyone begins to adjust to the fast and the grumpiness gives way to mellowness and kindness. It gives you a strong sense of comradery because we are all going through this together. It’s at this time of the month when taxi drivers stop arguing over ba’ay (change) and friends start inviting you over for iftar.
Iftars that go beyond dates, plates of rice and meat, and seemingly endless supplies of sweets (my personal favorites being oum ali and besbousa). These iftars are affirming faith, both in Islam and in humanity.
Al Azhar Masjid Iftars are great examples of these affirmations. The first one I attended was a convert event in a small prayer space-turned classroom. A prayer room with such beauty that old rugs and worn our chairs cannot hide its opulence. A young Azhari, named Hossam Ed-Deen Allam gave lectures. A group of young women brought traditional Egypt foods. While we were waiting to be served, the women gave out gifts. These included chocolates, books, a handbag, Islamic prayer items…then the girl next to me stopped me from putting my bag away. She said she saw me admiring her friendship bracelet, so she took it off and put it on my wrist. We exchanged contact information and have since become good friends. It turns out she is a college student trying to master German and English so we bonded over exchanging our languages. At the end of the night I made friends with half a dozen sisters and we prayed taraweeh following the along with the Grand Imam.
Two days later I was invited to an iftar at Al Azhar University to eat with the international students and professors that are typically alone in Ramadan. Not only did I enjoy a multi-course meal, but I made friends with other Muslims from the world over and then shared our worship time together.
Togetherness is what Eid is all about for born Muslims. I found this out when I went to my in-laws’ home in Suez. I was greeted with hugs from my sisters-in-law and wet kisses from their children. We broke our last fast together, prayed, and recited Quran. They sweetly corrected my pronunciation as they seemed to harmonize when the three sisters and mother recited. The next day we dressed the little ones in beautiful new clothes, as my mother-in-law and I started to cook all of their favorite Egyptian dishes. We all exchanged gifts, well the women mainly exchanging scarves and recipes. Although the language barrier remained- I felt so welcomed, so comfortable.
My new Egyptian friends and family made me feel at home when I was more than 10,000 miles away from it. That feeling and those friendships will last a lifetime. Egypt has forever changed my views on the Holy Month and have shown me how wonderful it can truly be.
Jillian Pikora is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and news sites including but not limited to; Azizah Magazine, Huffington Post, Coming of Faith, Sisters Magazine, New York Times, The Atlantic, and The Guardian. Jillian has made appearances on CNN, Fox News, CSPAN, and Al Jazeera. She currently is a writer at CairoScene. Learn more about her at: http://jillianpikora.com/