Today is the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting.
In order to help our Western friends understand this month, here are a few stories that reveal a wide scope of Ramadan diversity.
It may be surprising to some that in Egypt, many churches host iftar, the fast-breaking meal at sunset. I attended two, which I reported on for Christianity Today. It can be a great way to honor Muslims for their commitment, and to build bridges between the two communities.
Inspired by the practice, we looked to imitate.
Our daughter invited her school friends and mothers, which included a Christian family. She even encouraged us not to eat or drink – from noon until 7pm – to share the experience.
But this experience did not include any men, so I was banished to the back room. One of the mothers is more traditional and the company of women put all at ease.
Fortunately, they sent back some food.
On another occasion we went to a friend’s home to break fast with them. Our younger daughter asked if one of the ladies of the house was a Christian, as she didn’t cover her hair.
Needless to say, this group was comfortably mixed in gender.
We were not fasting with them on this occasion, and decided first to stop by the new mall opened in their neighborhood – which even has an indoor ski park!
The mall was pretty empty, as most people were at work or looking to get home on time to eat again. But Baskin Robbins was open and even offered their free samples. We all indulged.
As parents we were careful not to eat or drink in public throughout the day, but made an exception for the ice cream. When we got back to the car, our thermoses emptied.
Similar was an interview I did with a Muslim friend downtown. The temperature was 109 degrees, and to make my way there I walked to the metro, rode in the crowded un-air-conditioned car, then after a short walk outside stuffed myself into a microbus.
All the while there was a water bottle in my bag, unable to surface.
Yet when I arrived, my friend kindly offered me a cup of water.
What to do? Muslims know Christians are not fasting, and are generally not offended if a friend eats quietly in front of them. His was a kind gesture on a hot day.
But in Egypt Christians generally choose not to eat or drink in front of them from respect.
I can’t say if this was the right decision or not. But I took the cup, thanked him for his consideration, and placed it down on the table.
I assured him I would be willing to drink it later, but never did.
It was a long trek back home as well, but hopeful a genuine sentiment was communicated.
Later in the month, however, we invited another Muslim friend to break fast at our home. He was without his family for a while, so he could share with us.
But he is a non-practicing Muslim, and preferred to eat at our normal dinnertime of 6pm, an hour before sunset.
There is a good bit of diversity in Ramadan, but it doesn’t end there.
Unrelated to the month we invited a Christian family to join us for a meal. But surprised we were when they left half their plate untouched.
We failed to realize the Christian ‘Fast of the Apostles’ overlapped with Ramadan this year. Coptic Christians abstain from meat during their fasts, which last several days – like Lent – not just from sunrise to sunset.
If they are faithful, Coptic Christians can be fasting over half the year.
Unlike us, the local sweet shop is quite accustomed to Coptic fasts and always has a ready stash of Christian-fast-appropriate treats available.
Perhaps from habit in filling our order when we visit Christian families, the shopkeeper naturally doled out from that supply.
We didn’t realize it until he was done, but said no matter. We were off to visit Muslim friends but judged they taste similar enough.
Given the spirit of the season, we don’t think our friends minded – if they even noticed.
You may have an image in your mind of Muslims. There may be an associated thought about Ramadan. Most likely it is true, at least partially.
But realize there is much diversity in the Muslim world, and each deserves our understanding and honor.
Among some this is difficult (think of terrorists). Among others it is easy (think of our friends).
I suppose like humanity in general, most are in-between.
But however difficult to imagine, it becomes easier when you actually know them.
And like humanity in general, it can become more difficult when you actually know them well.
We all have warts. But we are all also made in the image of God.
Do your best to discover both among Muslims, as you can.
And congratulations to all our Muslim friends; enjoy your feast.
For most American Christians, Ramadan is a novelty; something heard of, but rarely seen. For Middle Eastern Christians, it is everywhere.
For some, it is an annoyance. The month-long fast from sunrise to sunset can make for a cranky Muslim neighbor. Productivity tends to slow. Religiosity tends to rise.
But for other believers, it is an opportunity.
“The Evangelical Church of Maadi wishes all Egyptians a generous Ramadan,” proclaimed the flowery banner hung in the southern Cairo suburb. Such signage is not uncommon (and Muslims also display Merry Christmas wishes for Christians). But saluting “all Egyptians” is a statement.
“I want our brother Muslims to feel that we are one [as Egyptians], and it will make him happy in his heart,” said pastor Naseem Fadi. “We both celebrate Ramadan.”
Beside the need to have good relations with Muslims, Fadi also emphasized his biblical obligations. “Our faith tells us to love everyone,” he said. “And when we reach out to others, we teach them about ourselves.”
Across the Middle East, Christians join in the festive spirit—often by hosting an iftar, the traditional fast-breaking dinner…
Please click here to continue reading at Christianity Today.
In Egypt, Ramadan is not only highly anticipated as month of spiritual fasting, but also as a month of television entertainment. It is estimated that 80% of original content is released during the month, broadcast after sunset when family gathers to eat, socialize, and watch the hottest stars in action.
One of my favorite party games is called Balderdash, a development of the very simple ‘dictionary game’. In the original version one player searches for an obscure word and writes the definition on a piece of paper. Every other player then makes up a definition, also writing it down and giving it to the selector. All papers are then read out loud, and points are scored not only for guessing the correct definition, but also for votes given to the most convincing–or outrageous–made up efforts.
The commercial version of Balderdash expands this concept to include obscure acronyms, laws, individuals, and… movie titles.
Which of the following do you think is an invented title and plot?
Free Fall: Malak is a psychopath who is accused of murdering her husband and her sister after the crime weapon, a gun, is found with her. When she is arrested the court decides to put her in a psychiatric clinic. She faces many problems inside the clinic until the truth about the murders is revealed at the end.
Above Reproach: Rahma is a sociopath who seems to be kind and normal, but in reality is consciously harming the people around her.
Marionette: A businessman’s wife is thinking about appearing on a popular television show. The husband intervenes, fearing that his past will be reopened, revealing his involvement in a murder.
Wedding Song: A theatrical group in the 1970s discover in a reading that the play they will perform is about their own lives and secrets. They refuse to take part in the play but the group leader insists, as his way to salvation. The actors find themselves on stage playing their own real life characters.
Father of the Girls: A businessman and a former drug dealer who owns a car shop has a dispute with one of his competitors, so he moves with his family to Cairo. But this does not end his problems.
A Psychiatric Clinic: The series is based on a true story about a female teacher in an international school who suffered sexual harassment from one of her students. Can she overcome the incident? Or will she discover that everyone around her is accusing the victim?
Seven Souls: A police officer arrests a powerful man accused of murdering a woman. The arrested man is sentenced to death. But what would happen to the police officer if the allegedly murdered woman is still alive?
Wanoos: A father of four meets a devil called Wanoos. He becomes attached to him and leaves his family, work and life. But after 20 years of trouble making and misdeeds, he reviews his past. Can he change?
Lineage Crisis: A nurse in a fertility clinic falls in love with one of the clients, a wealthy and married businessman. He secretly marries her, hoping to have a baby. But he dies before she becomes pregnant. The greedy wife invents a trick to inherit her late husband’s wealth. Is she able to deceive everyone?
Superman Daughters: Superman is visiting Egypt and meets with his dream girl in El-Haram Street. When he leaves, she discovers she is pregnant. Will she give birth to superboy or supergirl?
I wish I was creative enough to have invented these; all of the above are real synopses. Many thanks to Ahram Online for giving a preview of what Egyptians will be watching this month. Click here to watch short previews of the seven most highly anticipated dramas.
How do you think they compare to the list of American favorites? What do you think television reveals about the state of any society and its values?
Give Egyptians a happy holiday at the end of Ramadan. Honor their fasting, hear their prayers. And above all, keep them safe.
The week began with a huge explosion at the Italian consulate. It ended with the claim of a terrorist attack on a naval vessel in the Mediterranean.
There have been warnings of more attacks over the multi-day Eid. Perhaps they are not aimed primarily at civilians, but people can be nervous all the same.
Calm them, God, with proper vigilance. Secure them, with proper faith.
The Cairo police chief was recently relieved of his duties. Establish a system of accountability that puts the most able in the top posts. Their assignment is challenging; give wisdom, supply intelligence.
With stability, in peace, help all enjoy this time with family. Strengthen bonds and renew religion. As Egyptians look to you, give them eyes to see correctly.
Let love drive out fear. Let security drive out terrorism. Let the Eid go back to normal.
It was 11pm and I had 40,000 Egyptian pounds (approx. $8000) in my bag sitting on the seat beside me in the taxi, which was stuck in traffic. This was another night out during Ramadan.
Having three young children, I don’t go out much after dark as their bed time is 8pm. But during the month of Ramadan here in Egypt, stores change their schedules to accommodate the fasting that occurs during daylight, and feasting that takes place during dark. Whereas the best time for me to run errands is in the morning after dropping Emma off at preschool, some stores don’t open until noon or 2pm, and then they close for a few hours as people break the fast and conduct their special Ramadan prayers, only to open again from 9pm until midnight or later. So a few times this month, I found myself walking the streets of Maadi after dark running errands.
A couple times I ventured into a slightly lower class area in north Maadi, not far from our new home, where I was trying to get a blender fixed and some pants shortened. My attempts to buy ice cream at a place I recently found had mixed results. I was successful two times when I went around 10pm, but the day I went during daylight I was told they only sold ice cream at night after everyone broke their fast.
I had an idea that our family should take a walk one night after fast-breaking so the girls could see some of the lights that decorate the houses during Ramadan, and so Jayson could see one of the main streets in our new neighborhood. The plan was to walk to the main street around 7:30pm, an hour after fast-breaking, and then get ice cream at the local shop which has great ice cream for only two Egyptian pounds a scoop (approx. 40 cents). Can’t beat that deal when it comes to an ice cream store! So, all day long, I told the girls we were going for a walk that night and would have a “surprise.” So after dinner, the girls climbed into the big stroller (double) and the small stroller (umbrella) and took off north for about a ten minute walk. We pointed out the decorations on people’s houses and the girls enjoyed that. Every time she saw a light on a house, Hannah would say, “Ramadan!” Jayson got to see the main street which was only starting to liven up now that people had eaten their main meal. After another hour or so, the street would be busy with people shopping and drinking tea. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the ice cream store, the surprise was on me! They weren’t going to open until after Ramadan prayers … maybe 8:30 or so, and we really didn’t want to wait for half an hour or more at that point. So, I walked across the street and bought some nasty ice cream novelties which saved the surprise for the girls, but didn’t really appease my sweet tooth! Chalk it up to a learning experience.
Another night Jayson and I got to enjoy the spirit of Ramadan as his work colleagues took a trip downtown to break the fast all together. We met at some outdoor tables right outside Khan-al-Khalili, the famous market bazaar of Cairo, and enjoyed a delicious and quickly-served meal. As the call to prayer sounded, everyone in the whole courtyard began to eat at once. It was a fun atmosphere and surprisingly good food. We topped the evening off with a wonderful performance by the Tannoura group not too far from where we ate dinner. This was a free show of Sufi singing, dancing, twirling, and instrumentalists. Some of their stuff was pretty amazing. I would definitely recommend it. All in all, the night wasn’t too late as we were home by about 11:30.
And now onto this night. We would be traveling in just a few days, and Jayson needed some help with work errands as he had more than he really had time for before leaving. I offered to take the Euros he withdrew from the bank for work expenses, and exchange it at the moneychanger. Again, hours of operation weren’t totally conducive to my schedule with three young girls. So, this was the night I could venture out at 10pm to change the money. Unfortunately, with all of the shopping and feasting at night, the traffic is pretty heavy, so as we slowly crawled along, I considered getting out and walking home. I could probably walk it in about half an hour. But since I had so much money in my bag and it was 11pm, I thought it would be safer to stay in the taxi. Besides, I didn’t really feel like walking by this point in the day; I would rather have been sleeping!
I eventually made it home on this, my last night of Ramadan wanderings. Or, at least until next year, when we may attempt another night out for ice cream, and see what errands take me out on the streets of Maadi way past my bedtime!
Apartment-hunting in Cairo was tough considering Jayson was beginning a new job and we were housesitting in a place which was a 45-minute drive from Maadi, the neighborhood where we hoped to live. This meant timing our visits there in between or in spite of naps and bedtime for our two girls. Jayson didn’t have a lot of time to walk around Maadi and look for places, and once he left for the day, I was kind of stuck at the villa. So, I did what I could from afar and looked in magazines and made some phone calls and even checked the internet. Surprisingly, one of the best resources for finding an apartment was the ever popular Craigslist site online.
I saw a place on Craigslist on a Monday and tried calling about it, but the person never picked up. We had been using a lot of real estate agents to find places and this was another one advertising a 3-bedroom place within our budget. The details of the place sounded good, but we couldn’t do much about it if there was no answer. I sent an email to the Craigslist address and finally on Friday night, got a reply that he had been out of town but would now answer his phone. Well, Saturday was the first day of Ramadan…so the first day of the fast…and I tried calling him several times that morning as we were looking to decide on places, but still no answer. We had narrowed our choices down to a simple ground floor place (drawbacks were no bathtub and a very uneven floor…making the table and chairs a bit tipsy) and a 2-bedroom place across from the office (a good spot…but a little small and seemed a bit expensive compared to other places; plus, there were a lot of mice droppings from its short time vacant). So, we weren’t super happy with either of these two options. Finally in the afternoon, someone answered the phone. He had slept in due to the fasting and it’s hard adjusting to the first day…especially since he’s a smoker. Anyway, we agreed to see the place at 5:30 that evening…an hour before the time of breaking the fast.
We got the girls up from their nap and got ready to go into town. Since it takes at least 45 minutes to get there from the villa we had to go early…and on the way, the real estate agent texted me to say the key wasn’t available at this time so we had to cancel the appointment. It was really the only reason we were going all the way into town, so that was no good. I called him and he thought that we could meet at 8pm and the key would be there. Plus maybe he could show us some other spots. So, we arrived in town around 5pm…what to do with three hours?! Jayson stopped by the office and found there was an interview with some journalists taking place, and his boss invited him to stay for the interview. Good and interesting for him. A little hard for us.
It’s hard to keep the girls entertained and somewhat less than filthy, playing outside Jayson’s office building. You see, the ground and everything outside is always covered by a layer of dust/dirt. Fortunately Hannah is mostly walking now, but both her and Emma get quite dirty playing outside…and then I get dirty because they sit on my lap or I hold them. I really can’t get from our house to our next stop in the car with a clean shirt and pants. Oh well, something to adjust to. Anyway, back to the time at the office. So, to avoid the dirt, we played inside Jayson’s office building for a little while, but I didn’t want to make too much noise and disturb the interview. Then we left the office, closing the locked door behind us, only to find that the gate to get out of the building was also locked. So, we were stuck in the stairwell. And of course, Hannah crawls up steps, cleaning them as she goes! We were stuck there for about half an hour, and at one point, Emma said we were in jail…something I hadn’t thought of but seemed fitting to our situation. We tried to stay occupied by telling stories and singing songs, and we attempted to stay a little less than filthy. The “little less than filthy” was unsuccessful, but we survived until someone who lived in the building came in and let us out! We went to the car then for a snack until Jayson was done, then to his boss’ house for a drink. By the time this was all over, it was about 7pm…still an hour until we meet the real estate agent, and I was quite ready to just go back home! Enough for one day…but the night was yet young! We got the girls some yogurt to eat and waited for the agent by our rendezvous spot. He showed up a couple minutes past our appointment time and we continued the adventure.
We didn’t start out at the Craigslist place. He took us to another apartment building where we were going to see two places. But instead, we waited and waited and waited and waited for the doorman to come back with the key. He had gone to the mosque for Ramadan prayers and was coming “any minute.” This went on for about half an hour. The good news is, Emma liked this “Amu” (Arabic word for uncle) for some reason and played with him real well despite the fact that it was going on 9pm by the time we finally said, that’s enough waiting, let’s go to the other place.
So, then we were going to see yet another place before the Craigslist place, but this one was on the opposite side of the metro track. We don’t know why he suggested this, but we parked at one spot, walked up and over the metro (lots and lots of stairs) and then preceded to walk what felt like a mile…remember, 9pm, me carrying Hannah, Jayson carrying Emma, through the dark streets…until we finally got to an apartment where we went to the third floor (no elevator). Now, what’s frustrating about this is we specifally told the agent we didn’t want a high floor without an elevator…it’s just too hard with the kids. But, we saw the place anyway. It was a decent place but didn’t have a bathtub, so that was a problem. (Besides being on the third floor). Then, while Jayson was looking at the back bedroom with the landlord and agent, the landlord closed the shutters on the window, knocking a beehive open…and bees started to swarm into the bedroom! Fortunately I didn’t witness this myself, but the owner got stung and Jayson made it out of there without harm. The landlord felt really bad and assured us he would spray and take care of that problem!
So then onto the place we had been waiting to see for five days or five hours…depending on when you started counting! Fortunately, we didn’t have to walk too far to the next place, it was just up and over the metro again.
We got to the building and there was a large family gathering taking place in the downstairs aptartment. Again, it was the first day of Ramadan and the family was celebrating the fast-breaking meal. And of course, the key was not there, but would be back in about 20 minutes! Ugh! It was already 10pm! Well, we came this far, so we had to wait.
The family invited us in…or maybe Hannah just kind of walked in and we had to follow her, and we enjoyed a visit with them…having some dessert and juice and chatting some with the people. It was a large group…uncles, aunts, cousins, etc. The girls did okay despite the hour, and Emma was a little overwhelmed as people would pick her up when she didn’t want them to…but all in all, it was a nice introduction to the owner of the buildings large family.
So, finally the key came and we went up to look at the place. I liked it immediately although it was supposed to be a furnished place and there was only some furniture…so that was tricky, but they promised to furnish it if we took it. We took a look at it and talked some with the brother of the owner, as the owner himself was out of town…and told them we would think about it. After about 1/2 an hour of looking around and talking, we headed back out…took a taxi back to our car, dropped the agent off, and headed back to the villa…fortunately there wasn’t much traffic and we made good time…both of the girls sleeping from the time we got in the car.
As a postscript: This is the apartment we did finally settle on, just a few days after our crazy night. It was a good reminder that things take longer to do here…something we need to get used to. We’re thankful that our kids are flexible, and glad to be done the househunting for the time being.
We moved into our apartment in a nice section of Cairo…Maadi, the town of foreigners, or ex-pats, as we are sometimes called. (To clarify, out of the three million people who live in this town, one million of them are ex-pats…leaving two million Egyptians.) We moved in on a Sunday evening during Ramadan. Ramadan is the month of fasting for Muslims, and the majority of Muslims in Egypt fasted from sunrise to sunset…breaking the fast at the call to prayer. A couple days after we moved in, we passed the doorman and his wife walking on the street. This was about one hour before the breaking of the fast.
“Please come and break the fast with us,” the doorman said to Jayson.
“Thank you, thank you,” was the reply.
“Yes, please come and have dinner with us tonight,” added the doorman’s wife.
I kind of looked at Jayson and immediately thought that we couldn’t do it tonight…although I didn’t have a good reason…I’m just not always ready for spontaneity! “Well, thank you so much. We can’t tonight. Um, um, thank you though, you’re so generous,” I kind of stuttered.
Jayson saved me and added, “Thank you for the invitation, God willing, we can join you tomorrow for the fast-breaking.”
The doorman replied, “Yes, God willing, tomorrow.” And we went on our way.
So, sure enough, the next night, we joined them in their home next to our apartment building. They live in what appears to be a half-knocked down building, but if you don’t mind that the floor above you is half-broken down, it’s really quite big and spacious.
They also have enough land to grow some vegetables and keep farm animals! As the wife told me, it’s a villa! We sat outside, on a mat on the ground and shared a simple, yet delicious meal.
The doorman’s wife was with us for 10 minutes or so before she disappeared inside. We ate somewhat quickly…as is customary during the fast-breaking meal, and washed our hands as the kids got up to play and the doorman’s daughter got up to clear the “table.” A little while later, I was invited inside to visit with the wife who had gone to lay down in her bed to rest. You see, she had had brain surgery about two weeks prior to this night. Apparently she had a tumor removed. It’s not appropriate in this culture, to ask too much about sicknesses or if it was cancerous, for example, but I don’t know of any follow-up treatment she is getting so, I am guessing it was benign. But still, a brain tumor!
So, as I was pondering our dinner invitation a few days later, some things struck me when I realized that I would never have invited ourselves over if I were in their shoes.
We are foreigners…wealthy Americans who are, in a sense, their employer, since we live in the building where they work. Their daughter knocks on our door twice a day to run errands for us and collect our garbage. Yet, they didn’t mind having someone from a “higher class” and a foreign country, to their simple home for a meal.
The first time they invited us was one hour before the meal! I don’t know about you, but if I am having someone over, I like to have some notice! I like to have everything prepared and the house clean and the table set. But this family, and as is common in this culture, is always prepared for guests…expected or not. They would have had enough food to serve us if we came at that first invitation. They are always ready to serve anyone who might show up. Talk about generous. And this from a poorer family.
The wife, the woman of the house, had major surgery two weeks ago! This is the kicker for me. I can’t think of many women I know who would invite people to their house when they are recovering from brain surgery! Yes, maybe for a sick visit, but, “Please, come have dinner with us. I won’t be able to sit with you long, I have to rest because of my recent brain surgery, but please, come, be with us. Sit with my family. My daughters will take care of you. You are welcome here!” Hmmm, inviting a new family in the neighborhood to my house, in that situation, would not have been the first thing on my mind.