Author: Sue K.
Photo: Konstantin Novakovic
Cairo, September 2008
A short article about Cairo, Egypt, about one day of Ramadan. A vivid description of the streets of Cairo during the great religious holiday, together with some interesting discourse on fasting, people's behavior and religion in general.
Today on my way back from work I got to the metro station slightly before eftar. I witnessed a weird but not uncommon situation. The ticketing officer was apparently so pissed off that he was just fighting with every single person waiting to buy a ticket. He was fighting with a guy 'cause he didn't have change, then another fight 'cause when he did have change it was some torn money and the other guy refused to take it. His voice was loud and he was really
frustrated. I only had a five so I like waited for 10 minutes till I bought a ticket watching the ticketing guy fight endlessly.
So if fasting really gives you a hard time - why do it? Especially when your job is to serve others; you're just getting in the way of everyone else and putting them through hell. If you don't have the ability to fast and get your job done properly, I believe that you have the right to not fast and you won't be sinful. And I pretty much believe a middle aged under-paid over-loaded government employee working in this summer heat on low sugar, nicotine and caffeine blood levels is as good at what he's doing as a blind retarded kid with arthritis who should totally be exempted from fasting.
Right after eftar the mosque around the corner extended its premises over the road aside from a one meter they left out for traffic. The road was totally blocked, and the people who came to do the Taraweeh prayers parked and double parked around the vicinity of the mosque
totally blocking the street and our cars in. Moreover, to do the prayers they apparently just installed a new sound system that has the ability to deafen anyone within 100 kilometers from the mosque. And don't get me started on how unpoetical the Imam's voice was.
There is a point to all this, and it is that don't you just hate it when religion gets in the way of everything else? I'm not a Muslim scholar but if anyone just pauses for a minute and takes a look around at how messy things are, they would think twice before practicing some religion rituals that just mess their life upside down.
But if you think about it, it's not sinning those people are afraid of. Rather breaking the social norms. Or ego or pride or something of that sort. Because if it is being a good Muslim what they're after they would get that eating a sandwich is much less of a sin than noise-pollution, indecency when dealing with others, unprofessional attitude at one's work and the list goes on.
I'm not saying that we should just put religion aside to function well as a secular perspective might propose (not to mention that Egypt is by far the worst candidate for a secular nation, even worse than it being a candidate for hosting the world cup-but that's a different chapter in another book), but I'm simply saying that we need to use our mind a little bit and prioritize.
Anyway, to continue the story, around Maghrib time I was still on the street. You never see Cairo's streets this empty except during this time of the year. Everyone eating at the same time. You can see the homeless people joined around this freshly cooked meal they just received. People giving away dates and juice to everyone passing by in the most humble way, I even took some myself. You can literally see compassion painted on their warm smiling faces. I've seen humanity united in the simplest way, to fulfill our simplest need, eating. I felt really overwhelmed and my mind drifted into this thought of is this really the good part of it or is this merely a massive brain wash or a conspiracy to keep us doped with religion that we can't escape?
But then again, escape to where? We're rather imprisoned in this realm we've grown into.
The free dates tasted really good.