Tale of two Ramadans

I keep thinking about it, trying to analyze my feelings and figure out why this past Ramadan was literally the best I’ve experienced in 4 years (ie, since we left America).  The only thing I can figure is, the sense of not having any ‘place’ in Egyptian society really effected me more than I realized.  Despite being a minority, in religion as well as race in America, I can’t help but feel that I  belong here.  As much ease as I felt in regard to my kids and their Islamic upbringing, in Egypt thoughts of the future stretched out into a really bleak, lonely horizon.  We did make friends, but for the most part, they kept their ties with their countries, and would travel back and forth. 

Usually in Egypt, dh would go out to the masjid alone.  The closer neighborhood ones were usually small, with no space for women.  The larger masajid did have a space for women, and many Egyptian women do attend the prayers, especially in Ramadan.  But, if we all wanted to go, that usually meant a taxi, or a hike.  Not something I was interested in after fasting all day.  So the kids and I usually stayed home. 

This Ramadan, the masjid is right around the corner, literally walking distance.  I went to tarawih probably about 18-20 nights out of the month.  We didn’t socialize much, probably 3 iftars total (not counting the ones at the masjid), but that was more than in Egypt.  Almost every night I saw someone I knew at the masjid.  At a masjid not far from my house one of the Qaris during taraweeh was a boy man I knew as a preteen, all grown-up, married  and leading the prayer (btw, I’m not that old, I was about 19 when I used to know him).  At the same masjid, there is iftar dinner every night, I remember attending half of the month when I was pregnant with my first kid.  I have a history here.  It’s hard to completely leave that behind. 

Of course it is also a heck of a lot easier shopping, cleaning, even cooking here.  I still remember walking up those 5 flights of stairs, carrying my grocery bags (which I had walked home with).  Contrast that with walking right outside my door, stepping into my car and driving to the store.

We’ve discussed ways in which we might move again overseas, and for the most part I’ve rejected the idea of going back to Egypt.  To tell the truth, I’m not sure if I’d feel at home in any other country, but the life *might* be easier.  Dh did receive a job offer (for not much money) in another country, but he’s not excited about it.  We’ll just have to wait and see what Allah has planned for us.


Natural Medicines from the Sunnah

I’d been planning for a while to write about hijama, and just by chance I came across American Bedu’s blog with the same topic.  She also has a video depicting hijama, which I’ll steal post here, since it is very similar to what I do myself. 

There is such a wealth of natural medicine to be found in hadith.  Two remedies from the sunnah of Rasulullah, sallahu aleyhe wassalaam, I never tried til I lived in Egypt.  The first was Talbinah, a barley porridge.  From hadith:

Volume 7, Book 71, Number 593:
Narrated ‘Ursa: Aisha رضى الله عنها used to recommend At-Talbina for the sick and for such a person as grieved over a dead person. She used to say, “I heard Allah’s Apostle صلى الله عليه وسلم saying, ‘At-Talbina gives rest to the heart of the patient and makes it active and relieves some of his sorrow and grief.” [Bukhari]

Volume 7, Book 71, Number 594:
Narrated Hisham’s father:
Aisha رضى الله عنها used to recommend At-Talbina and used to say, “It is disliked (by the patient) although it is beneficial.” [Bukhari]

‘A’isha رضى الله عنها the wife of Allah’s Apostle صلى الله عليه وسلم said: When there was any bereavement in her family the women gathered there for condolence and they departed except the members of the family and some selected persons. She asked to prepare talbina in a small couldron and it was cooked and then tharid was prepared and it was poured over talbina, then she said: Eat it, for I heard Allah’s Messenger (may peade be upon him) as saying: Talbina gives comfort to the aggrieved heart and it lessens grief. [Muslim]

You can buy Talbinah prepackaged in ‘Attaba from Abu Fida’, or in bulk from almost any ‘atara.  LOL, the package claims it cures anything from cancer to diabetes.  It was good for helping me with stomach upsets and depression.  It’s interesting to note, barley is used mostly in the middle east, but other countries, such as Japan use it a good deal also.  In addition to using the flour to make porridge, you can buy hulled barley (sha’ir).   The cooked barley can be added to salads, soups.  You can actually drink the water used to boil it, mix it with milk and honey.  It’s very good for lowering high blood sugar.

The other cure from our Rasulullah, sallahu aleyhe wassalaam, is hijama, or cupping.  In case you don’t know, it involves applying a glass or plastic suction cup to a part of your body, then making a small cut to draw out the blood from that area.  I never even considered trying this in the States.  I just happened to visit a sister (Um Esa)  while she was having it done.  I had been having back pains (from a horridly soft mattress), so I arranged to have it done.  Cupping, like everything else, you might have to pay a pretty penny.  I think I was quoted, 3LE per cut.  If you are getting quite a few areas done, that adds up.  Alhamdulillah, I purchased my own equipment, and had a sister show me how to do it.  You can either find doctor who practices natural medicine, or just individuals who’ve learned how to do it.  It is wonderful for insomnia, depression, headaches, and a host of other maladies.  Dh still won’t let me do it on anyone else ( I did do cupping on my youngest back in Egypt when she was sick FOREVER with some sort of stomache virus.)  I still do it whenever I get a chance, especially when I have a headache I just can’t shake.

Allahu alim, there don’t appear to be specific hadith in regard to where to cup for particular illnesses.  The people who practiced this in Egypt seem to follow the ‘points’ established for acupunture.  There is actually a photocopied book you can purchase in some souks with ‘points’ for everything from arthritis to weight loss.  From my understanding, cupping works best if you do it fairly regularly.  But it does make you tired afterwards.  I only do it at night before bed.  It is REALLY relaxing.   

I found a few websites that discuss benefits of barley. 






And here is the video depicting hijama.

Inspiring People

I met Um Esa at Markez Fajr.  She had a kind of dry sense of humor which she’d use it in the kitchen during our breaks.  I’d always been shy, but I realized if I wanted friends, I’d have to make some of the first moves.  I found out (as I’d guessed) that she was a Londoner of Bengali origin.  She’s come to Egypt a few months prior to us.  During the course of our conversations, I found her son, Esa, 8, at the time same age as my oldest, had memorized five juz of Quran.  Wow, I thought.  We’d always planned for our kids to memorize the entire Quran, but had assumed they wouldn’t start in earnest until they were older, say 12.  This changed the whole equation!  I quickly got hooked up with her teacher and started the kids on private Quran lessons.

It became a competition among the kids.  How much have you memorized?  Or, I’m on such and such juz or surah.  I remember being on an elevator with a sister from Kosovo, she told me with pride that her son, the same age as mind had memorized 10 azja.  My son, who had finished about 15 juz, said, “that’s all!” It got so that was the first question they’d ask a kid when they met, ‘what surah are you on?’  LOL, once they said it to their American cousins, who weren’t even memorizing the Quran!

Um Esa was who I’d go to to ask questions about the kids reviewing the surahs they’d memorized.  Or to find a new teacher or Quran school.  I tried her ideas, put Quran on while they are playing.  Have them listen to each other recite.  Um Esa would make charts to track their progress, and much of it she did alone, while her husband worked in Britian.  Her son finished his hifz last year, before his 11th birthday.  Her daughter was about 3/4’s finished and was trying to finish the same year.  Her kids recite beautifully mashallah.  I’m still waiting for my ‘moment’, when my oldest inshallah finishes.  She still has 4 azja remaining.  I don’t think I ever could have pushed her alone, dh primarily works with them and makes sure they are progessing and reviewing.

Ultraconservative Islam on rise in Mideast

I found this article interesting…, I’ll bet the mall they’re talking about is Technology Mall on Makram Albeid.  It’s true that many places don’t close during prayer times, but I find it hard to see why that is such a threatening occurance in a muslim country, it not like the mall has a lot of non-muslim foreigners visiting.


CAIRO, Egypt – The Muslim call to prayer fills the halls of a Cairo computer shopping center, followed immediately by the click of locking doors as the young, bearded tech salesmen close up shop and line up in rows to pray together.

Business grinding to a halt for daily prayers is not unusual in conservative Saudi Arabia, but until recently it was rare in the Egyptian capital, especially in affluent commercial districts like Mohandiseen, where the mall is located.

But nearly the entire three-story mall is made up of computer stores run by Salafis, an ultraconservative Islamic movement that has grown dramatically across the Middle East in recent years.

“We all pray together,” said Yasser Mandi, a salesman at the Nour el-Hoda computer store. “When we know someone who is good and prays, we invite them to open a shop here in this mall.” Even the name of Mandi’s store is religious, meaning “Light of Guidance.”

The rise of Salafists has critics worried that their beliefs will crowd out the more liberal and tolerant version of Islam long practiced in some Middle East countries, particularly Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. They also warn that its doctrine is only a few shades away from that of violent groups like al-Qaida — that it effectively preaches, “Yes to jihad, just not now.”

Extreme end
In the broad spectrum of Islamic thought, Salafism is on the extreme conservative end. Saudi Arabia’s puritanical Wahhabi interpretation is considered the forerunner of modern Salafism, and Saudi preachers on satellite TV — and more recently the Internet — have been key to the spread of Salafism.

Salafist groups are gaining in numbers and influence across the Middle East. In Jordan, a Salafist was chosen as head of the old-line opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood. In Kuwait, Salafists were elected to parliament and are leading the resistance to any change that would threaten traditional Islamic values.

The gains for Salafists are part of a trend of turning back to conservatism and religion after major political movements like Arab nationalism and Democratic reform failed to fulfill promises to improve the lives of average people. Egypt has been at the forefront of change in both directions, toward liberalization in the 1950s and ’60s and back to conservatism more recently.

The growth of Salafism is visible in many parts of Cairo since its adherents set themselves apart with their dress. Women wear the “niqab,” a veil which shows only the eyes — if even that — rather than the “hijab” scarf that merely covers the hair. The men grow their beards long and often shave off mustaches, a style said to imitate the Prophet Muhammad.

‘Ancestor’ emerges
The word “salafi” in Arabic means “ancestor,” hearkening back to a supposedly purer form of Islam said to have been practiced by Muhammad and his companions in the 7th century. Salafism preaches strict segregation of the sexes and resists any innovation in religion or adoption of Western ways seen as immoral.

“When you are filled with stress and uncertainty, black and white is very good, it’s very easy to manage,” said Selma Cook, an Australian convert to Islam who for more than a decade described herself as a Salafi.

“They want to make sure everything is authentic,” said Cook, who has moved away from Salafist thought but still works for a Cairo-based Salafi satellite channel Hoda.

In most of the region, Salafism has been a purely social movement calling for an ultraconservative lifestyle. Most Salafis shun politics — in fact, many argue that Islamic parties like the Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestinians’ Hamas are too willing to compromise their religion for political gain.

Its preachers often glorify martyrdom and jihad — or holy war — but always with the caveat that Muslims should not launch jihad until their leaders call for it. The idea is that the decision to overturn the political order is up to God, not the average citizen.

Contrasts with Islam
But critics warn that Salafis could easily slide into more violent, jihadist forms. In North Africa, some already have — the Algerian Salafi Group for Call and Combat has allied itself with al-Qaida and has been blamed for bombings and other attacks. Small pockets of Salafis in northern Lebanon and Gaza have also taken up weapons and formed jihadi-style groups.

“I am afraid that this Salafism may be transferred to be a Jihadi Salafism, especially with the current hard socio-economic conditions in Egypt,” says Khalil El-Anani, a visiting scholar at Washington’s Brookings Institution.

The Salafi way contrasts with Islam as it’s long been practiced in Egypt, where the population is religious but with a relatively liberal slant. Traditionally, Egyptian men and women mix rather freely and Islamic doctrine has been influenced by local, traditional practices and an easygoing attitude to moral foibles.

But Salafism has proved highly adaptable, appealing to Egypt’s wealthy businessmen, the middle class and even the urban poor — cutting across class in an otherwise rigidly hierarchical society.

‘Our identity is Islamic’
In Cairo’s wealthy enclaves of Maadi and Nasr City, upper-class Salafis dressed in traditional robes can be seen driving BMWs to their engineering firms, while their wives stay inside large homes surrounded by servants and children.

Sara Soliman and her businessman husband Ahmed el-Shafei both received the best education Egypt had to offer, first at a German-run school, then at the elite American University in Cairo, but they have now chosen the Salafi path.

“We were losing our identity. Our identity is Islamic,” 27-year-old Soliman said from behind an all-covering black niqab as she sat with her husband in a Maadi restaurant.

“In our (social) class, none of us are brought up to be strongly practicing,” el-Shafei, also 27, added in American-accented English, a legacy of living in the U.S. until he was 8. Now, he and his wife said, they live Islam as “a whole way of life,” rather than just a set of obligations such as daily prayers and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.

A dozen satellite TV channels — most Saudi-funded — are perhaps the most effective way Salafism has been spread. They feature conservative preachers, call-in advice shows and discussion programs on proper Islamic behavior.

Numerous Salafist mosques in Cairo are packed on Fridays, the day of weekly communal prayers. Outside downtown Cairo’s Shaeriyah mosque, a bookstall featured dozens of cassettes by Mohammed Hasaan, a prolific conservative preacher who sermonizes on the necessity of jihad and the injustices inflicted on Muslims.

Alongside the cassettes were rows of books espousing Salafi themes about sin and Western decadence. One book, “The Sinful Behaviors of Women,” displayed lipstick, playing cards, perfumes and mobile phones on the cover to make its point. Another was titled “The Excesses of American Hubris.”

Critics of Salafism say it has spread so quickly in part because of encouragement by the Egyptian and Saudi governments, which see it as an apolitical, nonviolent alternative to hard-line jihadi groups.

‘Not a good thing’
Critics warn that the governments are playing with fire, saying Salafism creates an environment that breed extremism. Al-Qaida continues to try to draw Salafists into jihad, and the terror network’s No. 2, the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahri, praised Salafists in an Internet statement in April, urging them to take up arms.

“The Salafi line is not that jihad is not a good thing, it is just not a good thing right now,” said Richard Gauvain, a lecturer in comparative religion at the American University in Cairo.

The Salafis’ talk of eventual jihad focuses on fighting Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq, not on overthrowing pro-U.S. Arab governments denounced by al-Qaida. Most Salafi clerics preach loyalty to their countries’ rulers and some sharply denounce al-Qaida.

Egypt, with Saudi help, sought to rehabilitate jailed Islamic militants, in part by providing them with Salafi books. Critics say the regime of President Hosni Mubarak sees the Salafists as a counterbalance to the opposition Muslim Brotherhood.

‘Battle is not over’
The political quietism of the Salafis and their injunctions to always obey the ruler are too good an opportunity for established Arab rulers to pass up, said novelist Alaa Aswani, one of the most prominent critics of rising conservatism in Egypt.

“That was a kind of Christmas present for the dictators because now they can rule with both the army and the religion,” he said.

The new wave of conservatism is not inevitable, Aswani maintains, noting that his books — including his most popular, “The Yacoubian Building” — have risque themes and condemnations of conservatives, and yet are best-sellers in Egypt.

“The battle is not over, because Egypt is too big to be fitting in this very, very little, very small vision of a religion,” he said.

The Ugly American?

We took a walk the other day to a new park, one recommended by a sister who lives close-by.  It was just fives minutes away, and we were the only people there, at first.  On our way home, a man watching from the adjoining apartment complex, first stared, then asked, “What, are you guys in a gang or something?”  The question was so ridiculous to me, that I just ignored him.  There was a change in his demeanor at once.  “Well you look damn stupid.  Don’t bring your a** around here again, or I’ll kick your a**.”  Of course I ignored him and concentrated on getting my kids out of there, all the while they are asking questions.  Such as, “Mom, why is that man saying that?”  I tried to explain the best I could, while they insulted the man and said what their dad would do to him if he were there. 

I thought about it later and considered it odd the man never once insulted Islam or muslims directly.  For all I know he had no idea we were muslims.  It could be his question was serious and he really wanted to know why we were dressed as we were.  Perhaps his anger came from feeling foolish that I ignored him.  Allahu alim, maybe I missed a teaching opportunity.   I’ll have to be more careful in the future about dismissing questions I think are stupid.  Dh put the burden on me and said I never should have been walking in this area (slightly rednecky).

I seem to generate more comments than previous years.  While in a restroom in Walmart an older woman came and stood in front of me, just looking.  I thought maybe she wanted something behind me, but then she started speaking; “You know, a person can’t tell if you are a man or a woman under all that.”  Me, looking at her blankly.  She went on, “You could have a bomb or a gun under those clothes.”  At this point, I interjected that anyone could carry a gun, even she.  She might have one in her handbag.  “I don’t have a gun, “she protested.  But you could have one, I argued.  She advised me to think about her comments.  I have, but not in the way she probably meant.

Did we make the right choice?

I will be honest.  I felt a sort of relief to be coming home.  Living in Egypt (or anywhere overseas, imho) can be stressful.  I missed home a lot.  On the other hand, in Egypt, I did feel a sense of ease that my kids were growing around muslims, and in a more Islamic environment than we could give them in America.  Everytime I would think about leaving Egypt, I would think about the challenges the kids would face here. 

The kids were initially upset with out move.  My daughter cried for one hour after saying goodbye to her Quran teacher.  My son told me he prefers Ramadan in Egypt, and asked if we could return to Egypt then.  Eventually the ease of living in America won them over.  The town we live in is very green and parks are very accessible.  I find it much easier to take them out to different places, like the library.  But the drawbacks are there.  I cringe at some of the stuff they see in outside and in stores.  And we have never been verbally assaulted in Egypt for how we dressed and unfortunately it happened fairly recently here.  I’ve noticed a change in the kids, even in this short time. 

Dh is thinking of how we might find a way to spend part of each year in Egypt.  I don’t know how I feel about that.  I really want to settle in one place.  And I don’t like the kids living without their dad for months at a time (most likely he would be working here).  I’ve been thinking of using my time here to try and finish my degree, maybe we can go somewhere besides Egypt and teach.

We plan, and Allah plans…

We’ve made Cairo our home for the past 3.5 yrs, and have lived outside of the States for the past 4yrs.  I’d fully expected to be here for at least another 2yrs, or at least until my two oldest have finished Quran (mashallah, my daughter has 2/3 memorized, and my son 1/2).  However, dh returned to America during Ramadan to work and now he’s calling us to join him!  Subhannallah!  I have to be honest, Cairo is not the easiest city to live in.  It’s overcrowded and dirty.  And prices are raising astronomically.  But mashallah, the opportunities to study Islam are very numerous.  And you can meet many people also striving to learn.  I feel very conflicted right now and hope the kids can continue their hifz in America.  We’re keeping our appliances at the house of my girls Quran teacher in case we are able to return soon.  Inshallah, I still plan to keep blogging, there is so much I want to say about our experiences here (learning arabic at Fajr Center, taxi drivers, etc), and I’d also planned to write about the time we spent in Mauritania before coming to Egypt.  Stay tuned.  I will try to answer the comments asap!