Ramadan in Cairo, Egypt is always special in its very traditional way.
You wait for the Lunar confirmation that next day is first day of Ramadan, then you hear the Taraweeh Prayer calls in all mosques.
A few hours later, the first Sohour begins, with a special guy (we call him “Messaharati”) banging on a drum in the streets calling for Sohour to each and every person in his neighborhood, especially kids. Small confession: I used to make him call me by my nickname. Just imagine it, it’s 3.00 AM in the morning and a man is drumming your name, one of the coolest things ever!
And of course we have to listen over and over to the famous very old song “Ramadan is Here”:
Ramadan in Cairo means the very special Egyptian Ramadan lantern called “Fanous” in all forms: big glassy ones hanged over big buildings, restaurants, entertainment ventures; numerous plastic ones of all shapes with children, and thousands of paper lantern hanged over threads all over streets, plus houses and mosques decorated with many small colorful lamps. You’ll see them in the video.
Ramadan in Cairo also means “Konafa” and “Atayef,” which means that there is almost no fridge that does not have plenty of yogurt cups and buttermilk bottles!
During Ramadan in Egypt, TV gets incredibly hysterical. I lost count after counting more than 30 television series just for Ramadan, although I know the number exceeds that generously… You can find TV channels specially launched for Ramadan TV series… of course with the commercials!
And since it is the fasting month, it is only logic that Ramadan is one of the highest shopping seasons in Egypt (!!) Families go out the week before Ramadan to start “Ramadan-Shopping”: Sugar for desserts, fat for food, corn oil, sunflower oil for frying Atayef, milk, yogurt, buttermilk, rice, beef, and chicken. You hardly find a typical Egyptian family eating any seafood in Ramadan; those are more eaten in Eid-Al-Fetr.
Socially, Ramadan in Egypt is a festival.
Taraweeh prayer is an occasion where extended families can meet, if they live close to each other, to pray in the same mosque; neighbors socialize, children play, and friends can be made. I have to admit this is not always a positive thing, because this festive attitude and the amount of noise is not favored for someone like me who has always found it hard to focus on praying and reciting Qur’an when the mosque has become more like a park than a holy place where a person seeks modesty and reverence. In the end, it’s been years for me now praying at home only!
Inviting people over for Iftar is a very popular custom in Egypt. True, it ends up as a competition between women of the family for who cooks better, but still it is usually a good chance to meet cousins you hardly see, nephews and nieces you know nothing about, and old family members.
Zakat is very much respected and practiced during Ramadan, and there’s a well-known custom called “Ma’edat Al-Rahman” There’s no English translation for the words, but they are close to “The Merciful’s Table” where someone gets a tent with tables and chairs and starts distributing food and drinks for those who can’t afford their Iftar; this is mostly done in what are called “Ramadan-Tents.”
This could be very competitive between artists and celebrities; who will throw the best Ramadan-Tent? But at the end, it is always good to know that those who can’t afford food will be able to have a good meal during Ramadan.
And since feeding someone Iftar is much appreciated in Islam, you find people, minutes before Maghreb prayer (the beginning of Iftar) – walking the streets and handing out grapes and water to people walking and those driving home… such a very nice scene.
Edited to Add: For more on Ramadan, and to read the rest of the posts in MMW’s Ramadan 2012 series, click here.