Saturday, September 15, 2007


Thursday marked the beginning of Islam’s most significant religious celebration of the year. Ramadan, which refers to the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, marks the time when the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Muslims are required to fast each day between sunrise and sunset, and the fast is broken with a special meal called iftar.
Cairo, which has a large Muslim majority, has completely transformed. By day the city is relatively quiet as shops close early or decide not to open at all. It is difficult to find open restaurants at night because almost everyone eats at home with friends and family. Traditional foods are sold at the markets and houses display traditional Ramadan lamps called fawanees. Light seems to be a special symbol of the Ramadan celebration, similar to what I would see at Christmas back home.
Ramadan affects every aspect of daily life in Egypt. Families celebrate the iftar meal together each night around 6pm, and the daily wear of the fasting makes late-afternoon activity difficult. To accommodate everyone’s needs, daily schedules change. Workers leave earlier than normal so as to be home by for sunset. At the AUC, classes start earlier and are shortened. 50 minute classes are now 45. Late afternoon classes are postponed until after iftar. For me, this means getting up at 6:30 each morning to catch the shuttle to my 7:30am class. If you’re reading this in Ann Arbor, stop complaining about your 9 o’clock.
This year, economics and politics are major issue because Ramadan falls during the beginning of the school year. Many Egyptian families are financially strained due to the combination of Ramadan expenses and school fees. Special foods and sweets are purchased for the iftar dinners. In addition, families are supposed to donate extra money to the poor. Meanwhile, the children are beginning school and are required to purchase uniforms, books, and other supplies in addition to paying certain fees. All of this is happening during a period of inflation. Even I noticed this the other day when a liter of coke at the market jumped from 2.85 Egyptian pounds to3.35. A quick glance at the daily newspapers reveals a frustration over increasing prices at such an unfortunate time, and many have called on the government to do something. In response, the government is increasing food subsidies to help control costs, but this may not be enough. Many people will simply have to forego traditional purchases in order to make ends meet.
Despite the financial concerns over Ramadan this year, the celebration continues unabated. I look forward to seeing the festivities each night as people pour into the streets and stay up into the early morning hours. In America, our holiday season revolves around Christmas and New Years, but here, in this predominately Muslim country, Ramadan takes center stage.

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