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Egypt Prepares for Holiest Month

  • Margaret Besheer

CAIRO — Ramadan, the holiest month of the year for the world's 1 billion Muslims, begins with the new moon expected in most of the world on July 20. It marks the start of a month of fasting, reflective prayer and helping the poor.

In Egypt, observers have their own take on the centuries-old customs, including the traditional daily fast from sunrise to sunset as an expression of self-sacrifice.

Islamic scholar Sheikh Mahmoud Ashour explains that Ramadan is much more than just abstaining from food and drink.

"In between fasting and praying we read the Quran, and they are the words of God Almighty," Ashour said. "And the Prophet Muhammad said whoever wants God to talk to him, let him read the Quran, so throughout Ramadan we do nothing but talk to God and God talks to us."

Many Muslims break their fast with dates and water.

At a bustling market in the Cairo district of Al Sayeda Zeinab, date sellers like Ahmed hope to attract customers by naming the varieties for sale after belly dancers, movie stars and more recently, political movements and figures.

"Last year we called them [Hosni] Mubarak, Habib al Adli, Alaa Mubarak, Suzanne Mubarak," he said. "This year we named them [President Mohamed] Morsi, the 25th of January, the Revolution, Tahrir [Square], demonstrators, according to the events we are going through."

He said the names do not always help sales.

"No, these are just names. The buyer chooses according to the date's taste," he said.

Although it is a month for spiritual renewal, many people also festively decorate and spend more money and care preparing food for their loved ones, such as Fawzia.

"I spend it like any Muslim spends it," she said. "We have good days, we pray and fast. We make nice food and invite friends and family and we are also invited."

Egyptian parents also buy colorful lanterns called fanous for their children to play with after breaking the day's fast, singing rhymes and asking for treats.

"We fast and pray and wake up in the night to pray, and we buy lanterns for the children," said Abdel Hakim.

But all the faithful spend the month in reflective prayer, for Muslims believe this was the month God revealed the first chapters of their holy book to the Prophet Muhammad.

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