More than a billion Muslims around the world are observing the holy month of Ramadan. It is marked by prayer, fasting, and charity. In Egypt, as we hear from correspondent Laurie Kassman, Ramadan is also a time of celebration.
Observant Muslims celebrate Ramadan with prayer and fasting. From the first rays of daylight until sunset, they refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex. Many spend the day with their families in quiet prayer.
Cairo lawyer and Islamic scholar Kamal Aboulmagd explains that Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam.
"The first is, of course, believing in God and his prophet. The second is prayer. The third is giving alms, money for the poor. The fourth is fasting for the month of Ramadan. And, the fifth is pilgrimage."
Ramadan commemorates the month when it is said the words of the Koran were revealed to the Prophet Mohammed, more than 1400 years ago. In Cairo's central market shops are filled with festive Ramadan lamps.
"In Ramadan, particularly in Egypt, because Egypt likes to celebrate all occasions, we like to celebrate anything. When you come to Ramadan, you have, particularly in the poor areas, people celebrate by carrying those lanterns, celebrating, and there are special songs that children do sing. People visit, exchange visits."
In the mad dash to get home by sunset, Cairo residents still find time to buy fresh dates and special sweets that are traditional favorites during the month-long celebration. As the sun sets and the call to prayer fills the air, people rush to break their fast.
Haj Mahmoud Salem al Khatib owns a pastry shop near Cairo's central mosque. During Ramadan, he never fails to set out tables for the less fortunate.
NATURAL SOUND - MAHMOUD SALEM AL KHATIB SPEAKING
He says he does this to celebrate the principles of Islam. Mr. Aboulmagd says Ramadan is also a time of reckoning.
"The fact is that you'll be accountable for what you'll do in the this world and I think it is great. It puts you face to face with your commitments and responsibilities in an age when rights prevail over responsibilities."
But Ramadan in Egypt is not somber. Still, Mr. Aboulmagd says Muslims do not forget the significance of fasting. First, he says, it is a test of willpower.
"It makes you more aware of the suffering of those who have not the means to eat when they like and drink what they like. So, in a sense, it creates a sense of social solidarity and awareness of the suffering of the poor and the needy and the weak."
For impoverished Egyptians like Amira, the charity tables, she says, are a relief and a blessing and the essence of Ramadan.