“Ramadan is here, After a long absence, And we re all happy. Sing out loud, )or a full month Ramadan is here, :elcome, Ramadan
So goes the s song of the powerful tenor 0uhammad Abdel-0uttaleb. Today Abdel0utalleb is no longer, but his song lives on with its lilting tune and simple lyric, a classic joy in Ramadan. Ramadan is the ninth month on the ijri calendar, a lunar calendar, meaning the or - day month moves days earlier every year. It is preceded by the month of Shaaban and its beginning is determined through the centuries- old tradition of the sighting of the crescent moon. The sNies are closely scrutinised on Shaaban to checN if the crescent appears on the hori on. If it does, this will be the final day of Shaaban and Ramadan will start on the following day; if it is not, then Ramadan starts the day after.
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Ramadan is a month steeped in tradition. It is the 0uslim holy month of fasting, the fast beginning at dawn and lasting till sunset. Both hours are marNed by watching the daybreaN or the sunset, and both are ceremoniously announced with a canon shot from the th- century Saladdin citadel, east of Cairo. The canon shot used to shaNe Cairo a couple of centuries ago when the tradition was first instated, and it would clearly signal the beginning and end of the fast. Today, however, it can barely be heard above the tumult of modern- day Cairo, but (gyptians can hear it broadcast on the radio. Alternatively, they can wait for , the traditional 0uslim call to prayer, to Nnow that it is time to eat and drinN at sunset, and to stop eating at daybreaN.
Then of course there is the famous Ramadan, the Ramadan lantern which children and grown-ups used to light up their way as they moved through the streets and alleyways on Ramadan evenings before there was modern electricity. 1ow the with its multi- coloured glass sides persists in si es that vary from miniature to a metre-high, but only as a beloved children s toy or a Ramadan ornament. one are the days when the was a handmade delight; today it more often than not comes from China.
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The long fast hours call for goodies and sweetmeats once the fast is broNen. Ramadan is a month of gatherings and reunions for family and friends. The tables for the sunset meal that breaNs the fast and the pre- dawn meal after which the fast begins traditionally host a crowd of loved ones feasting on traditional Ramadan foods. In between the two main meals, one can snacN on
, dried fruits and nuts, or dig into and , the syrup- drenched-pastry desserts much in demand during the holy month.
0any end up gaining weight in Ramadan, but Shahina , a young graduate, has made the fast worN in her favour. “2nce I graduated I couldn t immediately find a job. Being at home for long hours and worrying over the future drove me to binging on food. I gained weight, which only added to the strain and anxiety. But last Ramadan I tooN a decision to use the fast to lose weight. This meant, of course, that I had to sNip the goodies and sweetmeats and exercise full will power at the table. The result was fantastic I lost all the pounds I wanted to lose.
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:omen especially suffer throughout Ramadan. The sheer effort reTuired to prepare all the goodies for the family and friends to feast upon is no trivial tasN. Two main meals have to be cooNed daily, and . They have to be innovative, nutritional, and festive. They have to cater for a big , literally crowd, of loved ones. The feasting involves substantial washing up after eating. The planning, cooNing and baNing, serving and cleaning up afterwards have to be sTuee ed in between the normal everyday chores of worN, houseNeeping and family tasNs. And after all is said and done, women have to be left with some time for prayer and contemplation. 1o wonder many of them end up looNing drawn and bitterly complaining that the -hour day cannot accommodate all what needs to be done during that time. The only way to do so is to sNip on sleep, something possible for a day or two, but for a full month
“2h for the good old days when there used to be ample time for everything says the -year- old 0agda Salah. “There wasn t so many T9 soap operas, so we could use the time for family and for whatever preparations are needed. :e used to cooN simpler meals, and we had help at home. 1ow there are so many cooNing programmes which offer so many new recipes on T9, the result being that we compete to serve more elaborate, innovative meals. I have to start cooNing a day earlier if I have people for , just for everything to be ready on time. But worse, family members are now so far apart physically and morally that getting together is no longer the same.
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In total agreement with 0rs Salah was -year- old Shaimaa who deplores the fragmentation of the family. “0odern technology is responsible for that, she says. “But again, and even though Ramadan is the month for prayer, it was not the custom years ago for women to go for post-sunset prayers at the mosTue; they said their prayers at home. This gave them more time to do whatever they needed to do, the result being a more relaxed atmosphere. So even where prayer is concerned, there is somewhat more stress.
ow do non-0uslims fare in Ramadan “2h I love this month )ady, a young man in his twenties says. “(veryone at worN is laid bacN and the whole atmosphere Nnows no urgency.
0any Christians enjoy as much as 0uslims the evenings out and meals in the old Tuarters of the town near the centuries- old mosTues. It helps that worNing hours start later the following day; they can catch up on sleep. After all, they have no
or social obligations to worry about. “I love the festive atmosphere all around, says 0ariam, a young mother. “And I enjoy the soap operas. I freTuently join my 0uslim friends in their activities. But how do non-0uslims deal with everyone around abstaining from food or drinN “1ever in my life did I eat or drinN before a 0uslim who observed the fast; I did that privately. I respected their fast and their feelings. The words of -year- old 1abila were echoed by almost everyone approached. Today, it has become a freTuent sight on the sidewalNs in Cairo streets to find Coptic Youth who move around at sunset distributing cold water and dried dates to 0uslims caught outside at canon time , the common term used to denote the end of the fast.
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If Ramadan is a month-long happy festival, can there be anything wrong with it 2h yes, plenty 3erhaps worst is the general, collective short temper and stress during the day. ussam 0uhammad, a pharmacist in his s, says it should come as no surprise that so many people are in a Tuarrelsome mood; the dehydration caused by the lacN of constant water supply to the body maNes it difficult for many to control their tempers. Add to this the lacN of sleep caused by the festivityfull long evenings and the not-to-be-missed T9 programmes and soap operas, and you have an explosive formula.
Suha, a homemaNer in her thirties, could not agree more. “0y husband is a very nervous person during Ramadan, she says. “That s on account of his having to stay away from coffee and cigarettes during the fast. (very year I try to persuade him to cut down on his smoNing gradually before Ramadan, but he is never able to do that. Then the holy month is here, and my husband is nothing but a bundle of nerves. The whole family suffers, especially the children.
2ne of the worst ever problems with Ramadan, as any Cairene could vow, is the traffic. Taxi driver Taha speaNs of the agony of rush hour in Ramadan when everyone is trying to get home at the same time for . It does not help, he says, that in Ramadan the majority of drivers are nervous and shorttempered. The accident rate goes viral, “As though it s not bad enough under normal conditions he says, alluding to the notorious Cairo traffic.
“But Ramadan should in the first place be a month of prayer and spiritual uplift, 0r 0uhammad says. “It s a pity that so many people get so taNen up by the socialising and T9 programmes that they forget that. :e must Neep on reminding ourselves of the primary purpose of Ramadan so as not to lose it.
)or ind, a university student, Ramadan is a time for prayer. “I feel elevated and serene in Ramadan, she says. “(ver since I tooN the advice to focus on prayer as much as I could during the holy month I learnt to Neep Tuiet when something goes wrong, so as to dissipate the anger. I join in charity worN, and I always try to project a smiling front; I found out first-hand that a smile relieves stress and maNes me, as well as those I smile at, happy.
Sadly, one time-honoured Ramadan professional has gone out of service, to the anguish of (gyptians. That professional is the , the guy who used to march about the streets before daybreaN singing or calling to the beat of his drum upon those who were asleep to waNe up for . e was very welcome some decades ago, when the Ramadan evening entertainment ended a few hours after and then people went to bed. A few hours later the
song and drumbeat would waNe them up to the famous call “:aNe up, you who are asleep 3ray to the (ternal
Another Ramadan day is here.
One of the most loved spots to partake of Ramadan iftar and suhour and spend the time in between lingering in the centuries- old streets, browsing the shops, sipping tea and snacking on kunafa and qatayef, and generally socialising with everyone around, is the district of al- Hussein in Islamic Cairo. Our photographer
Nasser Sobhy was on hand to capture some dazzling shots.