June 18, 2013
Dispatches From Cairo: Happy Feast to All
Posted on Aug 31, 2011
We asked Lauren Unger-Geoffroy, an Arabic-speaking American who lives in Cairo, to share her perspective of life in Egypt after the revolution. Here she writes about the end of Ramadan.
Happy feast to all.
The normal, reassuring, nightly warning gunshots that we hear in my neighborhood coming from the nearby El Tora prison since the revolution have been mixed with much louder reverberating booms today [Monday] and tonight. Perhaps the guards at the prison are firing the big guns to celebrate. Perhaps it was fireworks. [Editor’s note: Guards routinely fire shots into the air to deter misbehavior by the prisoners, and this gunfire at night reassures neighbors by indicating that the prison is still under control.]
Ramadan, the month of fasting, ended today, thus tonight began the Eid al-Fitr, the three-day Festival of Breaking the Fast. Eid al-Fitr is one of the two most important Islamic celebrations. People dress in their finest clothes, adorn their homes with lights and decorations, give treats to children, send text messages and tweets and visit with friends and family.
It has been an intense Ramadan in this August of the Arab Spring. The hot, long days voluntarily spent without food or water were a true test of self-control while the people watched the waves of change. The revolutions in Libya and Syria reached unprecedented peaks of violence. In Gaza, Israel’s arrogant disregard caused a tragic, pointless martyring of Egyptian police and officers that rekindled and inflamed the indignation and frustrated hostility of Egyptians toward Israel. Anger flared over the old regime’s self-enriching agreements and about Palestine and other antipathies, rational and irrational.
Generosity and gratitude color these festivities, and the charity and good deeds that are always important in Islam have special significance at the end of Ramadan, when Muslims are obligated to share their blessings by feeding the poor and making contributions to the needy through the mosques, and charitable feelings are de rigueur. It’s the holiday spirit. Mashalla.
As in many Islamic holidays, the exact day is decided based on the appearance of the moon and on other particular observable conditions, so everyone talks to each other about “when,” asking and waiting. Until today, we didn’t know whether the fast would end today or Tuesday, but, el humdulalla, it was today, and we are celebrating. We are celebrating the success (we hope) of our shared monthlong self-discipline and purification of our bodies and souls. Everyone is out now, rushing to buy gifts and toys and candy and new things to wear. The stores, more so than ever, are open until the wee hours.
Along with millions of others we spent the last 10 days of Ramadan in meditative high gear, hoping to be aware and worthy on the secret bonus day of Laylat al-Qadr, which means either “Night of Destiny” or “Night of Power” or “Night of Value” or “Night of Decree” or “Night of Measures.” It is the anniversary of the night the first verses of the Quran were revealed to Muhammad.
Laylat al-Qadr is a mystical and spiritual event whose signs may or may not be seen with the eye. It most likely comes on one of the last 10 nights of Ramadan, and one of the odd-numbered nights. The uncertainty is intended to encourage spiritual best behavior for 10 days and nights; it is said that whoever happens to spend that unknown night in prayer will have rewards a thousandfold, forgiveness of his or her previous and future sins, and favors granted.
With the Muslim world going through the throes of transformative shift and upheaval full of tragedy and victory and outrage and insecurity and solidarity and hope and pride, major event upon major event occurred throughout Ramadan, the month of Peace and Purity. Through it all, many of us were determined to catch our lucky reward on Laylat al-Qadr, the Night of Destiny, this year! (It’s a logical extension of Pascal’s Wager for you philosophy buffs, abstracting the implied Christian specificity.)
For the first time some computer programs claimed to be able to determine the exact day, so the online world was generally in consensus regarding the day. Thus many computer users accepted that Laylat al-Qadr was Aug. 27, but many Egyptians rejected the validity of that electronic method. Finally, the true day will be determined by subtle interpretation. Insha’Alla, many will be lucky. We’ll see. The link above shows scenes of Alexandria’s 1.5-million-person 27th of Ramadan prayer last year.
It must be clear by now that, among other things, the Arab world has grasped the real power of community, and the power of online networks and text and media as uniting factors for the broad strokes. Diverse perspectives blended in a common faith, one of the original goals of Islam, and one of the strongest points of Muslim solidarity—unity not generated by fear.
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