Dec 4, 2013
Dispatches From Cairo: Happy Feast to All
Posted on Aug 31, 2011
Contrary to the contemporary lack of learning rigor in the West, Egyptians and all observant Muslims are strictly taught from their earliest days to memorize long texts by ear and by rote, as well as the detailed history of their culture and complex musical sequences. This gives most people here a skilled and trained aural memory and a base of accomplishment and a sense of knowledge and cultural identity. Perhaps many don’t have expensive high-tech hardware and video games, but Egypt’s traditional practices have made minds capable and disciplined and have fostered a culture that continues to venerate the word in all its forms. Arab culture values poetry and literature more than any other culture. Poets are highly respected and admired. There is a vast wealth of incredibly beautiful Arabic poems, classical and modern.
The first word in the Quran is “akra,” or “read.”
Even the illiterate here are full of poems and songs and stories and history and sayings, and of course the Quran and Hadith and other religious texts that give precise, pragmatic and excellent directions, plus answers to the problems and uncertainty in life.
The Quran encourages people to care and help and support each other when in pain or doubt. Thus, their solidarity with all people in distress. Muslim culture is not about every man for himself. It is not even about survival.
I am lucky to have in the mosque across from my apartment the mu’addin (the man chosen by each mosque to sing the call to prayer at Friday services and the five daily times for prayer) with the most beautifully melodic voice. He inspires the others in the closely surrounding several mosques to join his adhan with their best entwining voices.
Now it’s 6 a.m., I’m still up and dressed, the sun is up and getting hot. It will take a while to readjust from the topsy-turvy nocturnal life rhythm of Ramadan. I will have a coffee and some of these delicious pastries my neighbor gave me—yes! I can eat now in the daylight, the fast is over! El humdulalla.
I have been hearing a great hypnotic, repetitive chant for over an hour and a half now from a harmonic Sufi choir somewhere in the square below me. It echoes in the empty street. They will probably chant until the Eid prayer sounds from the surrounding mosques at 7 a.m.
I know it will be a moving prayer, full of joy for the coming year. With the mosque’s loudspeakers reverberating through my apartment, I look forward to its words and cadences rolling over me and, insha’Alla, they will be words of peace and hope.
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