I’m back in Cairo, the dusty, messy, tacky, ugly city. During my previous trip the Arab Spring happened. Now, the elections are over and done with, the Muslim Brotherhood is in charge, and I’m back. I have 5 other research topics under my belt and coming here has made me realize how much I have produced, albeit at snail’s pace. I know I worked hard, but somehow it felt as if everything was a wasted exercise I kept doing out of self delusion. Hence the apparent lack of passion and enthusiasm, and constant complaining. I went during the month of Ramadan, and it was nice to cut the fast by some 2 hours. Northern hemisphere summer times are lovely, but when you’re fasting they become a joyful challenge you can either chose to hope you will get rewarded for, or just skip.
The last Friday of the Ramadan is called Jumah-tul-Widah, which means the Friday of farewell/departing. I went for Friday prayers in Al- Azhar Mosque, There was high security in the area, I thought it was a safety control measure to prevent uprisings. Later it turned out that some minister was attending the Friday prayer. It was rumored it was the President himself, but following some online research it was the Minister for Religious Affairs who gave the Friday sermon. It was about the importance of remembering Allah and continue with remembering him after the Ramadan. We should continue worship the Almighty with the same dedication after Ramadan, as we do during this auspicious month.
Towards, the end of the sermon he said something which touched my heart and I found very uncharacteristically Arab. When he mentioned that we must remember the plight of Muslims all over the world he said with particular reference to Pakistan, Kashmir and Palestine. Normally, Arabs never mention Pakistan unless they need them in times of their trouble, when they need follow through on their agendas. Never when Pakistan or Pakistanis need the support of the Arab world or Arabs. Moreover, they never mention Pakistan first, if at all. Another pleasant change was the interest. Normally people would say min wayn….Hindi? or say Hindi? This time they said from where?, Min wayn? And when you say Pakistan and they say with affection, aah Pakistaaan, smile and nod. Some will even speak a few words of Urdu like Kaysey hain, theek hain? At another instance, a fellow with his wife when hearing we are Pakistanis say ahh Pakistaaan, very good friend! And we said …..Since when? And then he just laughed sheepishly and left. This fellow was a junior lecturer at Al-Azhar University. True Pakistan is the real friend of Muslims all over the world, but in reality, no one is a friend of Pakistan, with exception to China.
This change in attitude could be of several factors. With the Muslim Brotherhood in charge, it is possible many of the scholars in the party studied or worked in Pakistan. Maybe many of them were given refuge in Pakistan and in that connection gained qualifications and experience which has served them well in other places. There are so many reasons.
Another interesting observation is the variety of greetings expressions within the Muslim world, which also illustrates the diversity within the religion, going beyond the mere practice of Islam as well as the Arabic language. I have only known one expression to mark our 2 main celebrations Eid ul Fitr and Eid ul Adha, which is Eid Mubarik. Coming to Egypt I discovered Eid Saeed, Fitr Saeed, Eid Bekhair. I remember saying Eid Mubarik to a lady coming from outside entering my building, and she replied with Eid Bekhair. In a supermarket in the last few days of the Ramadan, they decorated the store with Eid Saeed. Usually, wherever I have been in the Muslim world, the expression Eid Mubarik is used. Similarly, when I used to live in UAE I encountered the expression Ramadan Kareem, whereas I was used to Ramadan/ Ramzan Mubarik. I never gave much thought to cultural/religious expressions to mark the same thing. In this regard, I must admit the Egyptians are pleasantly advanced in exposing me to this kind of variety.
In conclusion, I observe different things every time I come to Egypt. I particularly, like that people don’t just assume you’re Indian, but now ask where from? And when you say Pakistan they smile warmly, some even place their left hand on their heart and say welcome. Moreover, it is true that Egyptian Arabic is different from the Arabic language in other countries. Eid is an interesting event to discover this variety in expressions.