If you wish to experience first-hand how Egyptians live during Ramadan, you would need to take a trip to the beautiful country. You will find the holy season of Ramadan intriguing, especially if you are from the West, because of the remarkable way of life of Egyptians during this season. Ramadan has always been the pinnacle of the Islamic calendar everywhere across the globe, so, as a predominantly Muslim country, you can imagine how special this season is for the people of Egypt. The holy season of Ramadan is one of the most significant times of the year in Egypt, because this month-long Islamic festival is characterized by piousness, benevolence, charity and modesty. Having lived in Egypt through multiple Ramadan seasons, here are my five favorite things about the month of Ramadan in Egypt.
1. Egyptians are Extra Hospitable During the Holy Season of Ramadan
The people of Egypt generally believe that the holy season of Ramadan is a time to spend extra effort to stay kind, friendly and compassionate and, as such, they are always at their most generous. If you are a foreigner visiting Egypt in Ramadan, you may be invited to break fast with a kind family, receive discounts or gifts from small business owners, or experience general helpfulness from people you have never even met. During the holy season of Ramadan, the general public are just extra friendly and hospitable. Although the infamous ‘busy-ness’ of Cairo slows down during this month, it is still a great time to visit Egypt.
2. Athan, Taraweeh Prayers, and Suhoor
One of the things I find most amazing about Egypt, in general, is hearing the Athan for all the prayer times. During Ramadan, a month of getting closer to Allah, this sound is just that more special. The sounds of the Muezzins calling the Athan for each of the five prayers resonates along the streets and in between the buildings. Whether you are in your car, busy at school or work, or even taking a nap, you can count on hearing the Athan wherever you are.
For ‘Isha prayers, followed by Taraweeh, you will find thousands of worshippers moving en masse to their various mosques (the famous mosques, such as Amr Ibn al-As mosque, are just amazing during this time) to observe the nightly Taraweeh prayers during Ramadan in Egypt. After ‘Isha prayer during Ramadan, you will see the masajid full of people staying for the taraweeh prayer, with their only purpose being to worship the Creator.
Many homes, you will see, remain lit up and lively during the late hours of the night, waiting for the last meal before fasting another day. An hour or so before dawn, everyone is reminded to have suhoor by a man and/or boy beating a drum across the streets calling for suhoor to all residents in his area, especially the kids. I will never forget standing on the balcony as they passed by and hearing my child’s name called by the man with the drum!
3. Everything Slows Down
Year-round, Cairo especially is a hustling and bustling city, with traffic, people, and noise! However, during Ramadan, everything slows down a bit during the fasting hours. Even the daylight time seems to slow down. 🙂 The productivity and availability of businesses is usually shortened, as people tend to work less during the day. Some shops even close down completely during the day and re-open only at night into the late hours.
4. El Fanous (The Lanterns)
One of the many things that will captivate you during Ramadan in Egypt is the sight of the Fanous and other holiday decorations. There is a popular legend amongst all Egyptians that on the 5th day of Ramadan in the year 358 AH, the Fatimid Caliph Muezz El-Din El- Allah entered Cairo after dusk and the residents came out in their numbers to welcome him with their lanterns to celebrate his arrival. Since that day henceforth, the fanous has been a signature decoration for Egyptians during Ramadan in Egypt. You find children playing with them, you see them used as décor in people’s homes and even while walking on the street, you find walls of fanous in shops. Just as Christmas trees are a symbol for Christmas, the Fanous is a symbol for the holy season of Ramadan. Along with the fanous comes the elaborate lighting up of homes, streets, hallways, mosques, and cafes which give Egyptian neighborhoods and cities a truly brilliant feel at night.
5. Food and Drinks
Although the holy season of Ramadan is a period of fasting, it will not come surprising to know that as the sun sets and Iftar begins, everyone is thinking about food. As Ramadan approaches, many people often stockpile their homes with different kinds of foods. Among the Egyptians, people gather over suhoor or iftar with their friends and families to mark the beginning of the festival. There are some special delicacies that you will find more of in Ramadan such as Konafa, Zalabia, Qatayef, and even Koshnaf (a type of fruit salad made from a mixture of dates, dried figs, apricots soaked in water and raisins). These meals are usually very elegant, tasty, and special during Ramadan. If you can’t make them, you will always find a family willing and happy to share.
If you haven’t visited Egypt during Ramadan, I highly recommend it. The extra-special feeling you get during this month, surrounded by a huge crowd of people with the same purpose as you – getting closer to Allah is like none other.
Have you spent Ramadan in Egypt? If not, join us next Ramadan!