Madeenet el alf Midhana
Or, “the city of a thousand minarets”.
The presence of Islam in Egyptian life is rising; the veil is increasingly prevalent, large numbers of men bear a scar on their forehead from kneeling to the ground during prayer and the language is filled with phrases regarding God. Ma’shala, hamdu lillah and insh’allah are found in every exchange.
The profusion of mosques in Cairo is astounding, and much of my time here was spent under the shadow of their domes. At times reflecting on the religion that binds these people together and has such a great influence in their life; at times appreciating the intricate Arabic calligraphy; at times simply savouring their peacefulness, and the cool air in their shaded alcoves. The breeze on the minaret high above the mosque of Ibn Tulun provided welcome respite from the Cairo heat, affording a stunning view high over the city.
I also met many Muslims who were keen to explain their faith, and to answer any questions I may have. A very interesting evening was spent talking with Mohammed as he explained how integral his religion was in his daily life. Subjects ranged from the “banning” of music in the culture, and how he doesn’t feel that technology doesn’t at all tempt him away, or prevent him from being, a good Muslim. He also discussed the responsibilities of women in Islam, and how in the West we tend to malign the “constraints” “imposed” upon Muslim women, and how these responsibilities also extend to men.
Another evening, I was approached in a restaurant by a twenty year-old Muslim who was keen to issue me with several booklets (in English) explaining his faith, and attempting to break certain stereotypes. Again, a booklet discussing Women in Islam caught my eye; it attempted to justify many facets of Muslim women’s lives, particularly by comparing to the teaching of Christianity and Judaism on the subject. Yet reading it, a very selective view was taken on certain aspects, picking and choosing the best sura from the Qu’ran, comparing it to the worst the Torah & Bible have to offer. Rather than exonerating Islam from any charge of repressing women, it seemed to want to drag-down Christianity & Judaism along with it.
As he brought over a plate of sweet, milky dessert, and insisted on paying for my koshary, a cynic would take it as a bribe; but within this culture there is a great sense of hospitality towards the guest, and this was simply exemplary of the warmth and welcoming the people of the Middle East can be towards foreigners. We were a long way from the touts of downtown.