Do you miss the sound of the ancient canons from the Citadel announcing Iftar and the religious and cozy atmosphere of children playing in the streets with lanterns? Are you nostalgic for the mesaharaty walking around your neighborhood banging on a drum to wake people from their sleep for the suhu? At long last, the spiritual, religious, holy month that all Muslims have been waiting for is around the corner.

Although it is an Islamic event, Ramadan is yet considered the month in which all people belonging to different religious affiliations in Egypt bond and unite; they exchange greetings and Iftar invitations, share social gatherings at night, organize family reunions…etc. The spirit of brotherhood and mutual love taught by all religions is highly illustrated during this holy month. This dominant spirit brings joy to many throughout the world, especially in Arab nations. Focusing on Egypt, the celebrations and preparations for this month usually start one month ahead and despite the differences from one person to another, there are common features in Ramadan’s preparations.
Colored and different sized lanterns, street ornaments, mesaharaty and the Iftar canon are the unique and marvelous signs of this month. The streets of the cities and towns remain decorated with lanterns and ornaments throughout Ramadan. What is very noticeable in people’s attitude is their great concern paid to religious rituals. Mosques enlarge their praying areas with more carpets to accommodate as much prayers as they can. Also, many people prefer going to old historic mosques in Great Cairo, such as El-Hussein, El-Sayeda Nafisa, El-Sayeda Zeinab…etc due to their religious significance.
People’s celebrations are not solely limited to religious rituals; some of them find it a time to relax and as such are attracted to cultural houses, which set a special program for this month in particular. Beit El Hawary and Zeinab Khatoon, and Beit El Seheimy are among the places which specialize in poetic and oriental musical nights. Both places are located in the Azhar district; Beit El Hawary and Zeinab Khatoon in Mohamed Abdou St. and Beit El Seheimy in El Moez Ledin Allah El Fatemy St.
Speaking of the Azhar District, one cannot forget to mention the area of Khan Al-Khalili as well. Ramadan nights are enjoyed by all in this area, where historic cafes are found in every inch of the area. The most famous among those cafes is El-Fishawy, established during the early 1900s, if not prior. With its Arabian-style decorations, old music as entertainment, Egyptian Sheesha (water pipes) and oriental drinks, such as Sahlab, Belila, Homos…etc, El-Fishawy attracts all people from all walks of life.
Usually, people consort all night until suhur; the time when Muslims have their last meal before the start of the fasting day and spend their night with friends and families in cafes and hotel tents. Due to this phenomenon, people tend to work less, stay awake until the wee hours of the night to devote more time to praying in mosques or meeting with friends and relatives.
Sports also play another part of the holiday’s celebrative verve. Clubs organize soccer tournaments, where people of all ages are encouraged to form their teams and compete. These tournaments are usually held for one or two weeks, during which matches take place after El-Taraweeh Prayers and finish late at night. In general, many people enjoy the liberty of playing football in side streets or in alleys.
One of the more obvious traits found in the Egyptian persona is the love of food. However, this lovable trait contradicts the essence of Ramadan, as the lesson behind fasting is to share with the poor and needy their suffering from the lack of food. This food phenomenon is reflected in the over-crowded streets with people hurrying to stores to purchase Ramadan supplies like raisins, nuts, almonds, walnuts and pistachios. In terms of food, one cannot forget to mention the special desserts associated with the holiday like Kunafa, Basbousah, Kataief and Khushaf (a cocktail made of dates, apricot, black plums & raisins).
However, one must consider three preparations before the beginning of the holy month; these preparations are not solely confined to fasting and eating but rather, physical, mental, and spiritual preparations.
Physical preparation is important since people consume energy to fast, they are not allowed to eat, drink or smoke, from sunrise to sunset, which is nearly 12 hours. People also spend their nights praying and fulfilling other acts of worship. All these biological changes need proper preparations so that fasting will not be difficult, especially the first few days.
The reason why people feel tired and exhausted during the first few days of Ramadan lies in the fact that their bodies are still not fully prepared to cope with the biological changes that come with fasting. As we, all approach towards the end of Ramadan, one feels that fasting is something natural because our body has adapted to the routine of the month.
The second aspect is mental preparations. One must keep in mind that Ramadan is a time for inner reflection, devotion to God, intensive worshiping, self-control, recitation of the Qur’an, alms-giving, purifying one’s behavior and, simply put, doing good deeds.
Last, but definitely not least, is the spiritual preparation, which is the most important of all preparations. Spiritual preparation requires us to clean our minds and souls from all abhorrent thoughts and seek God’s forgiveness. So prepare yourselves for the joyous month and with that being said, I wish you all a happy Ramadan.

By Sarah Rashdan

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