Copyright © 2003-2011, Aishah Schwartz. Permission granted to circulate among private individuals, groups, or in not-for-profit publications in full text and subject title. All other rights reserved.

October 31, 2005

~*Sister Aishah's Journey Continues...Reflecting on Ramadan 2005*~

Assalamu Alaikum wa Rahmatuallahi wa Barakatuhu! It seems to be one of those mornings when a new chapter in Sister Aishah's Journey is tickling my brain and pushing my fingers to the keyboard, so here goes. (Time out...go ahead and get your box of tissue!) *wink* *Sigh* I am really sad to see Ramadan has been very nice this year, my first Ramadan in Egypt, Al-hamdulillah. There were days that just seemed to pass in the blink-of-an-eye... There were days that I grieved for not being able to be with loved ones back home and in KSA. I remember one evening in Taraweeh standing in line as the Imam began the first rakat, head bowed, eyes closed...and the sound of my sister Samera's voice came into my ears as if she was standing right beside me calling, "Y'Allah, Aishah! Come!" The ringing of her voice bouncing off the walls of my brain sent tears streaming down my cheeks and I went through the entire first rakat silently sobbing, my heart so overwhelmed with longing to see her. There were days that I felt so blessed, and in remembrance of the presence of Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala in my life, I had to keep a tissue handy to catch the falling tears. No truer words were ever spoken of myself than, "Aishah you're a baby". *smile* There were days that I got frustrated and had to beg for the forgiveness and mercy of Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala. Astifergullah Al-Azeem. There were more days spent reading the new Qur'an my daughter Hanane's husband, Mohammed, gave to me just before I left the United States. There were days filled with contemplation... There was lots of dua. There was a wonderful visit to the Conveying Islamic Message Society offices where I got to meet a wonderful young brother, Mostafa that I had known from online and subhan'Allah, had the opportunity to meet in person on the first day of Ramadan! He invited my husband and me to the center and we met many of the other volunteers. Al-hamdulillah; what wonderful visit it was! There was the long-awaited first in-person meeting with my internet-friend, Sister Lobna, who is such a dear. *hugs* There was the evening I met new friends from a sisters e-group organized for expats (and some locals) living in Alexandria, that held planned iftar's every Saturday of Ramadan, Al-hamdulillah. There were nights when it seemed I couldn't sleep at all... And one of those sleepless nights I found my daughter, Hanane, on instant messenger and we got to chat for like, thirty minutes. Al-hamdulillah. She had had a dream about me the night before that compelled her to find a way to get online...and there I was...waiting for her. Subhan'Allah. We're just somehow connected that way... *smile* and there went those darn tears again... There were the sounds of the young boy passing through the neighborhood tapping his drum and calling us all to awaken for suhoor... And there was also the boy that would wander through with his cowbell letting you know to "Y'Allah! Come on down and get your fava beans! There were new experiences, like going to the souk and seeing how they make knafe (shredded dough used to make a tasty Ramadan treat). The process amazed me like a child seeing something for the very first time! This amused my husband, of course! *lol* There was the aqeeqah for the baby of my husband's nephew, and getting to meet and spend the afternoon with so many of the other wonderful members of my husband's family. Al-hamdulillah! There were colorful and brightly shining Ramadan lamps hanging from balcony ceilings and storefronts. There were strings of multi-colored lights crisscrossing between apartment buildings and silver tinsel framing balconies that danced in the evening breeze. There were two times when I completely forgot myself when I (1) sampled a nut in the grocery store; and (2) I turned around right after praying fajr one morning and immediately picked up the glass of water left sitting on my nightstand, and as I gulped down a swallow felt my husband's slap on my ankle from where he still sat on his prayer rug followed by the exclamation, "Aishah, what you are doing?" *lol* Al-hamdulillah, Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala must have known I needed it at the time! The Messenger of Allah (SAW) says, "If he forgets and eats and drinks, then he should complete his fast. It was Allah who fed him and gave him the drink." (Bukhari) There was Hurricane Wilma back home and the earthquake in Asia. LAA H'AWLA WA LAA QUWWATA ILLA BILLAAH. There were evening walks alone when I just absorbed the sights and sounds of my new city. There was the beautiful, almond-eyed young girl that brought me juice and dates one afternoon at the masjid before Maghrib who stayed to pray with me, and claimed to not speak English, stating matter-of-factly, "I don't like it." *lol* She asked me if I would come back the following day; and I did. Al-hamdulillah, she was waiting for me. On another visit to the masjid there was a young girl with a white scarf tied around her head, who, sitting beside me knee-to-knee in her pink pajamas, read a few ayahs of Qur'an aloud in Arabic; in exchange for me reading them to her in English from the volume I had in my lap. When I finished reading she was off with a smile, never to be seen a second time. There was hot fudge sundae after Taraweeh at the neighborhood McDonalds! Thanks my dear husband! There was the discovery of some mesmerizingly beautiful Qur'an recitation on the internet that was truly a blessing to me, and Subhan'Allah, lulled me to sleep on restless nights. ( There were the sisters at the masjid that, even though they couldn't speak English, and I couldn't speak Arabic, found a way to communicate with me through their smiling faces and warm embraces when I would enter the prayer hall at Isha. Al-hamdulillah. I wish I could remember their names, but they're all Arabic! With the exception of a brightly smiling sister named Maha who did understand and speak English a little bit. I'll always remember the name 'Maha' as one of my sisters in Saudi Arabia (sister of Samera). And there was the sister at the masjid that seemed to have a fondness for pinching my chin with a giddy look in her eyes. This same sister also came to my rescue one evening at Taraweeh when a giant black beetle blew in through the opened doorway beside which I was sitting. It landed on the floor beside my right knee, and before my brain had a chance to completely register that this ghastly, ugly looking creature was going to completely freak me out, my dear sister snatched a loose tissue up from the floor in front of her and quick as lightning, used it to snatch that bug right up from beside me, and throwing her arm across the front of my chest, whipped it right back out the door! Subhan'Allah! When the prayer ended we pantomimed out the episode again and let out the laughter we had previously had to hold back!!! I don't think I'll ever forget how quickly she had come to my rescue! Al-hamdulillah! There was a reminder not to chew gum during salat in the masjid. *lol* There was the coolness of the sea breeze wafting through the balcony doors of mom's parlor where we would sit to have our tea and sweets after iftar. There was a favorite TV program to capture the attention of my husband and his mother for an hour-and-a-half each evening. Al-hamdulillah. There were the morning wake-up calls from my husband's sister, Lula. There were ice cream cones when Lula would visit. *smile* There was Taraweeh and a tour through some neighborhood shops with sweet, young Sister Asma, who is the same age as my daughter, Ashley, and made me feel like Ashley was with me as we strolled through the five spiraling floors of a corner shopping mall. *smile* There was the legless man who, one morning before fajr, pushed himself along the streets of our neighborhood with gloved hands as he lay on his chest across a wheeled-board...imploring anyone who could, to extend charity to him. There was thanks to Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala for my good health. There was the discovery that three dates and a tall glass of ice water carried me through the day of fasting without a single rumble in my tummy, whereas on the mornings that I took a filling meal for suhoor I found my tummy grumbling up a storm by 11 am! The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: "Have suhoor, for in suhoor there is blessing (barakah)." (Reported by al-Bukhaari, Fath, 4/139). "Suhoor is blessed food, and it involves being different from the people of the Book. A good suhoor for the believer is dates." (Reported by Abu Dawood, no. 2345; Saheeh al-Targheeb, 1/448.) There were new recipes to try and even some to invent! I duplicated my favorite samosa from last year's Ramadan in Saudi Arabia to perfection! And it turns out that I do something with pasta that everyone just loved! It's a mystery to me! *lol* Oh, and on the evening of the 31st it was announced that I had mastered the art of making Qatayef!! (A mini-pancake filled with nuts, raisins and coconut; folded in half to form the shape of a crescent, deep-fried, dunked in syrup, sprinkled with coconut and enthusiastically munched down by all with steaming mini-cups of hot tea poured from the teapot my mom in KSA gave to me as a gift.) And one night when the sweets cabinet was bare, I created a concoction of crumbled up maamoul cookies, layered with chopped walnuts, raisins and coconut, half-covered with hot milk, dribbled over with honey, splashed with a dash of cinnamon, and finished off with small pats of butter scattered all around. Put that in the oven for about 20 minutes and you would be surprised at how yummy it was touched off with a tiny dribble of melted peanut butter! Oh, my goodness!! The only name I have for that is what I commonly refer to as "Chef's Surprise!" *lol* But talk about good!! Mmmmm! There was d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s grilled chicken from down at the souk and tabouli salad. (Not as good as my KSA mom's tabouli!) Al-hamdulillah my husband allowed me a cooking periodically as it seemed after the first week of Ramadan mom retired and I was left to take over the kitchen! My dh was also a real trooper in taking turns helping out with suhoor, and he is a champion dish-washer! But he has dishwashing incentive, rest assured! *smile* While he is at the kitchen sink, I am preparing the tray of sweets and hot tea that he'll be running off to consume as soon as he finishes with his chore! There were the three brothers at the masjid who always greeted me with a smile; unlocked the door of the sisters prayer hall; and on the days that I happened to go down before Maghrib, even brought me dates, water and/or juice to break my fast, and after praying Maghrib brought me food for iftar and hot tea afterwards. Subhan'Allah! There was the joy of finding those same three brothers standing together just outside the masjid on Ramadan 27 when my husband was with me and I had, for the first time, a spokesperson through whom I could communicate to them how much I appreciated everything they had done to make me feel at home in their masjid! (And now my masjid, too!) There was the blessing of being accompanied by my husband to Taraweeh on Ramadan 27. Al-hamdulillah. And, finally, what brought the end of Ramadan right up in my face was the Eid cookie delivery from the family of my husband's eldest brother living in Cairo. Here sit eight boxes of the finest selection of sweet treats that you could imagine, and I just know before it's all said and done that I'm going to be at least another five pounds heavier! The Kahk cookie box has my name written all over it! *Sigh* has been a blessed Ramadan...and I am truly sad to see it end. I know there are many who have spent Ramadan alone; or have been ill, or had to work too hard, or were maybe even grief-stricken by loss, be it personal, financial, or material. But I pray that, insha'Allah, maybe by walking through these reflections you've been able to catch a little bit of the essence of Ramadan, and paused for a moment to smile; laugh; cry; reflect, or hope...and that, insha'Allah, this coming year will deliver you from any pain or suffering that may have cast a shadow over your Ramadan this year. The time in this dunya is keep your chin up and remember that it is in our striving for the cause of Islam and the hope of paradise that we find reprieve from the sometimes chaotic twists and turns of our daily lives. Allahu Alim. May Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala shower you with peace, joy and blessings this Eid! Ya Allah, You are the embodiment of forgiveness, You love to forgive, Please disregard my shortcomings, O Forgiver, Ghafoor, the Forgiving Lord. Oh Allah, make it easy for me to do good and help me avoid the bad in all situations. Oh Allah, grant me success in all of my affairs in this life and the Next. Please increase me in knowledge and bless me with excellent teachers. Ya Allah, let me die in the highest state of Iman. Oh Allah, bless this Ummah, guide us, and unite our hearts. Ya Allah, lift my heart, relieve my burdens, and make me of those who put their full trust in You for all of their affairs. Oh Allah, please bless me with the opportunity to see many more Ramadans and to perform much better worship of You than I have done this year and in the past. Amin. Copyright © 2005, Aishah Schwartz Permission is granted to circulate among private individuals and groups, to post on Internet sites and to publish in full text and subject title in not-for-profit publications. Contact author for all other rights, which are reserved.

October 30, 2005

In Pictures: Ramadan Worldwide

Across the world Muslims are beginning the holy month of Ramadan, a time marked by fasting, special prayers, nighttime feasts and family get-togethers. 12-picture slideshow:

October 29, 2005

Nerves Unravelling? Visit the Masjid!

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This was written during my first Ramadan in Egypt (Alexandria, 2005). 

Assalamu Alaikum. There was one day the other week that was just one of those days when I felt my nerves beginning to unravel, but I chose to beat it back. The walls of the apartment had begun to close in on me and after Maghrib I put on my abaya and went to a nearby masjid for the Taraweeh prayers. (Special evening prayers performed during Ramadan. During each night's prayer, one juz (1/30) (a/k/a chapter or 'surah') of the Qur'an is recited so that by the end of the month of Ramadan, the entire Qur'an will have been read.) 

Al-hamdulillah. The Taraweeh prayers were a wonderful reprieve, and rejuvenating, but by mid afternoon of the next day I felt the relentless infiltration of the darkness trying to creep up on me once again. So, I left the apartment on an errand (that's another story entitled, "Misadventures of Aishah's Ramadan Lamp!"), and ended up back at the masjid.  

It was an hour-and-a-half ahead of the time for Maghrib, so I just sat there as the time passed, making dua and remembering Allah subhanaahu wa ta'ala; relishing the sense of serenity I felt coming from the masjid's enveloping protection which combined to re-awaken the knowledge that Allah subhanaahu wa ta'ala is always with me. Al-hamdulillah. And then Allah subhanaahu wa ta'ala gave me my something to be grateful for in the shinning eyes and immaculate smile of a beautiful, young, abaya and hijab clad girl who looked to be about 10-years of age.  

When I entered the sister's prayer hall I found it to be empty, in fact, before I could enter, I had to sort of peek my head in the main entrance of the masjid in search of the brother, who I surmised from previous visits is the "masjid keeper", to unlock the door to the sister's hall.  

Just before the adhan there was knock on the door, which had been resting just slightly ajar. In response I replied, "Aiwa" (meaning "yes"), whereupon the masjid keeper entered, by a single step, and stopped to address me in Arabic. I sadly replied, "Mafi Arabi", with a slight shrug of my shoulders. (A response I had learned in KSA when I wanted to convey that I didn't speak Arabic!) Understanding my reply, the brother took another step forward and, speaking in Arabic again, but this time including gestures (okay, charades I can do! *lol*), he brought his hand up and down towards his mouth like he was holding a eating utensil, and said, "hina?" – which I learned during my time at Hajj meant, "here", to which he added a sweeping gesture encompassing the prayer hall. This translated to my being asked if I would be breaking my fast at the masjid, to which I smilingly replied, "Aiwa!" 

Satisfied that his effort had garnered the response he needed, the masjid keeper happily turned and went back through the door whence he came whilst I returned to my thoughts.

A few short minutes later there was another knock on the door of the sister's prayer hall, followed by the immediate entrance of the aforementioned little girl, which I deduced to be the daughter of the masjid keeper. The little girl approached me carrying a small plastic cup filled with juice. I greeted her with "Assalamu Alaikum", and as she replied, "Wa'Alaikum Assalamu," she handed me the cup, whereupon I said, "Shukran!" (Thank-you.) As quietly and quickly as she had entered the prayer hall, she exited and returned just moments later with a small plastic container of dates. Subhan'Allah. I took a few of the dates and the young girl left me alone once again. 

So, there I sat, quietly, and all by myself (with the exception of the presence of Allah subhanaahu wa ta'ala, of course!) breaking my fast. Al-hamdulillah. And, no, surprisingly, it wasn't a lonely feeling at all...actually, I was filled with a wonderful sense of peacefulness and gratefulness. Subhan'Allah. 

You know, it is through some of the little encounters we have from time-to-time that our lives are enriched...and the nicest part of this particular encounter was yet to come.  

As the masjid keeper began the second call to prayer (Adhan), a door that is used as an entrance to the main part of the masjid from inside the sister's prayer hall opened, and passing through the doorway was the same little girl who had brought me juice and dates. Al-hamdulillah. She walked over to where I was and together, standing shoulder to elbow *smile*, we formed our own little line for salat. Masha'Allah… I was somehow immediately filled with a sense of wonder, combined with a surge of sadness mixed with longing, at what it would have been like for the girl standing beside me to have been my own daughter. (I am also, as many new Muslims are, the only [acknowledging] Muslim within my immediate family.) And my silly, sentimental-self had to bite back the flood of tears that were pushing at the brims of my eyes as we stood silently beside one another, hands folded in front of our chests, heads bowed, listening earnestly as the Imam led us in prayer.  

When we finished praying the young girl stood, and smiling as she turned to go, I caught her hand and said to her, "Do you know 'beautiful'?" To which she surprisingly replied, "Yes." So I continued with a smile and said, "You are beautiful!" And her face lit up. I then asked her, "Do you speak English?" To which, she answered with a slight frown, "No." This puzzled me a little as I had the impression she did speak English because of her previous responses and the fact that I am aware students are taught English in the Egyptian schools.  

Well, just about as soon as those thoughts passed through my mind, I found myself hearing her say, and rather forthrightly I might add, "I don't like it." I had hold back the chuckle that had risen in my throat *out of the mouths of babes!*, and smiling I said, with the utmost sincerity, "Thank you for praying with me." To which she answered back in her tiny, non-English speaking, voice (*lol*), "You're welcome."  

As she turned away once again to leave, my new friend called out, "Bye!" and quickly then, "Ma'Salaama!" (with peace) – to which I replied, "Fi Aman'Allah!" (in God's protection). Then just as she got to the steps that would take her out of the prayer hall and back into the masjid, she paused to look back and ask, "Will you come back tomorrow?" could I say no? So, insha'Allah, I would return to the masjid the following day.  

Yes, it occurred to me, too, that we had neglected to exchange names...*smile*...insha'Allah when we meet again we'll resolve that little matter! *wink*  

What happened that afternoon is why I like to venture off on my own from time-to-time. People say, "Aren't you afraid you'll get lost, being in a place that is new?" And I remember the words of a sister I met at an iftar Saturday before last. I was showing her pictures I had taken on my digital camera. We came to the three shots I had taken of Stanley Beach and she said, "Whatever you do, keep these pictures on your camera! If you get lost, just show them to any taxi driver (or whoever else is available), and they'll know exactly where you live!" So, naw, I'm not afraid...after's on life's little adventures that my journey stories are born!  

Hey! Don't go just yet…before you do take a moment and make this dua with me: "Our Lord! Condemn us not if we forget or fall into error. Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden like that which Thou didst lay on those before us; Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear. Blot out our sins, and grant us forgiveness. Have mercy on us. Thou art our Protector; Help us against those who stand against faith." (Surah 2:286)


Copyright © 2005, Aishah Schwartz Permission is granted to circulate among private individuals and groups, to post on Internet sites and to publish in full text and subject title in not-for-profit publications. Contact author for all other rights, which are reserved.

October 28, 2005

Reflecting on Ramadan...the First Four Years

Assalamu Alaikum wa Rahmatuallahi wa Barakatuhu. This is Ramadan Number 4 for me. Number 1 was spent in Washington, D.C., bouncing back and forth between a grueling work schedule, The Islamic Center and Dar Al-Hijrah, meeting new and life-long friends and (heart) adopting a daughter (Hanane). Al-hamdulillah. Number 2 was spent in a variety of different activities, i.e., volunteering at a homeless shelter, attending an Iftar at the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C., attending an interfaith iftar and getting to talk with people about Islam that wanted to understand what Ramadan was all about, attending a protest in front of the White House, following Imam Johari around through the park downtown passing out meals to the was adventurous! Number 3 was spent in KSA where I got to experience Ramadan in a whole new way, surrounded by family and good food. I also got to make Umrah on the first day of Ramadan. Al-hamdulillah. Number would have imagined I would be in Egypt? *shakes head* But here I am. Subhan'Allah. A lot of things have been different this year. One thing is that just before I left the states my daughter Hanane's husband, Mohammad, gave me a version of the Qur'an that I didn't have before. It is the English interpretation of The Noble Qur'an by Dar Al-Salaam Publications out of Riyadh. Masha'Allah, it is this Qur'an that I have found myself reading more out of than I have ever read of the Qur'an before. It is written in such a nice way that it compels me to pick it up, Al-hamdulillah. I have listened to the Qur'an on CD so much before because I do enjoy a good recitation, Subhan'Allah. But I can't read it in Arabic, and the other English versions that I had before just made me fall asleep after a few pages...astifergullah al-azeem! So this year, Al-hamdulillah, I have been reintroduced to the Qur'an. Al-hamdulillah. Another difference between the other years and this year that jumps out the most has been enjoying more of it with my husband. Al-hamdulillah. This year we are spending Ramadan with his 83-year old mother, and, whereas, in Ramadan Numbers 2 & 3 we spent the larger part of the month doing our own thing, this year we have actually done things together. It has been nice sitting for suhoor, and the three of us breaking our fasts together at iftar. It has made me happy to see my husband participate in Ramadan more this year vs. just sitting and waiting for it to pass by in order to get on with the *normalcy* of life's daily grind. Something I've observed about Ramadan for those experiencing it anew vs. those who have already lived through 40 or so Ramadan's is that, I think...well...that sometimes people lose the essence of what Ramadan is all about. It's sad. Sad like, one day when I went out of the apartment to pray Taraweeh, it wasn't without saying to my husband before I left (after he declined the invitation to join me), "You know...if you just sit here...what is the difference between Ramadan and any other day of the year?" It is with a heavy heart that I count down the days left of Ramadan knowing that my dh has not once set foot in the masjid for Taraweeh...may Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala be merciful with him and put it in his heart to go these next few days. Imagine...the reward for worship on the Night of Power it is greater than 1000 months!! More than 83 years! Isn't Ramadan about more than just having to wait a little longer between meals? We are in the last week of Ramadan; it is my dua that we will all reflect a little on what it is really all about... It is reported from Abu Hurairah that he said: "When the month of Ramadan came, the Messenger of Allah sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said: "The month of Ramadan has come, a blessed month in which Allah has made it obligatory for you to fast; in it the gates of Paradise are opened and the gates of hell are closed and the devils are chained. In it is a night better than a thousand months, whoever loses the benefit of it has lost something irreplaceable." (Narrated by Imaam Ahmad. This was also narrated by An-Nasaa’i.) It is reported on the authority of Abu Hurairah, that Allah’s Messenger sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said: "Whoever stood in prayer on the night of Al-Qadr, in faith and hoping for a reward from Allah, he will have all of his previous sins forgiven." (Narrated by Al-Bukhaari and Muslim). Dare we think that we haven't sinned so much that we are not in need of the rewards and blessings of the night of Al-Qadr? May Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala forgive us and guide us. Amin. See you at the masjid, insha'Allah. Copyright © 2005, Aishah Schwartz. Permission is granted to circulate among private individuals and groups, to post on Internet sites and to publish in full text and subject title in not-for-profit publications. Contact author for all other rights, which are reserved.

October 27, 2005

Saying Goodbye to Ramadan

Today I've been blue all day...Ramadan is almost over... Take a listen; it's in Arabic, but you don't have to understand the language to tell you're listening to something beautiful...

October 14, 2005

Ramadan In Egypt; A Lifetime Experience

Ramadan In Egypt A lifetime experience by Sameh Arab See short video presentation, "Ramadan in Cairo" - what you see is exactly what you get! Visit: Spending the holy month of Ramadan in Egypt is different than elsewhere. Other than the rituals practiced during that month, certain social habits of Egyptian Muslims are much different than anywhere else. Ramadan is a month that follows the lunar calendar, the basis of the Islamic (or Hijri) calendar. With an eleven-day offset from the Gregorian (western) calendar, the exact timing of Ramadan during the year is variable, sometimes falling in summer and sometimes in winter. The first day of Ramadan too is variable, since "Sha’aban", the preceding month, sometimes has 29 days and sometimes 30 days. Astronomical calculations are utilized to detect the birth of the new moon, yet the cornerstone remains to be its visualization after sunset. Ramadan lasts for 29 or 30 days, as do most lunar months. The holiness of this month comes from the fact that it marks the day when the Holy Spirit, Gabriel, started the transmission of God’s message to the prophet Mohammad, fourteen centuries ago. The exact date has never been identified, but it is believed to be on one of the last ten days of this month, which Muslims call "Lailat el-Qadr". According to Islam, the month is dedicated to prayers, as it is believed that it is an occasion to wash one’s sins away and enjoy God’s unlimited mercy. The principal ritual during Ramadan is fasting. This entails abandoning eating, drinking, smoking or sinning, even if minor, throughout the whole day, from dawn to sunset. Though the usual daily practice is in most ways normal, Muslims prefer to spend more time praying or reading the Qora’an, particularly at night. The daily meals become limited to two, the first of which is the "iftar" when fasting is broken just after sunset. The iftar can be a real bonus to tourists, as many of the hotels offer highly competitive specials for ifar. The timing of the second meal, "sohour", is variable according to personal preference, but usually delayed as much as possible until just before dawn. In between "iftar" and "sohour", people are allowed to eat as they wish. What makes this month different in Egypt? A long time ago, Egyptians adopted certain social habits during this month that are not directly related to religion. Officially, the working hours are diminished to allow more time for prayers. People usually sleep very late and spend considerable time in the mosques. The traditional practice starts immediately after sunset, which is announced to people through all mosques by the ritual "azan", or the call for prayers. Once, beginning in the 16th Century, it was the habit of the Egyptian government to fire a canon which could be heard throughout Cairo to announce end of the daily fast. This loud shot was fired from the Citadel over the "el-Moqattam" mountains. Modern technology has replaced this habit so that now announcements are made on radio and TV. "Iftar" is considered the main meal of the day during Ramadan and is often very rich. Any type of food might be served, but traditionally the desert almost always includes "konafa" or "qatayef". The former is a cake-like food made of wheat with considerable sugar, honey, raisins and different types of nuts. The later is almost the same, but takes the shape of a small circular cake, which is folded to include nuts and raisins. Since Ramadan is considered to be the most joyful month of the whole year, children also have their share of fun. The "fanoos" or lantern is a must for every kid. These are traditionally made of tin and colored glass, with a candle inside. More modern examples are battery operated, but really lack the spirit (though each year there seems to be a trend to see who can produce the most snazzy fanoos). All mosques and streets during the whole month are full of colored lights in a festival fashion, and in the past, children played in the streets with their lanterns, singing "wahawy ya wahawy". This tradition is still practiced, though rarely now in the streets, except in middle class or poor neighborhoods, and in the countryside. With the introduction of TV in the 1960’s, traditions changed. TV transmissions lasts 24 hours a day, and the programs include too many new serials and movies. More than half of the serials produced by the Egyptian TV are broadcast during Ramadan for the first time. another traditional program is the "fawazeer", which is a daily riddle usually broadcast during a comedy or musical show. The family is usually gathered around the TV for long hours, if they do not go for prayers. Nuts are consumed as a snack, together with a traditional drink "qamar el-deen1" which is made of apricot. Most people prefer to spend at least the first day in an extended family reunion, gathering in the home of the grand parents’. After the first few days, people start to go out after "iftar". Hence, many gatherings between families, friends or colleagues take place for the main meal, and for socializing afterwards. since many people prefer to spend their time in the old fashioned atmosphere of cafes, many hotels now actively market their facilities for this festive occasion. Today, it has become a tradition for all 5-star hotels to erect a large tent, furnished in the old Arabian decoration, where people enjoy their time listening to old traditional songs and music. It all recalls memories of the old classical days. "Sheesha" or water-pipes are smoked almost continuously. Sports are also popular during Ramadan. Most clubs arrange minor tournaments, especially for football (soccer). Many people of all ages participate in games, including the elders who compete with their peers. It is not unusual to find many professional football players among these teams of amateurs. The issue is not to win, but to share. In poor districts where no clubs are available, the youth and children can utilize a side street or alley as a football field. During Ramadan, people become very tolerant of such activities, though they are not encouraged during other times of the year. The show continues until late at night, and sometimes right up until the dawn prayers, after which people finally sleep. Of course, not everyone follows this routine. Many somewhat older people find it difficult to keep pace with these celebrations, and of course some must continue to work (for example, those in the tourism business). In the old days, the tradition was for man called a "mesaharaty" to walk down the streets before dawn with a drum. He would wake up the people by singing and calling their names. The mesaharaty was not paid a fixed salary but received donations, and though this profession is now extinct, amateurs continue to practice the tradition. The worst experience a student might have is if Ramadan coincides with exams. If possible, the exam timing is shifted by the school or university. But if this is impossible, then the fun may be lost. The majority of people fast during Ramadan, though according to Islam, the sick, travelers, elders and children are not required to follow this requirement. Since the days are longer in summer and the weather is hot, fasting sometimes become difficult. Children usually start demanding that their parents allow them to fast at an early age, though they are usually not allowed to do so before the age of ten, and then only for a short duration. The sick also try to fast, though of course this may be very difficult for them. In fact, no one would ever wish to miss a single day of fasting during this month, although it is possible to compensate later. It is not just the religious obligation, but also the atmosphere. It is not considered good manners to outwardly make a display of not fasting. Though not illegal, those who do not fast would usually hide to eat, drink or smoke. Egyptian Christians also share also participate in most of these practices with their fellow Muslims. Some would also fast as a sign of national unity, but even those who do not would never eat or drink in public, as a sign of respect to Islamic traditions. Alcoholic drinks are prohibited throughout the month, and all bars are closed (with the exception of many tourist facilities) On the last day of Ramadan, observatories again check for the new moon. The month ends after the 29th or 30th day, when the "eid" or feast begins. 1 This drink is usually made from from dried apricot sheets, or past, which is placed in boiling water. Qamar el-deem sheets, as they are called, can be found in many specialty Middle East markets. It is also used to make an apricot pudding.

October 06, 2005

~*Sister Aishah's Journey Continues...Ramadan 2005 - Day One*~

Bismillaahir Rahmaanir Raheem Assalamu Alaikum wa Rahmatuallahi wa Barakatuhu! Insha'Allah this message finds you in the best of health and iman. Amin. My fourth Ramadan...Al-hamdulillah, is being spent in Alexandria, Egypt! However, as we all well know, it seems there will never be a 100% consensus as to exactly what day Ramadan begins. While some may have started their fasting on Tuesday, others did not begin until Wednesday. We (here in Egypt), as fate would have it, landed amongst those to mark the beginning of Ramadan on Tuesday, October 4th. That said, let the Ramadan welcomes commence! *lol* You should have been inside our apartment! There are two phone lines here and believe it or not, they rang almost non-stop, sometimes simultaneously, for about an hour as the news spread throughout the family that Ramadan was upon us. Thankfully my husband's sister was here with us to help field some of the calls as the apartment buzzed with good cheer! After the phones finally stopped ringing, for some reason (excitement maybe?), I was unable to contemplate sleep! Hubby and mom, exhausted from all the Ramadan welcoming on the phones, decided to retire for the evening, so, finding myself alone, I decided to begin preparations for suhoor. There hadn't been any prior discussion about who-would-do-what, but I was just in the frame of mind to take on the task myself. Plundering into the contents of the refrigerator, I proceeded to make one fine mess in the kitchen(ette) guessed it...we have quite a small kitchen, so making a mess wasn't hard! *lol* About an hour or so later, the morning feast was prepared and set out nicely on the table, together with juice and hot tea. It was with a sense of satisfaction that I left the kitchen to make the rounds of stirring slumbering souls awake! It was so nice...the three of us sitting together for suhoor. Masha'Allah. But as I sat there watching my husband chat with his mom, I couldn't help imagining what this time would have been like for her had we not been brought together this year as she had been living in the apartment alone prior to our arrival. I found myself, for the umpteenth time, thanking Allah subhanaahu wa ta'ala for bringing us to Alexandria. We finished our meal and Subhan'Allah!! My husband cleaned the kitchen! So here is the drill as established on our first day of Ramadan: Aishah does suhoor, mom does iftar (I get roped into a task here and there for that! *wink*), and dh cleans up the kitchen in acknowledgement for all the hard work we have done! May Allah subhanaahu wa ta'ala reward him most generously! Insha'Allah! *smile* (Brothers take note!! - The Prophet (pbuh) himself set a good example in his treatment of women. He exhorted his followers to treat women kindly. He never struck a woman and een helped his wives with the househould chores! Aa-ishah (Radhiallaahu Anha) said, "He (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasalaam) was a normal husband like others. He stitched his clothes, milked the goats and helped in the chores inside the house." (Ahmad and Tirmidhi) It was about 6 am when I finally put myself to bed. I seemed to sleep well enough until about 9 am. Then between 9 am and noon I re-awoke, count them, five times! Why??? suhoor I drank a glass of juice, a cup of tea and a tall glass of ice cold water...I'm sure your imagination can figure out the rest!! *lol* Giving up on sleep to pray dhuhr, with eyes glued shut; I fumbled my way through the sitting room in search of the bathroom to make wudu. The cool tap water felt refreshing as it splashed against my face, Al-hamdulillah. After salat we gathered in the kitchen/dining area, dividing time between chores and our computers (mine and my husbands are temporarily set up in the dining area). I inserted Vol. 1 from my Qur'an CD set into the disk drive of my laptop and adjusted the volume so the three of us could all hear it nicely. As each of us became engrossed in our own tasks, we spent the time until Asr prayer listening to the melodious strains of the Qur'an recited from the Imam of the Holy Mosque in Mecca. After salat, it was time for the ladies of the house to take a short nap. We headed for mom's room where she took the bed and I made myself comfortable on the small sofa beside the balcony door. We drifted off to sleep listening to mom's lively parakeets chirping excitedly about something I am sure escapes me *lol*, the neighborhood children playing on the street outside, and a local brother wandering between the apartment buildings making his clanging noise that sounds like a spoon rattling against the inside a mason jar; this being the call to, "Ya'Allah, come on down and get your fresh foul (fava beans)!!" On a daily basis, generally between 11 am and 4 pm, you can catch the fava bean vendor with his clanging, a bread vendor, and a trader that call out to you from the street offering their services at your convenience...or inconvenience...that is if you're trying to sleep! If you flag them from your balcony, they'll wait for you to come down, or they'll come up, or in the imaginative alternative, they'll conduct their business with you via the basket-dropped-down-a-rope-from-your-balcony system. *smile* Some of the traditions here are really quite interesting...the life is simple, and people, for the most part, are basically just kind, quiet souls, who will generally go out of their way to help a neighbor. Subhan'Allah. As the time approached for Maghrib's adhan, my husband brought to the slumbering ladies of the house, pre-prepared glasses of dates that had been sitting to soften in water throughout the afternoon, and we arose to break our fasts together. After praying Maghrib we re-grouped in the kitchen to fill our plates with the first day of Ramadan Iftar feast mom had spent the earlier part of the day preparing. We decided to eat together in the sitting area of mom's room where we could enjoy the wonderful, cool, early-evening breeze from the nearby sea circulating in between the apartment buildings and winding its way through the screened doors that open out onto the balcony. We chatted amongst ourselves and enjoyed our meal as local news played quietly in the background from the television sitting nearby. With full tummies, our Ramadan threesome fell into a state of blissful laziness and settled in for a short siesta before Isha prayer! The evening was capped in a surprisingly wonderful visit to a charitable organization here in Alexandria; the Conveying Islamic Message Society (CIMS). How we came upon this invitation is another story... The invitation was delivered to me via email from a most delightfully wonderful and sincere young man by the name of Mostafa Mohye. After making final arrangements with my husband by telephone, young Mostafa came by taxi to our apartment, whereupon he sat to chat for a few moments in order to properly introduce himself. It was in this conversation that our young guest explained to my husband how it was that he had come to learn about his wife. Mostafa had stumbled upon my little website approximately two years ago after reading posts I had made in an e-group that we had both subscribed to (the former "Islam is Peace"). Little did I know what an impact I had made on this young man's life… Subhan'Allah. As Mostafa's story unfolded, he shared that he had faithfully followed my "Adventures" as a new Muslim in addition to tracking the comments in the website's guest book; earnestly scouring through its contents looking for new Muslims. Why? You may ask... Well, merely to extend an invitation to accept an offer to provide them with free Islamic literature, of course! *smile* After having met young Mostafa in person, and having had the opportunity to speak with him at length, what I would like to say here today is, if you have ever received, or receive in the future, an email from "Mostafa Mohye" asking you to send him your address so he can mail you free books and information about Islam - please feel free to reply! He is not a hacker or scam artist, he is merely one of the finest young Muslim men I have had the pleasure of meeting since embracing Islam in 2002. Masha'Allah! Believe me, his intentions are simple, honest, and purely from his heart. He just wants to share Islam with you! Now for your Ramadan (or any time) gift!! *wink* After chatting for a short while with Mostafa in our apartment, we left to hail a taxi that would take us to meet with the director and some of the volunteer staff of CIMS. As a result of this meeting, the director most graciously authorized me to convey to you that CIMS would be happy at any time to send Islamic literature to new Muslims and non-Muslims alike, absolutely free of charge! Among the selections that CIMS has to offer, the item I am most happy to tell you about is the Qur'an. Al-hamdulillah, CIMS can provide beautiful, hard-copy Qur'an's in 93 different languages! You read that right! 93 different languages! Subhan'Allah! Additionally, the CIMS staff filled up two bags with samples of books and pamphlets that they distribute and presented them to me for review. "The Religion of Islam" - Vols. 1 & 2 are very nice! Masha'Allah. Below I have put together for you a sampling of other reading material available in hardcopy by mail or downloadable* from the CIMS website. These publications are also available in Arabic, French, Deutsch, Russian and Italian: Fortress of the Muslim (Invocations from the Qur'an and Sunnah) The Holy Hadiths The Pillars of Islam Amongst The Prophet's Companions He is Allah En-Nawawi's Forty Hadith* & El-Qudsi Forty Hadith Islamic Facts Refuting the Allegations Against Islam Islam - The Religion of All Is the Trinity Doctrine Divinely Inspired? Is the Bible God's Word? Let the Bible Speak* The Truth About Jesus The Concept of God in Islam* The Muslim's Belief* Contemplations of Qur'anic Verses The Qu'ran on the Universe* What They Say About the Qur'an* Islam at a Glance* A Brief Illustrated Guide to Understanding Islam* The Religion of Islam* Islam is Your Birthright* What is Islam?* Principles of Islam* Islam Basic Principles* Islamic Facts* The Right Way to Pray* (Flash) Learn How to Pray* Prayers* Supererogatory Prayers* Purification* Signs of Mohammad's Prophethood Series of Prophecies in the Bible for the Advent of Muhammad (pbuh) The Concept of Worship in Islam* Human Rights in Islam* Peace from an Islamic Standpoint* The Moral System of Islam* Prophethood in Islam* Do You Know This Man?* What They Say About Muhammad* Muhammad in the Bible* The Qur'an & Modern Science Women in Islam Women in Islam vs. Women in the Judaeo-Christian Tradition* Journey of Four Stages* The Instrument of Light Priests Embracing Islam Stories of New Muslims* Lastly there is my favorite: Performing Our Ablutions and Prayers (ISBN 977-261-506-1) this is a wonderful little spiral bound booklet that is very colorfully illustrated with cartoon characters offering a nicely put together step-by-step process for wudu and salat, including the Arabic text and English (also in Spanish) text. This little booklet makes salat as easy to learn as 1-2-3! What I particularly liked about this booklet is that it is designed in a way that makes it easy to toss into any handbag, book bag, or briefcase for learning-on-the-go! I just fell in love with this item! It's a great companion to the "Prayers" book referred to above. If you are interested in any of the above items, including a copy of the Qur'an (available in 93 different languages) simply reply to this post. CIMS is a registered charity (No. 536), Cairo, Egypt. All materials delivered through the organization, postage-paid and sent to you absolutely free! Okay! That's the end of the journey for Ramadan, Day One in Alexandria, Egypt! Hint: Day two was spent, in part, preparing this story!! Stay tuned! More to come, insha'Allah!! Ramadan Mubarak!! Ma'Salaama, ~Aishah P.S. - My dearest Hanane; you are with me always. Copyright ©2005, Aishah Schwartz Permission is granted to circulate among private individuals and groups, to post on Internet sites and to publish in full text and subject title in not-for-profit publications. Contact author for all other rights, which are reserved.