Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Day Four--Islamic Cairo, AKA A Return to Blogging about Egypt

Alright-y, I’m going to make a more sincere effort to finish blogging about Egypt, so I can one, remove the guilt factor--I hate unfinished projects--and two, free my blog space for more up-to-date reports/discussions. I’d like to blog weekly from now on, and that’s just not going to happen with the Egypt story still needing to be told.

I visited ‘Islamic Cairo’ with the guest delegates on Thursday, November 29, 2007. I was minus Mom again. And, I guess I should relate my ‘daily embarrassing story’ up front. At all the mosques you take off your shoes before entering the building. The first mosque we visited had men who take and stow your shoes behind a counter for you. This was all fine. In fact, I was impressed--when our group came out of the mosque an hour or so later, the men seemed to remember whose shoes belonged to whom, and they brought everyone’s shoes out quickly. Everyone’s, that is, except for mine. All my fellow guest delegates were walking back to the bus, and I was trying to indicate with hand gestures that I still needed my shoes. The men couldn’t seem to find them. The women who were taking tickets at the entrance nearby started arguing with these guys. Meanwhile, my group didn’t seem to notice I’d been left behind.

I ended up going behind the counter and hunting down my shoes myself. They were placed in an odd corner away from where everyone else’s had been stowed. I had to run for the bus. Our security guard (there’s one on every bus) seemed mildly irritated. I was embarrassed--I had the worst luck. Later, after I’d gotten to know the Egyptian people better, I realized something; I was being teased. My shoes had been hidden on purpose, and that’s what the ticket-takers had been yelling at the shoe-takers about. So, was it my red hair, lack of common sense, or something else? I don’t know; but I swear I was walking around Egypt with a target on my back.
--One random tidbit of information, our bus’s security guard looked like The Rock, you know, Dwayne Johnson. Cool, huh.

Back to before--inside the mosque-school of Sultan Hassan, our guide sat us down and outlined the Islamic religion for us. I was fascinated and took a lot of notes--none of which I’ll share. Part of what I found interesting was Islam has more commonalities with Judeo-Christian beliefs than I’d realized.
Also of note, our guide Iman explained the Islamic religion is flexible. Through prayer, Muslims have a personal relationship with God, and are just supposed to try their best to practice their faith. Take praying five times a day—they’re supposed to wash, wear respectable clothing, face Mecca, etc. But if they’re out driving or in the middle of something, they can just pray in their hearts. Is this flexibility exclusive to Cairo’s Muslims?--that I don’t know. But it seems contrary to what’s portrayed in American media.

While in the mosque, we women didn’t have to cover our heads. That’s only required if we were going to pray. Also, when asked at what age girls were required to start wearing head scarves in public, Iman said there wasn’t any strict requirement. Many just chose to do it early because that’s what’s currently popular and stylish. Women who wore a full face-covering headdress were pointed out as extremists. Our Egyptologists repeatedly told us, “That is not Islam!” As proof, they said when those women make their pilgrimages to Mecca, they are required to uncover their faces.

On polygamy, Iman explained that it’s allowed but not widely practiced. Islam requires husbands practicing polygamy to provide for each wife equally; only the very rich can afford this. Also, divorce is allowed, so it’s rare for two women to willingly share the same man; the original wife will threaten divorce or go through with it.

And as long as we’re discussing women’s topics, most women in Egypt work unless they have small children to care for. The society is very family oriented. Extended families are close, often sharing the same housing. Young adults/couples don’t usually move away from home.

Returning again to the mosque--while inside the main dome, a Muslim performed the call to prayer for us. For those of you who don’t know, this is a song that’s broadcast from the mosques’ minarets to remind people it’s time to pray. I’ve heard some tourists get tired of this five times a day, but I thought it was great. Our next stop, the Salah El-Din citadel complex, was up on a hill and at one point the call to prayer started echoing up from all over the city; it sounded so cool!At the citadel, we visited the Mohamed Ali mosque. Here, they had green sheets that tourists could use to cover themselves if they were wearing immodest clothing (women who had their arms or legs exposed). At the end of our visit at the citadel, I had to run for the bus again, but I wasn’t alone. I had been helping a friend who was timid about haggling for souvenirs. I’d done it a few times now, so I was showing off. We took too long. After sprinting, we tried to sneakily catch up with our group at the exit--I didn’t want to develop a bad reputation--not with ‘The Rock’. Our other friends said they’d noticed we were gone and assured us they wouldn’t have left without us. (Dang it!)

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