…It’s like the idea of white privilege. As a white person you can’t fully realize the privilege you have because you have/will never experience living without it. Or rather, you can realize it and acknowledge it, but you will never fully understand it. It’s the same idea applied to someone of my socioeconomic background in Egypt. I can realize how blessed I am to have this privilege, and in fact many do because it is part of Islamic teachings. But in the end we can never fully understand it, even if we do experience living without it for a period of time. In fact, one of the main ideas behind Ramadan is to deny yourself some of the privileges you were blessed with and to experience the denial that many people live on a daily basis. But even that is nowhere near similar, not only because many people have forgotten this side of Ramadan and simply take it as a religious teaching (or cultural/ritualistic practice), but also because in the end this denial is by choice. A denial by choice can in no way compare to a forced denial. As I choose to deny myself for a temporary period of time, in the end I know where my next meal is coming from. Many people do not. And half of the battle of poverty is the insecurity that comes with it. In a sense, privilege is more than just the idea of having, it is about the security of knowing what you will have and the certainty that you will have it. The certainty that you will have this much money at the end of the month. The certainty that you will go home to find a warm meal on the table or at least food in the fridge. It’s true that being a Muslim entails a belief in the ultimate uncertainty of things. For example, as a Muslim I fundamentally belief that everything I hold dear to me can be taken away from me in a split second if Allah so chooses. I believe this, however, do I feel it? Is that really part of my emotional make-up? This belief impacts my psyche in that it makes me grateful for everything I have, and humble knowing that I have it through no effort or worth of my own. But I do not feel insecure. I do not feel afraid. These emotions are not part of my psyche. People of privilege (be that white, male, socioeconomic, or otherwise) can understand what privilege means in terms of the “things” they have, but privilege as security is something we can never truly comprehend until we lose it.
[...] we are witnessing the many ways economic struggles over tight housing markets may spawn brutal inter-religious or interethnic conflict. We can understand these processes according to a post-9/11 vocabulary of terrorism — one that leaves us with the paralyzing discourse of civilizational conflict, religious essentialisms, and an “axis of evil”. Or, we can understand these processes in a historicized framework of urbanization and urbanism, whereby the fascism of contemporary religious fundamentalisms may be related to the fascism of neoliberal free markets and the new American imperialism. For the latter is a type of fundamentalism as well.
Nezar AlSayyad and Ananya Roy (2004) “Urban Informality: Crossing Borders” in “Transnational Perspectives from the Middle East, Latin America and South Asia” p.5.
Eid Mubarak everybody!
The sense of longing I have right now for Makka and Madina is so strong I feel like if I concentrate really hard I could teleport myself there through sheer will. I was blessed to go do a Umra last year and it was an experience I will never forget. Everyone told me how I would feel, but I honestly didn’t believe them. But when I went there, I felt something in my heart…deep down in my soul that I can’t put into words. Everyone also told me you will like Madina more than Makka because it’s more laid back, but I loved them both equally. It’s true that Madina was more laid back, and I truly enjoyed the process of waking up every day at dawn, looking out the hotel window and seeing hundreds of thousands of people coming from different directions all walking towards the Masjid, looking like ants from high up, and then going down to join them, all walking together in the dark. We used to pray in the open air area in front of the Masjid rather than inside because it was too crowded for my mother, but I love praying outdoors and sitting on the ground reading quran with the breeze and hearing the buzz around me of people making duaa or praying, and then hearing the azan and praying, it was just peaceful, more peace than I have ever experienced.
My parents and I had a routine: dawn prayer, breakfast at the hotel, sleep till noon, noon prayer, walk around Madina and have lunch, then go back to the Masjid to spend the several hours of Asr, Maghrib and Isha in the Masjid reading Quran and praying.
The trip from Madina to Makka was difficult (7 hours with only pit/squat toilets, and our bus broke down mid-way). But I did not mind it because I was fasting during that trip, so I was feeling very calm and tired so I slept pretty easily. We made it to Makka well after iftar time but we stopped at a market on the way and I bought some biscuits and juice for iftar.
There are two things I will always remember from that journey: the first is all of us doing Talbeya on the bus together as we entered Makka. Labbayka Allahumma Labbayk! I love saying those words: here we are oh Allah, at Your service, wanting nothing but Your mercy, You have no partner nor equal, and to You belongs all praise, blessings, and glory, for You have no partner. Every single person on that bus was chanting those words in unison as we entered Makka, just peacefully chanting as we stared out our windows trying to wrap our heads around the fact that we had finally made it. It was an amazing moment.
The second thing I won’t forget is how women were treated on that trip, especially older/elderly women. During the entire 11 day trip I have never seen women treated in a way that felt more Islamic. Whether it was in Madina, on the bus, or in Makka, the men who were in my group were like poster children for how a Muslim should truly treat older women, in full embodiment of the prophetic hadith that Janna lies under the feet of mothers. They carried their bags, helped them up and down stairs, did everything they could to make them comfortable. During the bus journey there was one guy we almost started to feel bad for because every time he sat down this elderly woman would ask him to move her heavy bags from one end of the bus to the other, but every time he got up and did it and did not complain or even frown, he would just smile and say hader ya ommy, at your beck and call mother. She was not his mother nor were they at all related. This scene was replicated throughout the trip. It was really beautiful to see that, and since we were all Egyptian it made me fall in love with my countrypeople all over again, and it gave me hope that maybe one day we can get over the immense religious illiteracy we have in our country that causes us to often do the exact opposite of what Islam commands us to do.
When we finally arrived in Makka we went straight to the Tawaf, which was incredibly difficult for me because I could see my mother was so exhausted she looked like was about to pass out at any second, and she kept getting pushed and losing her balance, so I spent most of the time trying to cover her from all sides so nobody could get near her. Eventually we got a wheelchair for her because she just couldn’t get through the last few rounds of Safa and Marwa. Makka was an amazing experience, praying every single day in front of the Kaabah was breathtaking, but I will never forget that one day when there was a thunderstorm around maghrib time, we stood there in silence as the imam made the iqama, and it was pouring rain, and there was thunder and lightning, and the imam started reciting Surat al Raad, and as he said those words “even the thunder speaks glorifies and praises Him” I think everyone was moved to tears. It was one of the most profound spiritual experiences I have ever had.
Yes, that huge shopping mall makes the trip as a whole more comfortable and a little less spiritual, and yes part of me wishes I could it like they did years ago when there was no fancy shopping mall, when the trip involved a degree of physical hardship and people slept in tents, I truly wish I could do it that way because I feel that would enhance the overall learning experience. But in the end, nothing can detract from the profound impact a trip like that has on your soul. I pray Allah grants me the blessing to do it again.
Today I suddenly felt a longing for Taraweeh prayers in Sultan Hassan (my favourite mosque). It was a feeling so strong it brought tears to my eyes, especially when I realized I won’t be in Egypt next Ramadan (I’ll be spending next Ramadan with my brother in Canada). The mere idea of spending all of Ramadan without being able to pray Tarweeh in Sultan Hassan is incredibly depressing :(
I got to visit Tanzania a couple of weeks ago. It was part of a work trip so unfortunately I did not get the chance to get out of Dar Es Salaam, I barely even got the chance to get out of the hotel! But on the last day I managed to escape from the force of nature that is the Dutch woman who organized the seminar, and headed to the local Kariakoo market with a lovely South African woman. The market was incredibly crowded, loud, and full of different smells at every corner. In other words, I felt right at home! I bought plenty of tea, vanilla, and pretty kangas, and enjoyed attempting to haggle relying primarily on sign language. That short period of time spent at the market that reminded me so much of Cairo’s bustling markets was the highlight of the trip for me. It’s amazing how often we can’t help but gravitate towards what makes us feel home.
Another highlight of the trip was that I got to meet people from all around Africa! I met people from Ghana, Uganda, Kenya, Mozambique, and of course plenty of Tanzanians, in addition to one Indian and two Dutch people. I even got to meet an ex-guerilla fighter from Mozambique! It was truly a confluence of different cultures, which was amazing to experience, and I will never forget one of my all-time favourite conversations I had with an Indian and a Ugandan where somehow we ended up talking about everything from food to politics to philosophy and religion.
Since I did not really get a chance to see the real Tanzania, I definitely plan on visiting the country again, but this time I would like to visit Zanzibar and Arusha which I heard a lot about from both tourists and locals while I was in Dar. I would also really love to see more of “black” Africa. Many of the people I met there asked me if this was my first African country. I would tell them I’m Egyptian? They unanimously gave the same answer “No Egypt doesn’t count, we mean black Africa!” I couldn’t argue, Egyptians rarely perceive themselves as Africans unfortunately.
All in all, it was a great trip, but it’s great to be back home!
I’m not sure why I took a break from the blog. I felt the need for a period of silence, but all I got was more noise.
Hopefully from now on this blog will be updated more or less regularly. And I’ll start by sharing one of my favourite songs from the revolution: Rageen (Returning) by Egyptian underground band Eskenderella