Saturday, January 16, 2010

Leaving Cairo

I've been in Cairo for almost two months and I have less than a week left. A huge part of me is really sad that I'll be leaving Cairo, but part of me is excited to go back to Holland and continue my life there. This trip back has really made me realize that Cairo is my home and how in love with it I am. I really don't think there's another city like it.

I've also realized how nice it is to see Islam in moderation. Yes, many Egyptians have become increasingly conservative and some increasingly fanatic over the past few decades, but there are still many Muslims here who practice Islam in a very beautiful way that seems unique to Egypt.  For them Islam encompasses everything, from the way they act to the way they do business. But they see it as more of an inner journey than an outer one.  The women could be veiled or bare-headed, the men could be regulars at the mosque on Fridays or not, the kids could be more "Islamicized" than "Westernized" or vice versa - what makes these people amazing is that they are kind, compassionate, respectful, happy, and content. They feel God and they know He is always there - and they still enjoy life. They go out, they have fun, they joke and laugh, they listen to music, all without a second thought as to whether they are "good" Muslims or "bad" Muslims.

I find this type of Islam absolutely beautiful. I've seen so many Muslims spend their lives worrying about every little thing they do - is music haraam? should I veil my daughter when she turns 12? can i have a dog? Are people who don't worry about those things less Muslim? Are they less faithful? What is faith in the end?

What about all those generations of Egyptians who practiced Islam in moderation - who did listen to music, who did not veil, who were not segregated from each other - were they wrong? Sheikhs back then were more liberal too - were they wrong? There is no doubt that Islam in Egypt has become much more conservative. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. But with it has come immense pressure to fit in with this type of Islam, and if you don't, you will be judged negatively.

Where are the days when it was disrespectful to call a fellow Muslim a "kaffir" - how do you know what their relationship with God is? Who are you to judge them?

It's interesting to talk to older Egyptians about religion, because many of them are confused about what's happening today.  Some don't understand why a woman who doesn't veil is looked down on; others laugh when they hear that owning a dog is now "haraam". Some are angry when they hear sheikhs condemning Christians and Jews to hell. Many of them are just sad - sad that instead of there being room for a multitude of Islams, there now seems to be room for only one. And who gets to decide?

Egypt has long been influenced by Sufism, which I believe gave it such a unique and beautiful view on Islam, as well as a tolerance for different types of Islam. Insha'Allah the time will come when people realize how amazing tolerance is, and what a gift it is to have space to be yourself and to be secure and confident in your relationship with God.  Because in the end, that's what matters - you and God.


kizzie said...

I really agree with you, older generations are confused about present-day Islam because it is confusing. People are soo concerned with trivialities such as nail polish, owning a dog or even waxing your eyebrows!
This is offensive to me because if we see that this is what Islam is telling us or this is what Islam is all about then it's like we are saying's concerned with more superficial stuff. This is not the case!
Noone knows that heaven is under the footsteps of women or that you have to return borrowed money or else you will be asked about it by God.
Anyways, I do feel like there is a gap between the old generation and my generation. My parents grow up in religious households, but the way they perceive Islam is completely different. Some of my cousins, in their 20's, on the other hand, will point out trivial things such as owning a dog as a testament of someone's faith!

Stacy aka Fahiima said...

Somalis also have a long tradition of Sufism that historically influenced how they practice Islam. Now Ahl-AsSunnah and Al Shabaab shut down their meetings. It seems that as the way they practice Islam changes, they lose a lot of the traditional culture with it. I think that what's going on with the younger generations in Egypt is very similar.

LK said...

That was beautiful. Tolerance is a beautiful thing, I wish more people practiced it.

Anonymous said...

This was really a lovely post to read. You are quite articulate and it was nice to read something that neither attacked, nor defamed one view or the other. You were simply posing an interesting question, well a few rather. Very thoughtful indeed.

Anonymous said...

This is the Egypt I would like to imagine when I think of it...

I think Sufism has had such a positive influence on Muslims and Islamic thought over the years, and I truly enjoy this blending.

I would love to visit someday.

I was watching this show about kids in Afghanistan who go out at night to these underground clubs and dance.. And about Muslims in Malaysia who don't drink but go to clubs with other races and religions and dance and hang out..All of them are just trying to enjoy their youth and be normal teenagers, as anyone else.

I think we forget about the people sometimes when looking at a country from a political point of view..

Thanks for making it real.

Umm Omar said...

What a beautifully written and uplifting post! Thank you!

Stimulus said...

Very good point.

The practice of Islam has indeed changed. I think it's due to the sudden fast flow of information, that everyone became aware of the other sects/fatwas around. And everyone wanted to make sure that their fatwa was the one which stood out, hence you had to take sides.

But I think this will change yet again. Muslims are slowly getting adapted to this information flow, and tackling it with more reasonable means. Differences are being more accepted and tolerated, rather than deemed as "bad".

nadia said...

I second LK.

PS: Please share more pictures of Cairo, Sis :)

Maryanne Stroud Gabbani said...

A wonderful post. Hope you don't mind if I share it on Facebook. Have a great time back in Holland but you can keep a little Cairo sun for those cloudy days. We will be missing you here.

People like you give me hope for the future, not just of Egypt, but of the world.

Anonymous said...

You brought tears to my eyes.
Thank you for such a beautiful post.

anna said...

welcome back to the Netherlands,
It's a pity the snow is now melting away..

Jasmine said...

Its wondeful to hear of relaxed older generations! Lovely, lovely - its like music to the ears!

How funny that its the young ones that are full of anxiety and worry and strictness! ;0)

I am sad for you that you are leaving your homeland, but hey...hey comes the remix right?!

Peace be with you,
jasmine x

Anonymous said...

Stacy, wax aad ogtahid ba iska yar, ahlu sunnah ARE sufiis.

Aneesah said...

Machallah you conveyed some of the same thought I had about Islam Beautifully. Muslims today are so focused on trivial things that I think they forget about the bigger picture. Being a better human, mother, father, brother, friend and most importantly slave of Allah swt. I always tell my husband fix the big things first like your manners, thoughts and tongue then we can worry about the superficial like dress,music etc..

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

I just want to thank everyone for the lovely comments :) They really mean a lot to me!
I just got back to Holland so I haven't had time to reply. Hopefully I'll do a post soon :)

Anonymous said...

A great post. I do think one should point out what I think is the root cause of so much of the turn to triviality and lack of tolerance. Saudi royal petrodollars and their promotion of intolerant 'Islam bila 6awa2if'. That supposedly innocent sounding phrase is just a codeword for an intolerant historically aberrant form of Islam that has poisoned the beautiful mosaic of the Ummah for decades now, from Pakistan to Morocco and beyond. Egypt's brand of Islam was once the admired model of many, and not just Sufism fed it, though that was one very important factor. There was also the acceptance of the multiple schools of law and the inherent tolerance of different views that brought, and behind all that a prior history of Shi'a and Sunni dominance that left everyone a little more willing to look at each other with respect for difference. May the petrodollars be cursed and God's love shine in everyone's hearts instead.

Shahirah Elaiza said...

I'd love to visit Egypt someday and see its culture, society and how Islam is practiced there. I was in Saudi recently and it's very different to how it is practiced in Malaysia. I'd say Egypt would be more similar to Malaysia as we are more liberal here. There's a choice. Hijab or no hijab. Practicing or non practicing. At the end of the day, all Muslims have 'Islam' written as their religion on their identity cards. How and whether people practice it is a different question.

Some may argue that there's only one Islam. I agree that's how it probably should be in an ideal world but the reality is that there are different interpretations of Islam.

Of course it's always interesting to get the some of the older generation's point of views. Sometimes they can be more moderate and understanding than the younger generation. Perhaps years of experience and wisdom have made them more tolerant and stringent?

Great post! Keep it up =)

Shahirah Elaiza said...

I meant to say less stringent, d'oh! =)

Don Cox said...

"At the end of the day, all Muslims have 'Islam' written as their religion on their identity cards. "

That is very sad. In a free country, people do not have identity cards, and their religion is of no interest to the government.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Shairah Elaiza: thanks for your comment :) I think Islam in Egypt was much more liberal orthodox Islam has really become the norm and people who do not comply with it feel a lot of pressure.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Don Cox: welcome to the blog :)
Unfortunately, the British were the ones who introduced writing one's religion on their ID card.

Also, there are very few governments in the world who do not care what religion their citizens are.

Heart2Heart said...

Again, I applaud your writing in your posts because I only know what I've read and sometimes even that gets tainted. Your view point is beautiful and inspiring.

Thank you for sharing this with all of us. I've become a follower of yours today as well!

Please make sure to stop by my blog today to enter a great giveaway.

Love and Hugs ~ Kat