Oct. 30, 2007 – American University – 7pm
Egypt Travel Blog› entry 15 of 27 › view all entries
Today I am scheduled to go to the Sultan Hassan mosque (reputed to be one of the most beautiful in Cairo), as well as a Christian church. The mosque lived up to its billing: exquisite! It boasts an expansive white marble entrance that is cleaned hourly and was the only place I found in Cairo that was so spotless I felt I could eat off the ground. It was also a reprieve from the chaotic hustle and bustle of the city streets.
Before you enter any mosque you must take off your shoes at the entrance, and if you are female you must wear a headscarf and have your shoulders, arms, and legs covered. Then you arrive at two large rooms – one for women and one for men. I first stepped into the men’s side and saw a vast empty room covered with a maroon carpet. This had small prayer rug images designed into it so that each individual could pray while conserving as much space as possible when the mosque is crowded. But only a few men were in this room reading the Koran, napping, studying or talking quietly with friends. It seemed to me to be a place of refuge for the poor and homeless, as well as a magnet to the pious. I was told that some of these people are here everyday, all day, praying. They are either retired or unemployed.
On the women’s side, I witnessed the same scene, except for two women who were alone and weeping, and a social circle of about twenty that included lots of little kids running around playing while waiting for their mothers. Some of the kids saw me and my camera and got excited. They asked me to take their pictures so they could see themselves. They were astonished at their images and asked me to take more photos of them and then of their entire families until I finally had to say, sorry, I have to go. I gave them some chocolate and left behind lots of smiling little children and mothers.
My friends introduced me to a few of their friends after prayers. It turns out one of my new friends is part of a prayer circle. I asked him to pray for my family and friends and I wrote the names of a few people I felt really needed Allah’s help right now. After talking with his friends and handing them the names of my selected friends and family he told me their names had been added to the “prayer circle” where all Muslim’s prayers supposedly go towards helping those who are in need. They knew my friends and family and I are not Muslims but they said it doesn’t matter. Muslims care for everybody and love everybody.
Next stop was a beautiful Christian church. We took a moment there to say a prayer.
I feel good knowing that thousands of people are now praying five times a day for a few family members and friends of mine who are in need of a miracle.
Today I interviewed my Arabic teacher and the other female teachers at my school. It was fun learning about Cairene culture through them. They are all very sweet and enjoyed sharing their points of view and being given a voice for a much wider than ordinary audience. It was the first interview for all four of them, and I believe they felt good that someone cared about their opinions. This is what I learned from the female teachers:
- They are not embarrassed about their bodies but they are embarrassed talking about their bodies.
- They are ashamed of taking about sex, but when they are married the women feel free because the Koran says sex is a positive thing if married. However, they aren’t comfortable doing things in the bedroom that are out of the norm from making babies, if you know what I mean …
- None of them would even have a coffee with a man unless they were still a students in school and it was on campus, with a friend. But as an adult (all four of these women are between the ages of 23 and 36), they cannot meet with a man even for a coffee because people would talk and it would ruin their chances for marriage.
- Marriage is very difficult now because of the economy. The women want a man who can support them and a man wants money to support his wife. So, men have to work hard in their twenties and marry well into their thirties so they can save enough money for the wedding and married life afterwards.
- There are twice as many women as men at the marrying age, so it is much more difficult for a women to get married than a man.
- Some women (two of teachers and others I interviewed) feel that they are more beautiful wearing a hegeb (headscarf). The hegeb makes them feel more feminine.
- Underneath their hegebs and arrabiya (similar to a long fancy cotton nightgown) they wear nice clothes and jewelry (if they have money) to share only with their husbands, immediate family and female friends.
- They don’t feel lack of freedom here because they agree with and like the rules for women here. They say that even if they were to move to America alone and could do whatever they wanted, they would choose to live within the same boundaries– wearing the hegeb, not dating, not having male friends and being home before dark.
- Islamic women in general don’t get plastic surgery because Allah gave them the body and face he wanted them to have. But some rich and not-so-religious women do have such surgery.
- Religion is used as a force for violence but it should really be a force for peace.
- Israel is the tail of the U.S. (one woman’s opinion)
- The U.S. is the tail of Israel. (another woman’s opinion)