Tag Archives: islam

Ready, Set, Feast!

Post-iftar….destruction in the wake of the swarm

I have eaten every day of Ramadan. Everyday, I wake and eat breakfast, wait a little while, then eat dinner, wait a little while more, and then eat my spoonful of peanut butter about 2 hours before bedtime. This differs from how fasting Muslims eat during Ramadan in a number of ways, mostly the part involving eating during the day and probably the peanut butter as well.

From the time of the call to prayer around 3:30 am to the sunset call to prayer around 6:45 pm, fasting Muslims are not to eat any food or drink any water. Though one is ravenous, eating is prohibited even slightly before hearing the sunset call to prayer. Feel free to twirl your fingers in a bowl of spaghetti or dunk your head in a puddle, but none of those substances may enter your body and begin journeying through the digestive tract.

Though I have eaten out in restaurants frequently during Ramadan, honoring my pledge to cook for myself no more than 3 times a month, I have only eaten twice in a restaurant right at the time of iftar, the break fast, the moment everyone has been waiting for with grumbling tummies and cottonmouth .

Tonight was one of those times twain: we arrive to the restaurant a little late, at about 6:30, and it is completely filled with patrons who are neither eating nor drinking. A buzz fills the air as people converse hungrily with one another, the waiters flit around setting food on tables, and others customers stare off into space, tiny drumsticks floating above their heads.

The hour continues to approach; the buzz reaches its height. Many tables are completely filled with delicious treats like hot bread the size of a large pizza and steaming bowls of meat and spices…oh joy! I stare at the food on everyone’s table as they gaze into space, trying to forget about their hunger during these last painful minutes.  The victuals themselves begin to speak in honeyed tongues, tempting the hungry souls:

“I’m a refreshing bottle of cool water….drink me! It’s almost time anyways, what does God care if one of his thirsty and deserving servants takes just one sip before the call to prayer? You know Auntie Fatima is going to elbow you out of the way as soon as she hears it just like she did last night…she’s always the first one to drink and no one says anything because her husband died ten years ago. As if you could blame him for wanting to escape her. Cowards! Drink me! Drink me!”

“I’m a tasty piece of roast meat….look at the color of my skin. Just look at how golden and crinkly it is! Look at it! How tender I am underneath a swift crunch! I just popped out of the oven. Can you detect the meaty scent wafting off the sides of me? I’m getting colder by the second! Auntie Fatima’s fleshy paw is going to grab me before you’ll ever sink your teeth into me. Eat me! Eat me now!”

And just when the temptation seems unbearable and even death would be preferable to this never ending hell, a waiter turns the television up. Could it be?? Yes! It is! It’s the call to prayer ( played 5 times a day on many television stations. I’m not sure which ones). Someone begins drinking water, the rest soon following in a joyous free for all in which no one is blamed for chewing too loudly, putting another mouthful of food in before finishing the last one, or knocking their little sister over while reaching for the juice. Images that come to mind when viewing the scene: my family around a plate of hot cookies, the game hungry hungry hippos, and swarms of any kind, barring swarms of koala bears or sloths.

I find myself eating with extra vigor despite the fact I was not fasting. In fact, I had just eaten my 6 o’clock snack to make sure I wasn’t insane with hunger when we got to the restaurant, in effect avoiding anything resembling a fast. I guess we all celebrate Ramadan differently.

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Mumble mumble…come pray…mumble

One of the 5 pillars of Islam is salat, or the  prayer that occurs five times daily: pre-sunrise, noon, afternoon, sunset, and post-sunset but before midnight. The specific times for prayer are calculated according to the position of the sun, but if you’re in a Muslim country like Egypt and unsure about what time to prayer, there is no need to worry. You will most likely be able to hear the call to prayer from wherever you happen to be, even within the walls of the hedonistic American University of Cairo.

The adhan, or call to prayer, follows a specific format, though it might vary slightly from place to place and between Shi’i and Sunni Muslims. Here’s Cat Stevens reciting the call to prayer, with English translation.

Obviously, this is a beautiful rendition and it would be a pleasure to hear this at any time of day, every syllable tickling the ear and reminding one of God’s greatness. However, not every muezzin (guy who performs the call to prayer) performs the call to prayer with such artistry. The quality varies greatly according to the place, time, and audience. For example, the prayer at a famous university at noon on Friday will probably be more impressive than the pre-dawn prayer in a one mosque town. Those not blessed with silver voices such as Cat Stevens make due with shouting or mumbling their five times daily call to prayer, oftentimes combining the two in a mumble-shout.

I have noticed that the muezzin close to our apartment has varying quality in the level of artistry with which he announces the prayer. During the day, his voice rings out loud and proud, wavering skillfully in the traditional mournful tone of recitation. At night, however, his calls are not as enthusiastic. I wouldn’t say they manifest a complete lack of effort, but that description is not far off.

I imagine him hearing his alarm clock right around 3:30 am, and thinking, “Dangit….not this again. Every day, every bloomin day.” And then he begins, no longer the happy camper he was earlier. His encouragement to prayer becomes a series of rapid mumbles followed by slower mumbles and a few allahu akbars thrown in there for good measure. Though he says prayer is better than sleep, to me it is more than apparent that he would rather be in bed and is trying to get this whole “prayer announcement” thing over with as soon as possible. He might even be aggravated that people aren’t pious enough to get up by themselves without him having to shout them out in his gravely but charming pre-dawn voice.

I suppose it is the thought that counts, and indeed it is said that unless the intention to pray is made before the actual prayer, the prayer itself is invalid. Thus, it is better a lackluster call to prayer than no call to prayer at all. We’re all a little bit farther from the flames of hell fire.

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