In Egypt, Eid celebrations mark the start of national week-long vacations. Most work grinds to a halt, many stores are shuttered, streets have far less traffic, and fireworks sporadically light up the night skies. More weddings are scheduled for the festive time of eid than any other time of the year, as well.
Every year during Eid al Adha in Egypt and all over the world, Muslims practice “Qurbani.” This is the ritual sacrifice of animals, in commemoration of Prophet Abraham’s willingness to obey God’s command. To non-muslims, it may seem strange to learn that this ritual is a rich and beautiful expression of God’s mercy. Can the ritual sacrifice of animals in the streets generate an environment of peace? Yet, this is exactly the case during the Muslim Eid al Adha. Whole communities become visibly enveloped in a unified outpouring of celebration and generosity.
In Egypt, and the Islamic world in general, water has a special importance due to the need to ritually cleanse with water prior to prayer. Praying five times a day makes the presence of water more than just a convenience, it becomes a necessity to ensure a steady, clean supply for the community. Before indoor plumbing became more common around the world, water was drawn from cisterns, wells and fountains. It was during the Ottoman Empire that drinking water fountains in Egypt became commonly installed for the public, usually as a charity offered by the wealthier citizens of the community. These public water fountains often formed the hub around which sprang up mosques, schools, libraries and hospitals. Continue reading →
In Egypt, “Women are 50% of the community.” This is a famous Arabic saying here, and its popularity is a strong proof of the respect paid to women in this country. In general, Egyptians are a conservative people with strong emphasis on marriage and family. Mothers are heavily relied upon to shoulder the burdens of childbearing and rearing, while fathers are typically the economic providers. Commercialized day care is not an option for most families, being a luxury available in only select locations of a very few major cities. Under these circumstances, it is surprising to learn that approximately one fourth of the paid workforce in Egypt is female. Let’s take a closer look at female employment in Egyptian communities.
Hospitality is every Egyptian’s middle name. I swear I’ve been lifted to an unbelievable level of good manners here, and I’m enjoying it much more, now that I’m getting used to it. Our first year back, we lived in our city apartment. All of my husband’s huge social circle beat a path to our door, welcoming him home and greeting his new foreign wife. I cringed whenever the doorbell rang, but now it’s getting easier, as I’m learning the rules guiding everyone’s behavior. For example, Islam encourages nicer replies to any greetings received, and often this inspires beautiful rounds of compliments and blessings. It’s lovely, but so much sugar is rich for my etiquette-challenged blood. There are huge numbers of correct responses to correct greetings. Also, speaking to different classes of people requires an unending variety of appropriate titles to address your guests, particularly in gatherings with people whose names are found (or needed) in your contact list!
In Egypt, “Who you know,” not “what you know,” is paramount. People move the system, not technology. Social protocol and etiquette opens Egyptian doors, just by minding your manners, never forgetting yourself, and never crossing your boss. The “Good Old Boy Network” is a well-connected web, where successful social climbers are celebrated like heroes. If you forget this, you’ll soon be driving a tuk tuk, or it’s back to Grandpa’s village and the potato field for you! Continue reading →
Egypt is a cash based society. Credit cards are for foreign tourists and the privileged few. Take three steps off the tourist circuit in any direction and you’ll find yourself in a completely different culture. If you get lost, hurt, or hungry, you better be carrying cash. The vast majority of Egyptians have never seen a credit card in their life, and probably half the population will live all their life without ever entering a bank. Cash is King in Egypt. Continue reading →
What is Egyptian Culture? Where can we learn about it? Not on the Egyptian television. Western culture is admired and imitated in the Egyptian media, but not in the typical Egyptian home. The Egyptian TV sitcoms, serials, and movies are full of very western-styled actors and actresses portraying lives only slightly more conservative than in the West. In the United States, for example, if a foreigner wants to understand American culture, it is reasonable to study American media, because, generally speaking, it portrays American lifestyles accurately. But in Egypt, this strategy will fail completely. Perhaps only 5% of the population actually lives like what is typically portrayed on the TV. It is some kind of enjoyable National Fantasy, but definitely not a reflection of what’s really going on under the typical roof with the satellite dish. I live here! It totally doesn’t look like that! This “cultural spin” is quite shocking, so I have spent some time researching Egyptian culture, as I see it all around me here. This is the first essay in a series on the “nuts” and “bolts” of Egyptian Culture. In this essay, I am dealing primarily with the influence on daily life by Islam in general, and delving into the primary component of this influence, “Sharia Law.” Continue reading →