Egypt Today spoke with people across the country to learn about their favorite traditions.
By Farah El-Akkad
Ramadan in Cairo has a magical atmosphere, with the murmur of late-night prayers, strings of colorful lights decorating houses and mosques, children carrying exquisite candle-lit fawanees and, of course, trays upon trays of yummy Oriental sweets. But the spirit of the Holy Month extends to all corners of the nation, with each region celebrating in its own unique way.
Many Siwan people look upon the Holy Month as a time of spiritual healing, not merely a religious event; they refrain from musical or dancing rituals and focus on prayer and reciting Qur’an. The women prepare for Ramadan by cleaning the yards around houses and hanging bowls of dates outside their homes to welcome guests. A long time ago, a man would climb the highest mountain in the oasis to search for the crescent moon and announce the beginning of the month by beating a distinct rhythm. Nowadays, families announce the start of Ramadan by shooting bullets in the air. Siwa was the first area to see the mesaharati walk through the streets calling people to wake up and eat suhour before dawn. “Children, who fast for the first time, are cherished and honored around the oasis; and at the end of the holy month, the children gather for a big celebration to prepare for Eid Al-fitr; lighting Lanterns and giving away home-made sweets for their neighbors and friends.” adds Othman Hameed, a Siwan resident.
Sinai shares similar Ramadan customs with many of desert cities. Known for generosity and hospitality, the people of Sinai are always delighted to welcome guests at their Ramadan table. Sohail Amin, a resident of Al-Arish, says throughout the holy month, food is served and left for hours after iftar “just in case a hungry stranger passes by.”
Date traders and fanous makers gather in large vans to celebrate the start of the holy month by chanting religious songs and
distributing sweets around the city. Luxor native Soha Hamdy recalls that when she was growing up, “Children used to decorate the streets with carton-made mosques and colorful lanterns. Ramadan nights were spent in the streets, and me and my friends used to knock on different houses and show them the mosques we made.” The Ramadan table here is never out of bettaw, the Upper Egyptian cornbread eaten with dates. The city also prides itself for making the best home-made kunafa in the country.
Ahmed El-Addawy, a proud Nubian from Abu Hor near Aswan explains that during Ramadan, all Nubian people gather to in the city’s main square for a banquet cooked by the women. “That’s the way it is during the whole month.” Nile fish recipes are the centerpiece of the table as is Nubia’s special bread cabed, which is eaten with madeed, made with flour, milk and bean sprouts. Refreshments include the Sudanese drink helw-mor (bittersweet), flavored with spices and honey, and abareya, made with bread pieces and lemon juice. Nubians do not decorate the streets with lanterns, instead they paint Qur’anic verses and religious drawings on the walls of houses. As the Holy Month draws to a close, Nubian women prepare to celebrate by decorating their feet with henna. And the best way to wish a Nubian Happy Ramadan? In the traditional Nubian dialect, El-Addawy says, “Ay mesi kaber!”