Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Sunday, September 28, 2008
Everyone has a good side… some of us have been in touch with it, others have not.
Everyone has a dark side…some of us have been in touch with it, others have not.
There is nothing purely good or purely evil
The good is so because it conquered the evil
The evil is so became it prevailed over the good
What makes one side prevail over the other? Is it circumstance? environment? personality? faith or lack of it? upbringing?
Whatever it is, next time you think of judging someone, just remember that both the good and evil have a place inside all of us.
The Yemeni government had a genius idea of dealing with Yemen’s poverty, high illiteracy rates, starvation, lack of water and health care. Building a very expensive and lavish “Jami’I al-Salih”, or Salih mosque. What a great idea, they must have had some very smart advisers. Now when people demand and seek their rights, the government can just remind them that they built an amazing mosque for them, where they can go and ask God to help in solving their problems.
There is nothing “Saleh” about this mosque. The grandeur of the mosque represents the corruption so apparent in everyday life. It makes me sick.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
I was fortunate to attend a night of poetry and recitation of al-seerah alhilaliyah by Sayyid al-Dawy, which was declared one of Mankind's Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2003.
For the last two weeks of Ramadan al-Dawy will narrate the story of Abu Zaid al-Hilaly in a well-known Arabic epic that recounts Bani Hilal's journey from the Arabian peninsula, to Egypt, then to Tunisia, through poetry, dhikr, and music. The night starts off with anasheed of remembering God and the Prophet, and then the story begins. Throughout the story music is played. In order to hear the entire story you must attend every night.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Ramadan traditions are alive in Cairo. The city is decorated with colorful lights. The Musaharatee (the man who wakes up people for suhoor) comes daily. Fawanees (lanterns) decorate the balconies of most homes. (I bought a mini one too). The taxi driver is grouchy in the morning and right before iftar time. The traffic is doubled an hour before iftar, and the roads are so clear between 6:00 and 7:00 p.m.
Minutes before the athan, Egyptian families wait in silence at the dinner table. Some have ifar with families, some at work, and some at Ma'idat al-Rahman or charity tables. Ma'idat al-Rahman are seen everywhere during the holy month and they are sponsored by a variety of people, including well-known celebrites. Anyone is welcome to sit and grab something to eat. If you happen to be in an area or a neighborhood where you do not know anyone and you do not have time to get back home, grab a seat at ma'idat al-Rahman.
After iftar many people stay up to enjoy what the city has to offer. Some people spend the night in worship, others do a combination of worship and attending entertainment festivities, and others party the night with shisha and coffee.
The range of Ramadan activities varies. You can attend any of the following: poetry recitals, story telling, folklore music, sufi anasheed, Egyptian jazz, rock group, Palestinian oud players, popular Tanbourah group, etc etc. The great thing about this is that many of these events are free and open to the public, or they require a minimum and symbolic charge. For those not interested in entertainment, they sit and relax in the Ramadan tents, or coffee houses that are scattered around the country. (a latest survey said there are about 80,000 coffee houses).
Cairo is by far the wildest city to celebrate Ramadan, but not everyone is happy about the "commercialization" of this holy month. Many fear that the spirituality and the real essence of ramadan is lost. People here welcome ramadan but not as a month of self reflection and worship, but as a month of socialization, great food, and entertainment. Sounds very similar to the commercialization of Christmas that happened in the West.
I have heard numerous stories about failed relationships in Yemen. The cause: class divide. I was surprised to hear that to this day, many families still object if a non-Hashemite person proposes to their Hashemite daughter!
Some Hashemites think they only “deserve” to marry Hashemites. This feeling of elitism contradicts the egalitarian nature of Islam. What surprised me even more is that it s not only the older generation that still thinks this way, some youth also fiercely hold on to this mode of thinking. How can someone who claims to believe in Islam’s teaching of equality judge others based on their class! People try to justify it and say that this is part of our culture and we should respect it. But when someone is utterly racist, classist, and ridiculous we should not accept it simply because it is part of our culture! Instead we must stand strong against it. This class divide must stop. Learn to judge people for who they are, not for what class their family belongs to!
** Hashemi refers to those descendants from Bani Hashem and claim to being a direct descendant of the prophet Muhammad.
September 20th marks my first month anniversary in this lovely city. It is as I imagined, a city full of culture, life, and humanity.
To give you a picture of what happened in the last three days: first my wallet was stolen, then a bulldozer hit the car (we’re ok alhamdulilah), the next morning the water heater tank broke (all in two/three days)!
Yes it is a crazy place. It is so crowded, loud, full of life, chaotic, and I love every bit of it. Yes it’s loud, but it’s real, and human. The cab driver very naturally asks for water from the passing taxi, the woman on the street offers me tea while I’m walking, and the woman on the bus complains to me about her rent. There are no walls between people.
In my first month, my emotions are heightened, and I am on a Cairo high.
You can now receive many types of SMS messages directly to your phone in Egypt including:
- - Updates on police torture by SMS through ta3zeeb…a web channel dedicated to reporting and informing citizens of torture cases nation wide.
- - Need an alarm clock for morning (fajr) prayer? You can now get an SMS message every morning to wake you up, if an SMS is not enough you can also get a daily phone call through Fajr Caller
On July 20th at 1:30 p.m., I arrived at the “Hariri International Airport.” I was very excited to finally visit Beirut, a small but strategic Middle Eastern city that I imagined to be vibrant, full of life, and bursting with young energetic activists engaged in politics.
Beirut’s narrow roads, historic buildings with intricate architectural details tell stories of bitter memories and a dark past. The waves of the sea and the mountains remind us of the resilience of the Lebanese. In half an hour you can go from tanning on the beach, to enjoying the cool breeze on the top of the mountain. But very quickly you lose focus of the natural beauty as you are sidetracked by the massive amounts of silicon, make-up, expensive cars, and brand names. I visited Miami about a year ago, and this city has more silicone than Miami, Vegas, and LA combined. Ok fine, that is an exaggeration, but you get my point.
I respect the Lebanese for loving life and enjoying every moment of it, but enjoying life should not be equated with living a fake life, a life you can’t afford, and more importantly, a life dedicated to pretentiousness. Beirut reminds me of Hollywood with its materialism, obsession with weight, and plastic surgery.
Of course not all of Beirut is that way. Beirut varies significantly from place to place. What you see in Beirut depends on where you are and who you are with. It almost feels like a city of split personality. There is a clear dichotomy between various parts of the city. Old historic war wreckage buildings stand proud next to a large Haifa Wahbe billboard. Downtown is a reminder of wealth and power mixed with desire for western imitation. Life in the refugee camp is barely life, it is about sorrow and displacement and horrifying memories; and al-dahiya or Southern Beirut is the essence of struggle for freedom.
I searched and searched for the Beirut I imagined, the Beirut of culture, politics, and elegance. But I found a Beirut that has been branded and sold by the corporate world. A Beirut with a lost Arab soul with blind Western immitation.
When I was living in Washington, I was not surprised when people did not know Yemen. But when traveling in the Arab world I EXPECT that my fellow Arab citizens know a little about Yemen.
This is friendly advise for my fellow Arabs. When meeting a Yemeni person please do not do ask them any of the following (and yes I was asked these questions!):
- - Do not ask them if they speak Arabic in Yemen! (it is the ONLY language we speak.)
- - Do not be surprised and then say, “nooo you can’t be Yemeni, because the Yemenis I have seen are not good looking”. (That is NOT a compliment!)
- - Do not confuse Yemenis with khaleejis (people from the Gulf). Yemen is not part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
- - Do not ask the person if they can supply you with “qat”.