Last night was the first night of Ramadan, which is a month-long Islamic holiday that includes abstaining from food, drink, cigarettes, and sex during daylight hours. It runs 28 days, until the new moon appears. Traditionally, Ramadan marks the revelation of the holy Quran to the prophet Mohammed, and is a period in which Muslims throughout the world recommit themselves to their faith. By forgoing certain indulgences, people are better able to spend the daytime focusing on religious study, repentance, and charity. The month ends with the Eid, three days of festivities and feasts, marking a grand end to the fast.
The fasting runs from approximately 6am to 7pm here, with iftar, or the breaking of the daily fast, occurring immediately after sunset. During daylight, the city slows down tremendously in ways I have only begun to see. Most businesses close in the middle of the afternoon (around 2pm) so that people can shop, prepare food, and return home to their families in time for iftar. Some reopen in the evening after 8pm. The university schedule is adjusted so that classes are shortened. The start time for most classes is moved up so people can finish their days by early- to mid-afternoon. Classes that are regularly scheduled for late afternoon or early evening are moved to start after 8pm. As a result, I have several colleagues who will be teaching until after 11pm.
The iftar eating often continues well into the night. And people wake up early to have another meal before sunrise. It ends up being a huge party, and I am told that Cairo is one of the most festive places in the world to celebrate. The city is beautifully decorated with colorful lanterns and iftar tents. I was also told that many Cairenes actually gain weight during the month, which is as much a comment on the Egyptian diet for the other eleven months of the year as it is on Ramadan partying. Jenna and I were invited to iftar this evening at the home of some friends.
All commercial establishments have gotten in on it. Even the Chilli’s in Maadi has a sign in the window advertising, “Nobody does iftar like Chilli’s.”