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In the spirit of Ramadan
Published in Daily News Egypt on 22 - 09 - 2006

ALEXANDRIA: Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar is a month Muslims await from year to year. In keeping with Islamic traditions, Egypt witnesses an increase in good deeds throughout the day and full mosques during the night. People all over Egypt anticipate the arrival of the month of Ramadan.
Many people embrace the spiritual side of Ramadan by looking into the way the Prophet Mohamed and his companions used to live their lives during this holy month. As the month of Shaaban (the eighth month in the Islamic calendar) came to an end, the Prophet Mohamed used to give a sermon relating the blessings of Ramadan and telling people which deeds they should engage in during Ramadan.
Although these days, daily life comes to somewhat of a standstill in Ramadan, and some people even seem to use their fast as an excuse to be rude and mean; in the early days of Islam life continued at its normal pace during Ramadan. People used to try to be better people and more peaceful as they tried to achieve the main goal of their fast: piety. Business, social and political life continued. They lived their daily life as they usually would, except that they were fasting. The prophet called for the people to eat suhoor (meal taken before daybreak when fasting begins) as close to the morning prayer as possible so that they would have the energy to live their lives normally.
The messaharati roams through the streets before dawn, banging his small drum and calling a reminder to people that it s time for suhoor. The tradition started in Baghdad in the 8th century and then spread to most Islamic countries. They can still be heard in some areas of the city and in villages. Ramadan is a month when people are meant to empathize with the strife of the less fortunate. People all around Egypt cook extra food for the needy throughout the day. A common sight during Ramadan is that of two people driving through the streets before sunset prayer, the car packed with meals in bags or boxes to be handed out food to any poor person they see on the street. There are also maedat al-rahman (charity kitchens) spread out on sidewalks everywhere around the country for people in the street who need a place to break their fast.
Egyptians wait for Ramadan to have family reunions and invite people over for iftar (when the fast is broken). It has always been customary for people to break their fast together, however historically food was never made in excess to the point that it was thrown out. In his sermon before Ramadan the prophet urged people to see more of their family members and feed fasting people.
A very distinct feature of Ramadan is the night prayer offered in congregation in the mosques after the isha (evening) prayer. Mosques all over Egypt fill up with people as they join together to pray. People choose the best voice to follow in prayer as they aim to listen to the whole Qur'an being read in the prayers throughout the month. The Prophet Mohamed prayed this prayer in congregation three days and then stopped in fear of people thinking it was obligatory. However, after the prophet s death the second caliph, Omar Ibn Al-Khattab gathered the people to revive the prophet s tradition and since then mosques have gathered people year after year.
Egyptian streets light up with displays of colorful fawanees (lanterns, singular: fanous) leading up to Ramadan. Dating back to the Fatamid period when lanterns were used to light the procession which went to search the skies for the crescent, marking the beginning and end of the lunar month. In the 15th century, the governor of Cairo ordered everybody to put a lantern in front of their house. No longer obligatory, it s a tradition that lasts today to mark the month s festive spirit.
Prophet Mohamed taught his people that one of the most important things is to take Ramadan as a starting point for people to do good deeds throughout their normal daily lives.

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