Our first Jummuah in Egypt, but the last Jummuah for Ramadan 1432. This is always an emotional day as one reflects on ones productivity in Ramadan and wonders whether they would get around to see another one.
This morning reports reach us of plans for a ‘Million Man March’ in Cairo outside the Israeli embassy. But on the streets of Giza after Fajr, it is still unusually quiet. Friday is a public holiday all across the Arab world and it is clearly visible here today. But today is no ordinary Friday, it is the Jummuah preceding the 27 Ramadan, which many consider to have great potential to be Laylatul Qadr.
The group collectively resolves to perform Salaatul Jummuah at the al Azhar Masjid for taste of history and the Egyptian spirit. Before we leave, Sheikh Abdul Gamiet Gabier educates us on the history of the Masjid and university. It is a journey of wonder and rediscovery for the experienced Sheikh and he wants to share his rich experiences with us. The al Azhar University, he informs us, teaches all 4 Mathaahib, but adopts a position of moderation. “Moderation NOT modernation,” he repeats. Sheikh Ibrahim Gabriels stresses to us the importance of appreciating Egypt’s rich Islamic heritage whilst we are here: “If we appreciate what Muslim Civilisation has to offer, we won’t find ourselves knocking on other doors.”
The road to Cairo reveals new realities. The local filling station is called LibyaOil. With the NATO invasion of that country, I wonder if the pumps here haven’t dried up yet.
In addition to the great spectacle of the Nile, there are also other man made rivers that run through Egypt. These are cesspools of sewage and untreated water infested with bacteria and possibly waterborne diseases, that flows disturbingly close to residential areas. Exteriors of buildings are largely unimpressive and sometimes even seem undone. But this is a protective measure against deadly sandstorms which sometimes erupt in Cairo and which would render any decoration redundant.
You would swear some scenes in Egypt come straight out of rural India. Which reminds me, I can hardly recall ever seeing an Indian, Pakistani or Bengali in Egypt. All I come across is what appears to be a lame imitation of a Pakistani restaurant.
The Jummuah experience at Azhar, as expected, is unique. Well before Jummuah, a professional Qari takes to his chair and recites as only Egyptians can very well do. Today there is a special emphasis in his recital on Laylatul Qadr. Against my expectations, the crowd are not too loud in praising the Qari or his recitals. Rather there is a much more muted form of meditation on the words of Allah that stem from the heart. Perhaps it should be instructive to Muslims in South Africa, where of late it has become in vogue to praise visiting Qari’s very loudly and shout all forms of congratulatory slogans, all with little or no emphasis on what is been recited.
After Salaatul Jummuah, a fellow convoy member, Moulana Salmaan excitedly informs me that the protests are starting. This was totally unexpected, but right in the heart of this historic mosque, a mini rally began to mobilise Musallees for the a so-called ‘Million Man March’ at the Israeli embassy. It is quite a colourful affair and the statements are quite vociferous. The multitudes of people assembled there want the Israeli embassy closed, the Israeli ambassador out and an end to the treaty with Israel. They also have strong words for the United States and there is even a man carrying a placard calling for the release of the blond Egyptian Sheikh Omar Abdur Rahmaan who is incarcerated in the USA.
These scenes are unimaginable, even for me, who often doubted the true nature of change in Egypt. Progress is rapid here and fear is a thing of the past. Another activist tells me that if any such action was planned in Egypt prior to the revolution, the furthest they would go is the door of the mosque.
Much to my contentment, I even manage to secure a brief interview with one of the organisers. Being in Egypt, the pool of English speakers is much larger than other Arab States.
The experience is overwhelming, but the day is still young. In preparation for our entry into Gaza, the particpants are divided into a number of teams from youth and womens groups to media, logistics and administration. The purpose of our coming is reaffirmed and everyone realises their important role in the functioning of the Convoy. Moulana Igsaan also shares some less official tips with us, on how not to offend your hosts in Gaza and how to take a bath with salt water. He shares all of this with us, nogal in Afrikaans!
A few kind souls in the group arrange an amazing Iftaar for all of us. It is also a welcome break form the Samoosas, Pies and Dalchies were accustomed to back home. An all natural affair, the tablecloth is spread out with fresh dates, fruit juice, watermelon, apple slices and figs. I waste no time with the figs. This is one delicacy that is seriously in short supply in South Africa.
The hype had been building up for days and finally the moment had arrived. Masjid Amr ibnul Aas, the first mosque on the African continent was awaiting us for its legendary 27 Ramadan programme. People all over Egypt eagerly look forward to attending proceedings and as such it was even a much greater honour for us. Local Egyptians inform us that estimates of the crowd tonight alone range from 300 000 to 1 million. All roads leading to the mosque are closed kilometers away and access is tighly controlled. A carnival atmosphere envelops the streets around the mosque. Buildings are colourfully lit and decorations hang from street poles. Musallas are laid out for hundreds of metres surrounding the Mosque. Business is brisk among street vendors and to meet any contingencies even ambulances, blood transfusion services and fire brigades are present.
The real vibe though is in the Masjid itself. It is frustrating and challenging to navigate through the incredible human traffic surrounding and inside the mosque. But after trying hard I manage to squeeze in somewhere in the courtyard. It is hot and humid. In these few minutes before Esha, people are eating, some are in I’tikaaf, others read newspapers that have been dished out. A great majority of those present are youth and this is highly uplifting. Lots of water is consumed and distributed. There is also the interesting man who walks around with what certainly is a fumigation tank, and sprays people with water to cool down. Announcements go out on the PA system, mics are tested and its all systems go for the biggest night on the Egyptian calendar.
There is much noise and movement, but as soon as Sheikh Mohammed Jibril starts his Salaah, there is pin drop silence. His voice is authoratative and melodious. Every word is pronounced very clearly and he repeats Ayat often for emphasis.
Although tonight is often referred to as the night of Khatmul Quraan, it does not happen in the conventional sense. In Taraweeh he reads form the 8th Juz and 3 quarters of the 29th Juz. What really tested me was standing for so long. Very often the back was breaking and the legs threatened to cave in. But I persisted in eager anticipation of the reward. The young Egyptians surrounding me who stand resolutely not flinching or juggling during the long Rakaats are a constant inspiration. They seem to be very deeply connected with the words of Allah.
After every 4 Rakaats an educational presentation is made by senior Ulema. When I hear at approximately 11pm, the advice been given is regarding Duaa, I know its just a matter of time before Sheikh Jibril will make his famous Dua Khatmul Quraan. And sure enough, in the next Rakaat it comes. As the first words emerge from his mouth, a lock is opened on my heart. He praises Allah extensively, quoting often from Surah ar Rahmaan. But what is unique is that he is not praising Allah in isolation. The entire congregation does so along with him with their fervent chants of Ya Allah that go louder and louder and reach a crescendo as the Imams voice breaks. After a while the Duas become more specific. There are Duas for spiritual growth and rebirth, emancipation from Jahannum, requests that Ramadan and the Quran be a witness for us and not against us, and so on. The Duas become even more sentimental, when Sheikh Jibril who also performed Jummuah Salaah at Tahrir Square during the revolution, prays for Egypt. He prays for the safety and protection of this powerful nation, its success, the enlivening of Islam within its borders and disgrace for those who bode it well. He prays for the protection of its Ulema and Quraa. He prays for the emergence of a just ruler. He focuses on the Muslim world-a free Palestine, cleansing of Masjidul Aqsa, easing of conditions for Muslims in Iraq, Syria and Libya and a lifting of the drought on Somalia. He beseeches Allah for the youth, women and for spouses who would be the coolness of the eyes. And more. It is a truly comprehensive Dua and all the while tears flow profusely. By the Grace of Allah, there would be many Souls entering Paradise and many attaining salvation due to this Dua.
Salaah concludes and we have to sadly leave. Proceedings at the mosque though are yet to finish. Sheikh Mohammed Hassan, another great scholar is due to lead the Tahajjud Salaah.
The outflow seems more daunting then the inflow. I am just pushed along by the crowd. Everyone is happy. Special foods are being sold. I notice a vendor even setting roasted sweet potatoes. The atmosphere is one that can only be matched by the Haj itself.
With a tired body we head off to a local cafe and quench our physical thirst. Hopefully, our spiritual thirst has just been quenched too.
What a great boon it is to live in a society which pulsates with Islam. With little effort on ones own part, you still experience such spiritual satisfaction. That is why I believe we need to strive even harder to reproduce a similar atmosphere in other societies where it such a conciousness is yet to take root.
Praise be to Allah for opening such Doors. May He Reward the great scholars such as Mohammed Jibril for their inspiration. And may a Ramadan spirit such as this one simply not be left behind when I leave Egypt.