Saturday, August 22, 2009

Day 76, Cairo(6)

Mohammad, why are the children swinging colourful lanterns and singing Wahawi ya Wahawi everywhere?? What is going on??

Ramadan is the main ritual for all Muslims in the world, but to the Egyptians it's the magical month that, accompanied with all the mysterious traditions that have become associated with Ramadan, often has no intrinsic link to religion!! Some believe that many of the traditions are even
incompatible with Islam.

One of these magical traditions are Ramadan lanterns (Fawanees, sg. Fanoos or Fanus), which are now frequently made from recycled tin cans or plastic lanterns that play the latest popular music. Lanterns and lamps of various kinds, hues and degrees of brightness, have always been special to the Egyptians. Many stories of their origins have been told.

One story has it that the Fatimid Caliph Al Hakim Bi-Amr Illah wanted to light the streets of Cairo during Ramadan nights, so he ordered all the sheikhs of mosques to hang Fa
wanees that could be illuminated by candles. As a result, the Fanoos became a custom that has never been abandoned.

Another story states that, during the time of the Caliph Al Hakim Bi-Amr Illah, women were not allowed to leave their houses except during Ramadan,but even then they had to be preceded by a little boy carrying a copper Fanoos. The Fanoos was then used as a tool to announce the arrival of a woman to caution men in the street to move away. As the laws against women softened, women were allowed to go out as they wished but people liked the idea of the Fanoos, and so it became a tradition that little children carry them in the streets everyday to play.

A third story even relates that the lanterns came from a completely different religion. Some believe that the use of lanterns was originally a Coptic Christian tradition celebrated during Christmas time (Coptic version), when people used to celebrate with colorful candles. This story explains that, as many Christians converted to Islam, they took this tradition with them in the form of lanterns made of tin and lit with candles.

Regardless of the validity of these stories, the Fanoos remains a very unique symbol of Ramadan to Muslims and Christians alike. It has passed from generation to generation, and is today explicitly associated with children. It's popular image is children playing out in the streets during Ramadan, happily swinging their Fawanees and singing a nonce rhyme in colloquial Egyptian Arabic which was composed by Ahmed Sherif, who is one of the renowned music writers and composers. The song goes like this:

Wahawi ya Wahawi (metaphorically meaning the light of fire).Iyuha (an unknown word which is used to rhyme in between).Ruht ya Sha'ban (you have gone, O Sha'ban referring to the month before Ramadan).Wi Gheet ya Ramadan (You have gone, O Ramadan).Iyuha..Bint el Sultan (The daughter of the Sultan).Iyuha.Labsa el Guftan (Is wearing her caftan).Iyuha.Yalla ya Ghaffar (For God the forgiver).Iduna el Idiya (Give us this season's gift)..Yalla ya Ghafar.

Well, we love it.....sort of like Diwali in Islamic Cairo!!!

Hey Mo, why are these date sellers sreaming " Obama"

Hahaha, for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, Egyptian fruit sellers have named their best dates of the year after President Barack Obama in a sweet tribute to the American leader for his outreach to the Muslim world!
Apparently in previous years they named their worst dates after George Bush!!

Dates are a traditional food for Ramadan since the Prophet Muhammad is said to have used them to break the month's sunrise-to-sunset fast each evening.

Thanks for the tour of Cairo Mo, and now we are going to eat with Mo after his day long fast......and we expect quite a feast!

No comments: