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8. Date Palms of our Village
Egypt is the world’s largest producer of dates. Date groves can be seen all along the Nile River and also in many desert oases all over the country. The English word “oasis” itself comes from the ancient Coptic Egyptian word wahe. Even our Arabic word for “oasis” waha is derived from the same source!
For as long as people have lived along the Nile and in well-watered desert oases, dates have been grown and harvested. The date tree is extremely important in our culture. Allah mentions it almost twenty times in the Holy Qur”an. The Prophet Muhammad (SM) in a beautiful hadith likened a good Muslim to a date palm:
“Among trees, there is a tree like a Muslim. Its leaves do not fall.”
Because the date is such a nutritious and healthful food, the Prophet (SM) advised Muslims to break their fast with dates.
* The shadoof is a very ancient but practical device used to lift water from a well or, as shown here, from the Nile River. It consists of a long balanced pole with a rope attached to a bucket at the thinner end and a heavy weight at the thicker end. The shadoof is simple, but extremely efficient in irrigating the fields around Al-Khayriyyah village. It is possible that a much larger shadoof-like device might have been used to raise the many one tonne stone slabs that were needed to build the pyramids of Egypt.*
The date palms you see here are part of my uncle’s date grove. During harvest time in late summer or early fall (September or October), we all help him pick and transport the delicious fruit for sale. Al-Hamdulillah, our date trees have a constant supply of fresh water, but they can even survive if irrigated with salty or brackish water.
Only the female date palm bears fruit when it is about eight years old, but it must be twenty years old to produce a full crop. One healthy tree can produce between 50 to 100 kilos of dates! We regularly prune or cut off dead branches from the top of the tree to enable it to grow. The stumps of the branches form convenient steps for us to climb the trees. I can climb at the top of a tall tree in less than a minute in bare feet!
Masha Allah, the date palm is an extremely versatile tree. Its dried branches provide material for brooms and matting; a fibre for rope and sacks; and even the date stones can be ground into a powder to feed cattle.
On the edge of the date grove is my uncle’s pigeon tower or burg al-hamaam, as we call it in Egyptian Arabic. He raises pigeons that nest inside the whitewashed mud tower. We only eat grilled pigeons on special occasions. The birds’ droppings are used as a fertilizer for the surrounding fields.
Insha Allah, we will all be good Muslims: tall, straight and sturdy like the blessed date palm, the shajarah al-mubarakah.
9. Ramadan in our village
The month of Ramadhan, al-shahr al-rahmah, is eagerly awaited each year by Muslims the world over. Each Muslim country has special traditions to welcome and celebrate this blessed month. Here in Al-Khayriyyah village, we have continued with some very old practices during the month of fasting.
Life changes when Ramadhan begins. Our mosque becomes the centre of much activity during the month. We all try and spend as much time as we can here reading the Holy Qur’an. Special qari’s, or reciters of the Holy Qur’an, always read long surahs before each salah . Masha' Allah, as in all Muslim countries, by continual recitation and remembrance of Allah’s Word, Muslims try to draw themselves closer to al-Khaliq, the Creator of this Universe.
In our village, an old Islamic custom is still alive. Each morning, in the middle of the night, well before the rooster crows, the loud sound of a beating drum wakes us up. The musaharti passes in front of our houses. He is a local villager who each and every morning during Ramadhan walks along the dark alleys of our village calling everyone to wake up for sahoor (the pre-dawn meal) and fajr prayers.
Many special foods and drinks are prepared during Ramadhan, the Prophet Muhammad (SM) advised us to break our fast with tamr (dates). We save the best dates from my uncle’s trees especially for this month. Our ‘iftaar includes freshly baked aysh,ful medammes, zabadi (fresh yogurt),and torshi baladi (home-made pickles). My mother also makes a delicious juice made from dried apricots called qamar al-din.
Each evening during al-shahr al-rahmah , the children of our village parade through the streets with coloured fawanis or lanterns. Fawanis Ramadhan or “Ramadhan lanterns” are made locally from tin and coloured glass. A lit candle is placed inside and children wander the streets with their swingingfawanis and sing:
“wahawi, ya wahawi iyyahah
hall hilal mubarak 'alayna
‘agrna ‘in ramadhan kareem!”
“Light offire; light offire. Your
crescent moon has appeared.
A blessed month to one and
all! Ramadhan Kareem!”
This is my newfanoos or lantern which I have just bought. Isn’t it beautiful?
Insha Allah, our niyyah (intention), all our prayers, and our al-amaal al-saalehah (good deeds) during this month will be accepted. May we all be blessed with the arrival of yet another Ramadhan!
10. Eid Cellebrations
“Farewell, Blessed Ramadhan!” al-wada’ shahr ramadhan al-kareem !Now it is !eid al-fitr. As you can see, our whole village is celebrating the end of Ramadhan.
In front of the mosque is a colourful hand-sewn tent called suradeq. This huge tent pavilion was set up to enable villagers to meet and greet each other under one roof. Tents like this are very difficult to make. Only a few master tentmakers still know this ancient craft.
They work in the Street of the Tentmakers in old Cairo and spend many months just to sew one tent. Hundreds of colourful panels made from individual pieces of cotton material are eventually sewn together to make the “walls” of the tent. Our imam bought this suradeq from Cairo, and it is used on the occasions of two Ads, weddings and many other special occasions.
Every year on the second day of ‘eid, my father takes us all to Cairo to visit some of our relatives. A trip into the big city is always a treat. We also try to pray in the Mosque of Amr ibn al-As (RA) at least once when we are there.
In the year 21 AH (641 CE), “Amr ibn al-As (RA) arrived in Egypt and pitched his camp at al-Fustat, a district which is today known as Old Cairo. The mosque was built on the site of the tent of Amr ibn al-As. Today, it is not only the oldest surviving mosque in Cairo, but the oldest in the whole of Africa. Al-Fustat soon became a centre of Islamic learning and this mosque housed more than 5,000 students!
Amr ibn ahAs is loved by all Egyptians. We remember his conversion to Islam in the eighth year of the hijrah. Amr refused to shake the hand of the Prophet (SM) and pledge his allegiance to him because he wanted a guarantee that all his previous sins should be forgiven. The Prophet (SM) immediately responded: “(Embracing) Islam and hijrah expiate all previous sins.” With this clarification, “Amr entered the fold of Islam, al Hamdulillah.
What amazing successes he had in the Way of Allah. Amr headed an army which eventually liberated the city of Jerusalem, and he is most remembered for introducing Islam to the land of Egypt. From Egypt, Muslims marched westward bringing the message of din al-haqq al-Islam to the people of North Africa and Europe. May Allah be pleased with Amr ibn al-As, a truly noble Companion of the Prophet (SM)
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