Monday, April 11, 2005

Enter Egypt Safely - God Willing

Salam all,
It has been a while since my last post, but I read the posts here every day and find them a great blessing in this time of confusion and fear. Three weeks ago, I had the great fortune to meet some friends from South Africa who were visiting Cairo (the Mother of the World, as she's known here) and we (me, an Egyptian, an Icelander, and two South Africans) prayed Goma'a (Juma'a for you non-Egyptians) in the beautiful and united Sultan Hassan mosque (by united I mean the prayer is all in one big partly open space, women on a raised platform behind the central fountain [sabeel]).

The imam used the "verse of light" in his prayer, which made me feel an even greater sense of blessing and connectedness. Another dear friend from South Africa provides the beautiful Arberry translation (but listen to the music of the Arabic as well):

God is the Light of the heavens and the earth;
the likeness of His Light is as a niche
wherein is a lamp
(the lamp in a glass,
the glass as it were a glittering star)
kindled from a Blessed Tree,
an olive that is neither of the East or the West
whose oil wellnigh would shine, even if no fire touched it;
Light upon Light;
(God guides to His Light whom He will.)
(And God strikes similtudes for men,
and God has knowledge of everything.)

We then wandered through Old Cairo, through the Musski to the Khan El Khalili and the Hussein Square where the mosque of the same name is, and had Egyptian pancakes (Fatir).

You probably already heard that the Musski was the site of a bombing a few days ago and that some tourists and some Egyptians were injured and killed there. This news struck me in a way that was almost surprising in its intensity; the wrongness of this was so strong. Particularly, this affected me because of the fact that in front of the Sultan Hassan complex is a sign. It's a recent sign that looks like the ones that give traffic directions, white print on a navy background. It said in Arabic, "Enter Egypt in Safety." This sounded like a verse, and stuck in my mind.

After the bombing, I asked my husband if he knew this verse. He told me it was from the Quran and tried to remember what verse. First he thought it was from the Moses story but then he remembered it was from Yusef (which is his very favorite chapter, incidentally) and I found it in the Yusef Ali edition. Near the end of the chapter, Yusef said this to his mother and father (but it is put in the plural, not the dual form, so it also refers to his perfidious brothers who had originally abandoned him in the well and whom he had forgiven).

The quotation is actually "Enter Egypt, God willing, in Safety." (Quran 12:99)

Egypt to me MEANS safety. It also means a place that God has blessed. In the bible as well it says "God blessed the people of Egypt." I pray that beautiful, blessed Old Cairo will stay a haven for everyone to find spiritual refuge and that the recent event was just a strange and terrible aberration. But I am troubled in spirit, as my understanding can make so little sense out of these strange and sudden happenings that seem to strike us in the heart of our happiness and our security.

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