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September 13, 2010


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Ramadan Journal


By Jessica Elsayed

Reporter, Youth Journalism International




ALEXANDRIA, Egypt Ė As Ramadan begins, I will pray a lot and read the Quran.

But I also hope to spread through writing for Youth Journalism International what Ramadan is truly about Ė why and how we celebrate it Ė in an attempt to break the mediaís stereotype and possibly create a much needed bridge between the West and Middle East.

In this journal I will explain as much as my knowledge can serve me about The Holy Month and perhaps occasionally have pictures of the forms of celebration in Egypt.

Islam is a beautiful religion. And nothing saddens me more than seeing how the media has made it synonymous with extremism and terrorism.

Sometimes I wish I could bring people to meet my family, friends and neighbors to see the kind of people we really are.

The world is in dire need to mend its misconceptions and the right time to do so is now.



Ramadan Journal - Day 1 - What is Ramadan?

Ramadan Kareem!

That literally means Generous Ramadan ad is one of the many ways the Muslim world congratulates each other that the Holy Month of Ramadan has arrived.

That it is being called generous is no coincidence. Ramadan is a month full of giving, charity and love.

Click Here

Egyptian women prepare food during Ramadan.

Hana Moussa/

It is the ninth month of the Islamic Lunar Calendar and its start is marked by the sighting of the new moon and ends by the sighting of the next monthís new moon.

For the next 30 days, 1.5 billion Muslims around the globe will fast from dawn to sundown. They will spend their evenings in prayer and spreading happiness to the poor and needy by giving of food and money.

Ramadan is the month when Islamís Holy Scripture, The Quran, was sent down to Islamís Prophet  Mohammad . We celebrate by reciting the Quran all month long.

Ramadan is a chance to purify oneís soul by abstaining from worldly things. Doing so puts one in focus with oneself, allowing people to set their priorities straight and find inner peace.

It is a gift from Allah Ė Arabic for God Ė to cleanse oneís self from sins accumulated all year long and a chance to rid the self of a bad habit or pick up a good one.

Fasting in Islam is not just abstaining from food and drink. The entire body fasts.

The tongue is to not backbite, gossip, lie, spread rumors or use foul language. The eyes are not to set sight on obscenities. The ears are to refrain from hearing another manís backbiting and foul language. The feet are to refrain from going to sinful places and the hands are to not take what does not belong to it.

One may ask: How is it possible after 11 months of eating all day that in the summer heat a Muslim will withstand the fast?

The answer to this starts with the fact that fasting Ramadan is the fourth of the five pillars of Islam and that Muslims believe that during Ramadan Satan is shackled and thus is unable to whisper in oneís ear that he is unable to fast.

It teaches patience and mercy and is in a way like recharging the battery of oneís soul.

It is believed that the gates of Heaven are open during The Holy Month, making the self-sacrifice a pleasant task and as a personal witness, the most purifying, humbling way of worship.

Children, the elderly, those sick or traveling, pregnant or on the menstrual cycle do not fast and are pardoned to make it up on other days.

The day we break the fast differs from country to country.

Ramadan is also the time to strengthen family ties and so the iftar (breaking the fast meal), which literally means breakfast, is eaten with family and sometimes several relatives.



Ramadan Journal - Day 3 - Doors

Yes, the gates of heaven are open for the Holy Month of Ramadan, but not so much for the gates of college.

For the past two days I have been slaving on university websites trying to reach a final top ten list of colleges where I should apply.

Scale of success from 1 to 10: 7.

I have a list of 10 names but worry none of them will accept me.

Sounds a little off topic for a Ramadan journal, right? I respectfully disagree.

As a college bound junior, a few things are certain.

At some point the ďaverageĒ and ďtypicalĒ student population at the college of your dreams will cause frustration in epic proportions. You will by all means feel hopeless as your SAT scores and mere page of extracurricular activities are of no comparison next to the applicants of your dream college.

And the expenses to your dream college are also a number youíve seen in a dream.

This is where the Ramadan spirit kicks in.

Towards making the end of my list I realized an Islamic fact: God does not put to waste the work of one who has worked for His sake. Niyya (intention), like I mentioned before, is very important in Islam.

It is said that work done without a pure intention for Godís sake is worthless.

Now letís use a more tangible example.

If my niyya in applying and working to get accepted at U.S colleges is to have a heard voice with which I will attempt to remove the stains 9/11 and other incidents have left on Arabs and Islam, then my dreams are secure.

Doing this for His sake is a guarantee that even if I do not prevail, an alternative which may prove to be better for me and my mission will appear.

I cannot now doubt that I will have God on my side for this journey because quite frankly I need a miracle.

Click Here

Heavenís gate opens and the one to a university doesnít?

If thatís not ironic, I donít know what is.

I would not say anything in Ramadan that I do not intend to do, so here it goes: I here vow with the readers of Youth Journalism International as my witness that no matter what UC Berkeleyís sophisticated requirements are, and no matter how many times I realize I cannot afford to go to Berkeley, I will continue to move forward.

I will take the required exams, study and do my best to look like one of those outstanding young scholars, all because I have faith enough to let me know that no oneís hard work goes to waste.

It is now 10:40p.m. in Alexandria, Egypt time and about time I hit the fridge for something sweet.

Regards until next time. Peace. 


SUNDAY, AUGUST 15, 2010 

Ramadan Journal - Day 5 - To mosque or not to mosque

Whatís worse than not knowing what to do is not knowing what to think.

Any newspaper reading person will come across the fight to stop the building of a Muslim community center Ė which would include a mosque, a library, a gym, an auditorium and a restaurant Ė two blocks from Ground Zero.

At first, I felt torn about the proposal.

There are obviously two ways to see this and both make sense.

But I have decided to take a stand. To fulfill the dream of making the United States a tolerant, loving place for all races and religions, this center must be built.

Thinking about this further will even bring one to the conclusion that this ďsensitiveĒ location is perfect. Itís exactly where it should be.

Now there are a plethora of rants against this from regular citizens and government officials alike.

Itís of no surprise that Sarah Palin, the Republican 2008 U.S. vice presidential candidate, sent a tweet insisting, ďPeace-seeking Muslims, pls understand, Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in interest of healing.Ē

This is just one of the rants, though it is extremely polite.

Of course there are others that are downright offensive.

Consider this, for example, from Slate:

Rick Lazio, New York's leading Republican candidate for governor, held a press conference to decry the project. He framed it as a threat to New Yorkers' "personal security and safety." Then he stood proudly beside Debra Burlingame, the co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America, as she accused Rauf of hatching the mosque plot "to bring people to Islam" and create "a Muslim-dominant America." Burlingame said "creating an Islamic presence" near Ground Zero would serve as propaganda for "people who want to hurt this country."


I wish I could tell Mr. Rick Lazio that during my fatherís 25 years in the U.S, where he worked hard and struggled to make a good living, he was never a threat to anyoneís personal security and safety.

Nor would my uncle and his family who continue to live in the California ever think about hurting this countryóthe  country that made him.

Now since itís a Holy Month and a time to reflect and have at least some peace of mind, I didnít read too many of the negative online comments about the plan, but here is an example of what people think:


C'mon. This isn't a mosque. Or a cultural center. It's a shrine. Sure they have a right to build a shrine to their heros. Go ahead, and good luck with that.

Dear Rbrown, you spelled heroes wrong.

There really isnít much to say about this. I understand where the opposing viewpoint is coming from.

I mean if some sick person who belonged to the religion Cupcake (for example) threw cupcake bombs in my neighborhood and then the non-sick Cupcakians decided to build a Cupcake Center in that same neighborhood in an attempt to mend their tarnished image Iíd have at least some doubts.

Yet, they have to start somewhere, right?

I donít know. I donít want to say arguing for this is close to useless but President Barack Obama supports the right to have a mosque near Ground Zero. Maybe others should, too.

Clearly there is much more to this.



Ramadan Journal -- Day 7 -- Time flies

A week passed. I didnít feel a thing, though. I donít think anyone did.

It's unexplainable how quickly time passes when youíre so consumed.

Any typical school week would have taken ages to pass. You know that ďwhen will this endĒ feeling you get by the time Wednesday arrives?

For some reason that doesnít happen in Ramadan. Itís almost like every second is blessed.

Needless to say, the peaceful spirit is starting to sink in.

I think I ate too much for iftar (breaking the fast meal) so Iím in this couch potato mood.

Thereís nothing interesting for today, but stay tuned for pictures of the traditional Ramadan desserts, kunafa, atayef and more.

In the meantime, check out this cool Muslim dude, Kareem Salama.

He's an Arab American country singer. I love how he uses music to build bridges. Here's a YouTube video of one of his really pretty songs.


MONDAY, AUGUST 23, 2010 

Ramadan Journal, Day 10: So, How Do We Do It?

Ladies and gentlemen, first my apologies for keeping you waiting. Today Iím going to answer a question others and occasionally I ask: how do they do it?

How do Muslims go without food or drink from around 4 a.m. until about 6:40 p.m. every day for a month?

The answer is not as simple as I wish it could be. We can start, of course, with the fact that our bodies can handle it. Biologically, itís possible.

If I were any good at biology, Iíd explain further how this works. But our bodies, at least mine and those of most people I know, love the fasting.

Yes, it is hard, mostly at first, but then you get used to it. Most families train their children early on to fast at least a few hours. They arenít obliged to, but they tend to want to do it.

My little sister fasted all month last year and she was nine, and my brother is fasting with us this year and he is eight. He does complain occasionally, but he always seems to do so a few minutes before sundown, which my mother uses as an opportunity to teach him patience.

See, itís not that painstaking. Think of it in a ďif thereís a will thereís a way,Ē way. We want to please God in this month and it is obligatory for those capable of fasting to fast.

In the Arab world, most people step up to their obligation and responsibility and when one does so it seems that any hardship fades. Almost no one wakes up too lazy to fast or just not in the mood.

Consider also the epic heat we are having these days, when the average temperature here in Alexandria, Egypt is 30 degrees Celsius (thatís 86 degrees Fahrenheit) and itís only that cool because itís a coastal city.

I cannot say for others how they cope with the thirst or hunger, but I know for myself that when I feel that rumble in my tummy, I think about the people who feel the same but wonít have food to eat in a few hours.

My mother always tells how happy God is with us when we put an effort to withstand something for his sake and that makes me and my sister even happier to fast.

There are people out there plowing the sides of the Nile in the scorching heat and yes, they too are fasting. Sometimes I think about how they do it. And when my brain is sore from finding an answer, I reach just one conclusion- they just do it. It is almost as if God gives us this magical super-ability to take it and really around the fifth day itís routine and nothing outstanding.

Ladies and gentlemen, do not forget that we rampage the dinner table at sunset and ravenously attack dessert for sugar later on. Of course Ramadan is supposed to be a humbling month of moderation but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that a lot of the people here consider Ramadan a month of eating, not fasting.

Itís kind of like trading the giving spirit of Christmas for the gift obsessive spirit of those who donít understand Christmas.

Also we always have a meal right before dawn which keeps us going throughout the day. In Egypt, many, many people like to eat a meal of beans and bread. They say it gives them enough energy to work for the day. We also make sure we drink a lot of liquids.

Egyptians who feel water is tasteless drink karakadeh (hibiscus flower drink) or kharroub (carob fruit drink) and just normal orange or mango juice.

Personally, I need my cup of coffee. Yes, sounds like Iím a coffeeholic but seriously, I canít go without it. Thatís worse than scorching heat or thirst.

I hope this made at least some sense and answered the question of how we handle being hungry or thirsty during fasting Ramadan.

Finally, I want to say that Youth Journalism International really is the greatest youth journalism in the world. I love the fact this is a platform to connect with the rest of the world.


FRIDAY, AUGUST 27, 2010 

Ramadan Journal, Day 16: Muse

The most amazing part of a Ramadan day is the few minutes right before sunset.

I almost always spend this time at my window where I watch the sky turn different shades of pink and orange.

The streets are completely empty at this time, and if you listen closely, you can hear plates and pots being put on tables. At the very moment the sun sets, the azan, which is the call to prayer, resonates loud in Alexandria.

Mosque by mosque, the azan marks the time to break the fast. My musing is soon to be interrupted by my brotherís loud run to the kitchen, so I go, too.

All I can think about these days is after 16 days of being connected with my family again Ė even if only at iftar, when we break the fast Ė is what is going to happen after Ramadan when life revolves around life again, like school and work and schedules.

Click Here

Egyptian women prepare food during Ramadan.

Hana Moussa/

Itís ironic how much we worry about life when it really is just a temporary state.

Of course we should work to make that temporary stay as pleasant and fruitful as possible, but really, when was the last time you took the time to reflect and think about how you can be happy using what you have?

Make the most of anything you already have.

Thatís what Iíve learned the past few days. Going to pray with my 10-year-old sister, I realized that she can be my friend despite her age. Iíve revived friendships with people who have always been my friend.

Iím going to miss Ramadan so much. And I pray more than anything that I can stay focused after Ramadan on what is really important, that I can see priorities without getting lost in the worries of studying and relationships and just life.

I have a friend who always tells me that I contradict myself, that I call on people to reflect and take things simply when I spend so much time talking about the complexities in the world.

How is that I can sit at peace with myself and others while Iím talking about the war and injustice? Unfortunately, I donít have an explanation for this.

I do know, though, that the last 10 days of Ramadan are coming up in four days. The last 10 days of Ramadan are especially sacred.

It is said that there is one night in those 10 days Ė but we donít know which one Ė that if you pray, that prayer is surely to be answered and the supplicant forgiven of his sins and guaranteed heaven.

I will write more on this in a further entry, but for now, I would like to remind everyone to keep Pakistan in their prayers.

Thousands of families are now homeless and stranded because of the flooding there, and they need any help they can get.



Ramadan Journal, Day 22: The Cherry on Top

The last 10 days of Ramadan are the most blessed and cherished nights of pretty much the whole year.

We are bidding farewell to the most beautiful nights of the year and it really is overwhelming.

Itís a sad but beautiful farewell, beautiful because of Laylatul Kadr, which means the Night of Power. Itís an incredible gift that Allah (which is Arabic for ďGodĒ) sends to Muslims in one of these 10 final days.

God has not mentioned exactly what day it is, but it is said that it is one of the odd-numbered nights like the 21st, 23rd, or 25th.

We believe this is the night Allah sent down the Quran to Prophet Mohammad through the angel Gabriel, and we celebrate this spiritually by praying and reciting the Quran all night.

It is the crowning glory of the Holy Month. Prayer on this night is better than a thousand months of prayer, and so millions of Muslims, in Egypt and elsewhere, fill the mosques and ask Allah for forgiveness.

In Islam, all a personís deeds, good or bad, are written in his kitab, or book. If a personís prayer is answered during Laylatul Kadr, his kitab is cleared of his sins and his pages are clean, like that of a newborn baby.

Anything you ask of Allah on this night is surely to be answered and the gates of heaven are opened wide.

And so, I call to everyone reading this, whether Muslim or not, to keep Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan in their hearts and prayers.

There is just so much beauty in the Arab world that is overlooked. Even people here donít see how spectacular our culture is, with its simultaneous intricateness and simplicity.

For the past two days, I have had only one concern Ė how do I slow down time for a just a few days? I want to savor every moment left in the next seven days of Ramadan.

I honestly have never at any point in my life felt so serene and I am so worried that it will slip away as soon as school starts.

So, yes, while the world is busy making war ďendingĒ speeches and ďdirectĒ Palestinian/Israeli peace talks and negotiations, I am busy trying to find myself.

Sounds un-Ramadanish? Actually itís what itís all about Ė renewing yourself to reach the best version of you to engage with the rest of the world for the next year.

Hopefully it shows on my college apps. Yes, I kinda quivered, too, just thinking about college now.

Thatís whatís up, Ďtil next time.



Ramadan Journal, Day 30: Farewell Ramadan

I have never been good at goodbyes. I put them off for as long as possible to avoid any excessively emotional reaction.

Today was the last day of Ramadan. This year, Ramadan really slowed down time for a month and let me think clear, set a few priorities straight and know what I really want from life.

And so, as the new moon has been sighted, today marks the last day of Ramadan and start of a new chapter in my teenage life.

It breaks my heart what is currently happening in with Terry Jones in Florida with his plans to burn the Quran on the 9/11 anniversary.

Many people here have reactions like ďfunny how ignorant a man can be when he lives in the most powerful, educated country.Ē

For some reason, I have a gut feeling that if this pastor actually carries out his heinous plan something terrible will inevitably happen.

The thing many people in the West donít know about the Middle East is that we arenít raised to take religion as a joke Ė and that means any religion.

In Islam we believe in Jesus, Moses, Joseph, David, Solomon, the Bible and the Torah, and although almost no one in Egypt is Jewish, no one would ever burn or even badmouth the Torah.

Coptic Egyptians literally treat Eid (the celebration after Ramadan) as if it were their own, calling their friends to wish them a happy Eid.

This is unlike in the United States, where itís okay to make a joke about Jesus.

Honestly, I hope Mr. Jones backs down. There are so many other ways to send a message, and being intolerant and radical is not one of them.

Click Here

Preparing food during Ramadan in Egypt.

Hana Moussa/

In this post ,are also a few pictures of a group that is very, very dear to my heart.

Two of my best friends introduced me to Geel Al-Amal, which means Generation of Hope. It is a great religiously motivated non-profit organization that does amazing things to help their community.

The sub-group I am in is called Law Sadakna La-Sabakna. I know thatís a lot, but it means, ďif we are true, we will prevail.Ē

Itís a group of around 25 young women between the ages of 15 and 30, all of whom are dedicated and passionate about their religion and helping others.

During the month of Ramadan, under the guidance of our amazing Yasmine, we passed out hundreds of bags of high quality food to an impoverished village to last them about 20 days.

We packed and distributed them ourselves. For the last 10 days of Ramadan, we went to the village daily to pack meals for iftar.

According to some of the leaders of the village, there were families who used that meal to eat the whole day. For me, thatís when I truly felt the intensity and the depth of what we do.

I also want to introduce everyone to Eid.

Itís our Christmas, our Hanukah. Its full name is Eid Al-Fitr and it starts tomorrow right after the Eid Prayer which will take place tomorrow at 7 a.m. and continues for three days.

Everyone calls or visits their family and friends to say, ďHappy Eid,Ē and greetings vary from country to country. Kids go out to amusement parks or upper-class resorts, depending on their social class, but everyone finds a way to celebrate.

Itís probably the only time of year that everyone on the street looks happy. Despite difficulties, everyone is in the mode of celebration. We also eat excessive amounts of Eid cookies, otherwise known as kahk.

The making of these cookies, in all their varieties, is a tradition all in itself.

Women from the whole family get together before Eid to make massive amounts of cookies to distribute.

This is my favorite part, sitting in the kitchen with my grandma and aunt Ė three generations of Egyptian women making dough.

So, yes, there are currently about four large containers Ė and an Egyptian container really contains large amounts Ė of yumminess in the kitchen waiting for attack tomorrow morning with the usual shay bel laban, or tea with milk.

Children and young members of the family also get a present of money known as edeya, given by relatives for Eid. And this is where I wish I had a bigger family because in Eid time, more uncles and aunts means more ca-ching.

Another favorite part is the new clothes. In Eid almost everyone, at least here in Egypt, makes sure they have something new to wear for the holiday.

Even if they are poor, they will manage to get at least something.

Itís just captivating what the streets look like in Eid. On the way to my grandparents house on the first day of Eid, I always notice the new clothes. You can just tell by the smile on a girlís face that her dress is new.

New pajamas are another tradition. Similar to how there are movie specials about Christmas, in Eid, the TV is full of old Egyptian comedy plays which are just hilarious.

My family pretty much celebrates by being together and eating the cookies while watching a play. Itís nothing extravagant, but we all enjoy it.

And there you have it Ė Eid in brief.

Itís been just amazing writing this journal and by far the best part of my Ramadan.

Iím so glad I got to share with everyone something from the Middle East. Thanks to Youth Journalism International for giving me this opportunity and to everyone who has commented and engaged.

Until next yearís Ramadan, Happy Eid everyone. :)



Don't miss these Ramadan stories that other Youth Journalism International students have written:


Fasting for Ramadan in Canada


Itís that (Holy) time of the year again


A month of sacrifice and self-control

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