I’ve been in Cairo for almost two months and I have less than a week left. A huge part of me is really sad that I’ll be leaving Cairo, but part of me is excited to go back to Holland and continue my life there. This trip back has really made me realize that Cairo is my home and how in love with it I am. I really don’t think there’s another city like it.
I’ve also realized how nice it is to see Islam in moderation. Yes, many Egyptians have become increasingly conservative and some increasingly fanatic over the past few decades, but there are still many Muslims here who practice Islam in a very beautiful way that seems unique to Egypt. For them Islam encompasses everything, from the way they act to the way they do business. But they see it as more of an inner journey than an outer one. The women could be veiled or bare-headed, the men could be regulars at the mosque on Fridays or not, the kids could be more “Islamicized” than “Westernized” or vice versa – what makes these people amazing is that they are kind, compassionate, respectful, happy, and content. They feel God and they know He is always there – and they still enjoy life. They go out, they have fun, they joke and laugh, they listen to music, all without a second thought as to whether they are “good” Muslims or “bad” Muslims.
I find this type of Islam absolutely beautiful. I’ve seen so many Muslims spend their lives worrying about every little thing they do – is music haraam? should I veil my daughter when she turns 12? can i have a dog? Are people who don’t worry about those things less Muslim? Are they less faithful? What is faith in the end?
What about all those generations of Egyptians who practiced Islam in moderation – who did listen to music, who did not veil, who were not segregated from each other – were they wrong? Sheikhs back then were more liberal too – were they wrong? There is no doubt that Islam in Egypt has become much more conservative. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. But with it has come immense pressure to fit in with this type of Islam, and if you don’t, you will be judged negatively.
Where are the days when it was disrespectful to call a fellow Muslim a “kaffir” – how do you know what their relationship with God is? Who are you to judge them?
It’s interesting to talk to older Egyptians about religion, because many of them are confused about what’s happening today. Some don’t understand why a woman who doesn’t veil is looked down on; others laugh when they hear that owning a dog is now “haraam”. Some are angry when they hear sheikhs condemning Christians and Jews to hell. Many of them are just sad – sad that instead of there being room for a multitude of Islams, there now seems to be room for only one. And who gets to decide?
Egypt has long been influenced by Sufism, which I believe gave it such a unique and beautiful view on Islam, as well as a tolerance for different types of Islam. Insha’Allah the time will come when people realize how amazing tolerance is, and what a gift it is to have space to be yourself and to be secure and confident in your relationship with God. Because in the end, that’s what matters – you and God.