Freedom from the Forbidden

All things gender and Islam. No bigotry is allowed in this feminist territory. #DeathToPatriarchy

Egypt Travels 2018 – part 1

Pre-post: Sorry I haven’t blogged in a while, beloveds. I ache to, and I have so much to share and so much to say! And it’s not even that I don’t have time: I do (I always make sure I have time for myself, alhamdulillah for this so far!). It’s other things, like the impostor syndrome eating me alive these days, so… but I hope to blog more this year, especially with a lighter teaching load this semester, and I have to update y’all with pics from my travels from last year, and my GOD, I’m learning SO much with my new teaching career I can’t wait to share all this.

So. On to this.

I was blessed enough to spend much of my winter break in Cairo. It was a complete joy. There were some unexpected surprises, like literally absolutely no harassment (I KNOW!! We hear so much about harassment in Egypt that I was shocked to not experience any at all! More on this below), and there was abundant learning and appreciating. I learned so much about myself I’m still dealing with that.

My friend Y. was generous to let me stay with her, and we toured through Cairo every day, doing something new everyday, seeing some place new everyday, some of which was even new to her as a native of Cairo. Alhamdulillah for friends around the world.

I have always wanted to go to Egypt. I mean, you study it, you read about it in your scriptures, in your history books, so it only made sense that I go there. When I was thinking about where to go, I considered so many different places, and then Egypt just made sense – never mind that we were studying Moses in class that week. (Moses is my personal favorite historical male prophet/figure.)

So about the harassment: there’s all these articles about how Egypt is plagued with sexual harassment, street harassment; Egyptian women speak up about it all the time; and just knowing how patriarchy works, we have no reason to doubt these claims. I certainly had no reason to. I experience harassment almost daily in the U.S. and have wherever I have lived, including in Pakistan. We know it’s real. So when it didn’t happen to me in Egypt, I thought maybe it was because I was often with my friend Y., who’s an older woman, a local, and carries a wonderful aura of resilience and strength on her. But then I would go to the metro station everyday on my own, a half hour walk from my friend’s house, crossing extremely busy (and almost lethal!) intersections, walking by busy shops all around, with men – young and old – everywhere. And no harassment. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. It was such a pleasant thing to realize I wanted to cry with joy. I do believe every woman who says that’s not her experience. It simply wasn’t mine. I have no idea why. I was a woman, I was very visibly a woman, my hair showed (I saw very, very few women without hijab there), I wore tight jeans, my shirts weren’t long (i.e., I wasn’t “modest” per traditional patriarchal expectations). The trains there have two sections, one for women only (strictly women) and the other for women, men, families, whoever else but mostly men. Women can use either section, but men can only use the one that’s NOT for women. So since I could use either, I mostly used the women one but also used the non-women-only section – this was an experiment. I needed to see what that experience would be like. And I tell you, humans, totally fine. No one even stared. (There’s the staring everywhere else – pretty typical and expected, and it came from women and men and everyone else.)

So, yeah, that happened ❤ Again, I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t happen because it didn’t happen to me specifically.

And I learned that the Shah of Iran is buried in Cairo … inside one of the greatest mosques, Al-Rifa’i, in the same mosque where his ex-in-laws (Egyptian royalty) are buried. I knew he was buried in Egypt, and I was like yeah sure why not, let’s go see that tomb, but then I enter this mosque, and we’re apparently headed towards homeboy’s tomb INSIDE the mosque!! I had an absolutely fit because, listen, mosque administration can’t be bothered to respect and honor women in mosques but then they’re gonna go and honor some male dictators by BURYING them there?! Where people can go and send blessings upon them, pray for their souls, pay them this tremendous respect? While women aren’t even allowed in most mosques without a head scarf?!

Speaking of which … the worst experience I had was at al-Azhar. And unfortunately, on the exact same day that I had a fit learning that the Shah was buried inside Rifa’i.  I’ll write about the al-Azhar event separately, maybe. But basically, they have this ridiculous sexist rule that women wearing pants cannot enter, so my friend and I weren’t allowed in. My friend agreed to wear the skirts/dress they require you to wear in order to enter, so she got to go in eventually, but I refused. My philosophy is, I will not honor ANY mosque or any other place of worship with my presence if it views women (or any group of people) as sexual objects. The double standard was disturbing – men wearing pants entered and got to go in without any trouble, and the security guards policing women’s access to the mosque were wearing pants, and yet, women couldn’t go in because we weren’t being “modest” if we were wearing pants.

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Al-Azhar! From a woman’s point of view. Since I wasn’t allowed in because I was wearing jeans and a shirt and no abaya, I could take a pic of it from the bars in the women’s section. #beingaMuslimwoman #tellmeagainhowmuchislamhonorswomen #whyweneedislamicfeminism

There was one mosque we tried to go inside that wouldn’t let us in without a headscarf, and since it was a tourist site too (historical and all), we went to the tourism police and demanded that we be let in, and so a police escorted us to said mosque and we got to go in without any problem at last. My friend decided to go ahead and wear her scarf (we had our hijabs with us; we just didn’t want to wear it on principle) only once they let us enter without it, but I still chose not to keep mine on. Again, a principle thing.

Every other mosque let us in without a hijab, without any trouble, with no one even staring at us.

Another pleasant experience/surprise was at some of the shrines/mosques we visited – we prioritized the ones honoring women, like Sukaina Bint Hussain (the Prophet s.’s great-granddaughter and Hussain’s daughter, one of the most important feminists in history), and Zeinab (Hussain’s sister and a primary witness to his murder). So not only  did anyone police our clothing at these shrines/mosques, but also, some of them weren’t gender segregated! See, the idea of a shrine is for people to walk around it, and segregating it prevents that, so I’m generally opposed to it, but I also think that if the major/popular ones (like the Hussain mosque) weren’t segregated, then men would take over and women would get no access to them – the excuse being, “to prevent men from molesting/harassing women!” The Hussain mosque currently has 2/3 of it in the men’s section of the mosque, 1/3 in the women’s section. This was one of the my least favorite mosques ever, the women’s section being the only part I could access. It’s gorgeous on the outside, though. My personal favorite one was the Seyyeda Zeinab mosque/shrine. No policing took place there, it was clean, there were all these cats all over (!! ❤ ), and it’s gorgeous on the outside too. The sermon was given by some angry emotional man *after maghrib* so that wasn’t cool, but I whatev’d it.

The historical/religious sites related to Moses, Mary, Jesus, first- and second-century Muslim figures, my God, it was all just so incredible. We go to see the cave where Jesus and Mary hid from the Romans before the crucifixion; the part of the Nile that Moses was picked up from by Asiya, the Pharaoh’s wife (in the Islamic tradition) or his daughter in the Biblical tradition. Two major synagogues, no longer functioning because there’s like 4 Jews left in Cairo right now – less than 10 in all of Egypt. Ancient churches dating to the 3rd century.  But nothing really beat my personal favorites, which were the non-segregated shrines of women, may God be pleased with them all, aameen.

The pyramids, y’all, are so overrated. They were okay at best. No one ever talks about the oldest ones, which are in a place called Saqqara, not far from the three famous ones.

I wasn’t really a fan of the museums. The only thing that I enjoyed at the Cairo museum was the mummies room. And you need a separate ticket for that. There weren’t as many mummies as I had expected; not sure why I was expecting that many. But this was special for me.

Standing at Tahrir Square felt like so empowering. God bless Egyptians, especially the youth. They deserve a good present and future.

Also, important pro-tip to all traveling to Egypt: if you’re a student, take your Student ID with you for major discount (at least 50% off on entrance to every historical site, including the pyramids, and all museums). Doesn’t matter where you’re a student, but a student ID is required. They’re pretty strict about that. Faculty ones don’t work (#itried!).

I’ll post some pics of all this now, and then I’ll stop and continue another time.

Peace! And Happy New Year ❤

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Seyyeda Zeinab shrine – hard to take a pic of it when it’s full of people.

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Zeinab’s shrine.

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The cats! They’re everywhere! This was inside Zeinab. 

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Still Zeinab!

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At Sukaina’s shrine (r.)!! (Daughter of Hussain, r.)

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Sukaina, r. See? Not segregated! 

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A man sending blessings upon and praying at Sukaina’s shrine.

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The Hussain Mosque – both the entrance and the shrine were segregated. But women and men can still see each other. (Note the men on the left.)

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The women’s side of the mosque – at Hussain.

I’ll post more pics later, but here’s me at Khan al-Khalil, the bazaar by Hussain mosque. I always, always enjoy these bazaars in Muslim countries.

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And me at the pyramids. I don’t know – it just felt so … mandatory, y’know?

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Categories: Death to patriarchy

5 replies

  1. Thank you for the update ! I’m one of your silent followers. Dealing myself with impostor syndrome (we’re old friends know, it hasn’t managed to make me quit the PhD yet), I usually look up to people like you on the good days when I’m thinking about doing something else with my life, like feeding my blog with interesting posts … So I’m sorry you’re also dealing with that thing!
    And indeed it must be the first account of a woman travelling to Egypt and not experiencing harassment that I’m reading here, so it makes me hopeful. For me it’s Jordan, where many people have had bad experiences, but I never did. Maybe each person has some kind of personal “lucky country” ?
    I’m also pleasantly surprised that they let people visit mosques without headscarves, since in Lebanon (where I live, and usually very welcoming to tourists) this wouldn’t happen. No skinny jeans either … I don’t mind since I like wearing a scarf, but I understand your principle on it, it makes sense. However, if you ever pass by Lebanon during your travels, let me know, there’s still plenty of things to visit with whichever clothing you like 😉

    Like

    • Luisa!! Hi ❤ Lebanon is def on my list of places to visit ASAP. I have a sad story regarding it, so I’m still recovering from that but I’ll be there one day, inshaAllah!

      Good thinking re maybe everyone has a lucky country – that’s totally possible.

      I’m sorry you also go trough the imposter syndrome. It’s such a terrible feeling and can be such an obstacle in moving forward! Please feel free to reach out to me any time about any supper with your phd work. My experience with it was really bad. So so relieved to be done with it at last!

      Like

  2. Happy New Year (belatedly) from New Zealand!

    Loving your travel stories about Egypt. I have a couple of young Egyptian friends here, a family who migrated in the 90’s to NZ. Interesting to see some images of the mosques of their heritage.
    I’m travelling too, lol, but not writing so much, visiting my daughters in two cities. ❤️

    Like

    • Anar ❤ Good to hear from you! A wonderful, happy new year to you too!

      I’d love to hear about your travels too. You know, I considered New Zealand for my winter trip when I was debating where to go! Inshallah another year 🙂

      Like

  3. I really loved travelling in Egypt! There is so much to see!

    Like

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