Many years back, I was convinced that colorful garments had no place in an appropriate Ramadan wardrobe. I would strive to wear black, black, and even more black (or at least similar somber colors). I suppose I fell into the trap of equating one culture’s garments correct “Islamic attire”, much too easily dismissing the vibrant and often quite disparate cultures of dress and customs that spans the Muslim World (if one can even use that word to describe such a vast, non-monolitic, imagined unit).
Fortunately, much has changed since that time, including greater religious and historical knowledge and education, more world exposure, and maturity, and by time I came to realize there is no religious superiority in the thobe and abaya over other modest options taken from the different Islamic hybrid cultures out there. See, Islam spread so rapidly over such a substantial and culturally rich area that it produced myriads of “shari3a-compliant” ways to practice; where cultural norms and traditions did not contradict or come in conflict with Islamic ideals, what existed was merged with the new. And that diversity I think is one of the most beautiful things about my religion – we should value it to its maximum. A modest Pakistani shalwar kameez is no less appropriate than a Gulf abaya, neither is loose-fitting Western clothing. Rather, those types of garments can be even more appropriate than that black gown depending on the context. When I wear black abayas with matching scarves in the US, for example, I’m at the receiving end of much more attention than what is the case with my day-to-day style (am I a princess? Is black required by my religion? Is it a special occasion?). And in a more colorful environment, opting for all black may similarly stand out more. On the other hand, in Yemen, I did wear black abayas (no niqab though – that would never happen) because that is what is the norm there (but wearing black for that long prevented me from enjoying it for years to come).
This is not a case for abaya bashing – believe me, I truly love those elegant, luxurious garments, and I wear them with pride – but it is a case for embracing the variations and aesthetics of all our hybrid traditions. Color is halal, as is black. So this Ramadan, in the Egyptian, colorful street context, I’m embracing the palette of the rainbow 😉
(What I’m wearing: Scarf: Forever21, slik zebra/leopard scarf: souvenir from Thailand, sleeveless tropical print shirt: Forever21, striped top: Urban Outfitters, dramatic flare palazzo pants: Urban Outfitters)
Now what did I do for the first and second day of Ramadan? Well, thanks to the lateness of my friend and I, we ended up searching for a taxi in the streets of Madinet Nasr, Cairo to go to Mo2attam (an area 15 minutes away) about 10-15 minutes prior to sunset. That search, as one may expect, did not turn out successful. First of all, at this time the streets are emptier than you will ever see them in daylight. Second, even if some unlucky taxi driver happens to still be out, he will most likely want to get to the closest food vendor or his family if in the area. Driving in the desert when he should be eating is not a wishful situation. Consequently, when the azan was called, we were stranded in the same spot with a glass of Tang (a sugary powder mixed in water) each, handed to us by some kids. Mine had a tiny fly in it, but given that it was a street drink in Cairo I did not have high expectations (3ady, ya3ny); hence I picked it out and drank with much gusto (survival of the fittest, yo).
A merciful driver stopped soon thereafter, and got us tons more of free street drinks sans flies before we reached our destination where a hearty 1st day Egyptian Ramadan meal with fresh juice awaited us. Gotta love the Cairene Ramadan spirit of giving and sharing, with or without flies.
We did not make it to taraweeh even though we planned to, but spent time with friends until late.
(What I’m wearing: Zebra square scarf: H&M, bubble neck scarf: H&M, oversized top: Boohoo, pleated jersey maxi skirt: Unique Hijabs, rose metal belt: Urban Outfitters, accessories: Ebay, H&M)
The next day was taken up by a phone interview and school work, but we were better at timing; we actually made to iftar on time. Taraweeh was prayed in a cute mosque in Masr el Gededa, before hanging out in beautiful Zamalek, snacking on Egyptian traditional food, sugar cane juice, and tea with mint in a new, sha3by-style cafe with good friends. Life is good, elhamdlelah.
(This is what an Egyptian Ramadan looks like – excuse the bad picture quality)