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Equal Partners
by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners

By Roland Ezri

"Women are the backbone of all societies. They do a substantial part of the work, and play a major role in raising the future generation yet they are largely powerless. The decisions that count are made by men and foisted upon women."

Writings by Roland Ezri

The Second Exodus – Egypt – CLXXVIII. A Return Visit (7 of 15)

Cairo on my own

Being a native Cairene, there were many places I could visit on my own, and I did just that.

Muski and Khan el Khalili

Muski and Khan el Khalili are used interchangeably by tourists and Egyptians alike; they are in effect two different areas; both are shoppers’ paradise and both are colorful beyond belief.

My visit there was a walk down memory lane, for that is where my dad had his business. I have described it in Part XXXVII, here, I will provide you with a general overview of this bazaar.

In Muski, you will find merchants selling pots, pans, cutlery and a variety of household goods. In Khan el Khalili you will find clothing, perfumes, all the items you’ll need for incense, and even carpets. In any case, any differentiation between the wares offered in both markets is artificial, no rigid rules are adhered to.

A walk there transport you to another time and place even if you don’t buy anything, but that of, course, is unheard of. You will not come out empty-handed, and you will enjoy haggling over the price; you will not win, but you’re sure to enjoy yourself.

Needless to say, there are exceptions to every rule. I spend half a day there, had lunch, and didn’t buy a single item! I was there for the memories, and for me they were priceless; I didn’t need anything else.

The Mosque of Al-Azhar

Al Azhar which means the most blooming was the first mosque of the newly founded city of Cairo (what existed before was Al- Fustat). Cairo was founded by the Fatimid (who claimed to be direct descendants of Fatima, the Prophet’s daughter) Dynasty when they invaded Egypt in 969; one of their early actions, was building Al-Azhar (completed in 971). The Fatimids used Al-Azhar to propagate their own version of Islam. Indeed Al-Azhar is so much more than a mosque, it is a centre of learning, perhaps unique in the world. It is the oldest university on the planet and the foremost centre of Islamic theology.

Over the centuries, it has been rebuilt and added to many times. Its original charm was lost in the process. But you don’t go there for the building, your interest lies with the people and the surroundings.

At any time you’re practically sure to encounter students and teachers arguing the fine points of Islam. There is an intensity in Al-Azhar that you will not encounter in many other places.

For more than a thousand years, Al-Azhar has offered free instruction, and room and board to students from all over the Islamic world; some of the courses on the curriculum have at times lasted some 15 years!

And this curriculum has remained unchanged since the days of Saladin, who turned Al-Azhar from a Shi’ite school to a Sunni one. Gamal Abdel Nasser extended its role and made it into a complete university as opposed to a religious institution only. It now, for instance, offers schools of medicine, science, and foreign languages. The university proper can now be found behind the mosque.

You enter the mosque through the double-arched Gate of the Barbers (where formerly students had their heads shaved). On the left of the courtyard is a library which I visited, to the right is a 14th century madrasa with a fine mihrab (the niche in the wall of a mosque indicating the direction of Mecca) which I also visited. The sanctuary hall beyond the entrance is very deep with rows after rows of column, I saw it from a distance. Since I arrived at prayer time, my visit, of necessity, was kept short.

The area around Al-Azhar borrows some of its intensity from the famous institution at its centre. Here, I did buy some souvenirs: A ta’ia (a round hat which totally encloses the top of your head), a small tabla (drum), and a tape where an imam recites parts from the Koran; when I could find a quiet moment, I listened to it, and enjoyed the supernal beauty of the language, and the passion of the reader.

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