6 - 12 January 2000
Issue No. 463
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
Egypt Region International Economy Opinion Culture Heritage Millennium Features Profile Living Travel Sports People Time Out Chronicles Cartoons Letters
Celebrations by all meansBy Nesmahar Sayed
This generation -- and many generations to follow -- will never witness the birth of a new millennium again. But the fact that this inimitable event occurred during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan put the New Year's hype into perspective for many Egyptians who spent the evening away from the madness.
Noran Essawie, 17, believes that Ramadan is a month for worship and prayer. Rather than attend any celebration, she chose to go to the mosque and pray Taraweeh, special night-time Ramadan prayers. "I felt that the new year should start with prayers and Qur'an," she says, "rather than sins that may drive me out of God's mercy."
The same was the case with Mona Ahmed, a kindergarten teacher who went to the mosque for Taraweeh, then read Qur'an. Ahmed has been concentrating more on her religious duties ever since the previous week's earthquake. She says that she needs God's blessing more than any year because "It is a new millennium, which I will not see again."
Of course, not all people were driven to a religious evening simply because it was Ramadan. Hoda Kamal, a housewife, has chosen a unique way of celebrating the new year, whether it falls during Ramadan or not, for many years now. She usually goes to her husband's cousin's house where the whole family gathers. "We hold a dish party, then everyone reads a part of the Qur'an. After we finish all the parts, we pray to God and ask Him whatever we want," she says. "This gathering is usually at night, but during Ramadan it starts at iftar and lasts until midnight."
For Jihan Salah, 28, New Year's Eve also used to be a special occasion for the whole family at her uncle's home, but for the last few years, the event has lost significance to her. The over-publicity for the Pyramids show, she says, made her particularly disinclined to celebrate, adding that the extravagant cost of the performance could have paid for projects helping all the people in deep need of housing and jobs. "This argument made me insist on not going to the celebrations and going to the mosque to pray instead, as I do every day," she says.
At the mosque, she was surprised by the attitude of the sheikh, who said they would celebrate the millennium in a different way. "We have to celebrate the millennium by thinking about what we did in the last year and ask God to forgive us for our sins and ask Him to help us to be good people in the new year," he said. Most of the people in the mosque really felt that they were celebrating the new year, especially after the sheikh surprised everyone with a monshid (a religious singer). What made Salah particularly happy was the attitude of one of the men in the mosque who donated $400 for the poor, instead of buying a ticket to the Giza celebrations. "We felt as if we were in a big party. We returned home very happy and satisfied," she says. "I could not be happier if I went any other place to celebrate."
Many like Sahar Mohamed, a journalist, placed no special importance on the fact that this was New Year's 2000. Mohamed's primary concern was with praying more on this night than on other Ramadan nights, since she felt that this night may be Laylat Al-Qadr (the night when the Qur'an was first revealed to Prophet Mohamed), known as the night when all prayers are accepted by God. The heavy publicity for the Pyramids performance sparked her curiosity, though. "I decided to watch the show for 10 minutes," she said, "...then I switched it off. I preferred that God see me on this night worshipping Him; rather than watching television, which I can do all year."
Mid-year exams also represented a prime reason for skipping out on the millennium festivities. Alaa Shahine, 21, was one of the many students forced to spend the night studying for his examination on 1 January 2000. "I was very upset because I will never attend another millennium -- I should have celebrated," he remarked wistfully, saying that had there not been exams the next day, he would have attended the performances held at the Pyramids or the Nile.
It didn't take such pressing obligations to keep some people home on 31 December; fear of the crowds and the need for privacy was enough. Mohamed Fawzi, a film critic, is one example. He and his wife, who do not like Jarre's music, decided to watch something light and borrowed some old Peter Sellers films. "They were a very happy start to the new year," he says. After midnight, they went to the supermarket and then for a walk in Cairo, which was surprisingly empty and calm.