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Ayat-ayat Cinta in English

posted May 12, 2010, 11:26 AM by Surya Darma

This brief translation is done by a good friend, Fazil Munir. Compare with the Indonesian here.


An Egyptian Girl Named Maria 

      In the middle of the day, Cairo was smouldering. The sun glowed like a tongue of fire licking the earth. The dirt and sand gave off a hellish scent. The blowing Sahara wind, propelling clouds of dust,  increased the heat from moment to moment. Many of the people took refuge in their cube-shaped apartments, their doors, windows, and curtains shut tight.   

      Definitely resting in one's air conditioned apartment was far more pleasant than walking outside, even if only to attend the jamaah prayers in the masjid. The call of the azan for dhuhr from thousands of minarets throughout the city only moved and awakened hearts that were truly strong in faith- those with a spirit of worship for all seasons and climates, like coral that remained standing firm despite the pounding of waves, the assault of hurricanes, and the heat of the sun.  Remaining firm and upright as commanded by God, glorification without pause. Or, like the sun which for millions of years burned itself to give light to the earth and the universe- without ever flagging, without ever complaining in the slight in carrying out the decree of God. 

        The hot season always peaked as August arrived.  

      In a situation as uncomfortable as this, I myself was often lazy to go out. The weather forecast said it would be 41 degrees celcius. Students from Southeast Asia who couldn't stand the heat, quite often would get mimisan- nosebleeds…These last three days, my housemate Saiful would always end the day with blood flowing from his nose- even if he'd stayed indoors all day.  

      With a firm spirit, after brushing away my aras-arasen (laziness/incapacity) I got ready to go out. By 2 sharp, I had to be in Masjid Abu Bakar As-Sidiq in Subhra el-Khaima, at the north end of Cairo, to talaqqi (study face to face with a scholar), with Shaikh Usman Abdul Fattah. With this great scholar I studied the Seven Recitations of the Quran and the Foundations of Exegesis. He was a student of Shaikh Mahmoud Khushari, a legendary scholar who had the title Shaikhul Maqari wal Huffadh fi Mashr or "The great teacher of Quranic Recitation and Memorization of Cairo." 

      My schedule in studying with the sheikh was quite disciplined- twice a week. Every Sunday and Wednesday. He always came on time- and was never absent. The season or weather made no difference. As long as he was not sick and had no important excuse, he would surely come. So of course it would be quite inappropriate if I were to be absent just because of the heat. After all, he did not easily accept students to study the Seven Recitations. Whoever wanted to study the seven recitations with him had to first have memorized the Quran entirely according to one of them- whether Imam Warsh, Imam HAfs, or whatever. This year he only accepted ten students. I was one of those fortunate ten. Even more fortunately, he knew me well. I had studied the Quran with him since my first year in al-Azhar, and also, among the ten, I was the only non-native of Egypt. I was the only foreigner, and of course- the only Indonesian. So it wasn't surprising that I stood out. None of my Egyptian friends felt jealous because of this. They were all understanding. And because of that, if I was ever absent the Shaikh and his friends would call me directly. Why hadn't I come? Was I sick? So I had to resolve myself to always be there as long as I could travel to Shubra, even if the weather was scorching and the sky full of dust storms. Even if the distance was 50 kilometers longer. 

            I took my beloved copy of the Quran. 

      I kissed it for ta'zhim (honoring). Then I put it into the front pocket of my old green travel bag. Although worn-out, it was my loyal companion- accompanying me from my studies in Madrasah Aliyah until now, taking S.2 in the oldest university in the world, in the delta Nile. I also took a small water bottle, wrapping it in black plastic and placing it in my bag. I also took water on trips; in addition to being practical and it was also a really economical- considering that on the long trip from HAdayek Helwan until Shubra El-Khaima there was no one who sold water. 

      I opened my door a bit timidly. My heart was apprehensive- the Sahara wind blew loudly. Hard and fast. IT was hard to believe how disorderly it was out there. Heat enmeshed with dust-storms. A situation far from comfortable. But I had to firm up my intention. Bismillah tawakkaltu ala Allah, slowly I opened the door of my apartment. 

            Wuss! 

      The Sahara wind slapped my face hard. Dust and sand danced everywhere. I closed the door again- I felt like I forgot something. 

            "Mr. Fahri, the wind is really hot, the weather's bad. Isn't best if you just rest in the apartment?" It was Saiful, who had just come out of the bathroom. He had cleaned up his nosebleed. 

            "Insha-Allah, it will be alright. It really wouldn't be right if I missed Shaikh Usman's lesson. He's 75 years old and he's always on time- no matter the season - and his home is 2 kilos from the masjid." I picked up my skullcap and black sunglasses.  

      "Allah yubarik fik, sir" he answered hoarsely, as he checked his nose again for signs of bleeding. 

      Wa iyyakum! I answered while putting on my sunglasses and skullcap, covering the white stitched one I had already put on. 

      "Have you brought your water?" 

      I nodded. 

      "Saif, Rudi asked to be woken up at 2:30. Last night he was working late. IT looks like he got to sleep around 10:30. Please tell him to buy sugar and frying oil. Today it's his turn…Oh yeah I almost forgot. It's HAmdi's turn to cook. HE really likes to cook oseng wortel mixed with kofta. Let him known the kofta and wortel are finished…" 

      Just as one entrusted with the task of running family- although without a mother in the home- I had to be sharp in watching over the needs of the family. Five of us lived in the apartment- me, Saiful, Rudi, Hamdi, and Misbah. I happened to be the oldest, and I'd been in Egypt the longest. I was also the highest academically- awaiting the announcement to write my master's thesis in Al-Azhar. The others were still in S.1. Saiful and Rudi were in the third level, trying to enter the fourth, while Misbah and Hamdi were waiting for notice that they had passed and attained the title Lc., or License. They had all taken their final exams from the end of last May until June. Now, in the beginning of August, the results would come out. 

            And today, it happened there were only three of us in the apartment- me, Saiful, and Rudi. Hamdi was at an event in Dokki, in the Indonesian masjid of Cairo. He had been asked to provide leadership training for the youth, all of whom were children of KBRI officials. He'd said he was finished today and would return later in the afternoon. Mas for Misbah, he was at Rab'ah el-adawea, Nasr City. He said he wanted to stay the night at Wisma Nusantara, at Mr. Khalid's place, to plan a draft for Islamic economic training with Professor Maulana Husayn Shehata, in the middle of the coming September. Everyone in this apartment was busy. As for myself, although not active in any organization, I also had a busy schedule- researching for my thesis, studying the Seven Recitations, translating, and holding discussions with my Indonesian friends in S.2 and S.3. Small affairs like cooking, shopping, and throwing out the trash, if not arranged well and wisely, would become a problem- and disturb our harmony. The five of us were like brothers. Loving, caring, and understanding each other. We each had the same rights and obligation- no one was superior to anyone; our motto was baiti jannati- my home is my heaven. Our place of stay had to be a happy place. And as the oldest, I felt responsibility to keep this a reality. 

            I walked to the door. 

            "Saif, don't forget what I just said!" 

            "InshaAllah, sir." 

      Outside, the wind blew fiercely. Indeed, as Saiful said, the weather wasn't too good.  

            Ah if I didn't keep in mind that there would be a day hotter and riskier than this day. The day when mankind stand on the field of Mashar, with the sun only a span from the tops of their heads. And that my presence in this city of a thousand minarets is a trust. And a trust surely will be taken to account. That the youth I was passing would also be taken to account. That not all people were given the honor to study in this land of the prophets. That I was studying here through selling off my only inheritance of my older brother. That I was sent off with tears and prayers from my mother, father and siblings. That a schedule is a promise that must be honored. That performing salat dhuhr in my room and then napping with the air conditioner on, while listening to the melodies of El-Himl el-Arabi or El-hubb al-haqiqi or Syrian singer Emad Rami's praises of the Prophet, was all definitely pleasant. Even more so if accompanied by ashir- mango jucie cooled for a week in kulkus (????), or a watermelon cooled for two days. Masha-Allah, how refreshing. 

      I slowly opened the apartment door. 

      Wuss! 

      The Sahara wind slapped my face again. I walked out and down the steps, one by one. Our apartment was on the third floor. This apartment had six floors and no elevator. Arriving at the ground floor, the rays of the sun seemed to penetrate my black skullcap into my white one. My sunglasses seemed to offer no defense as the blinding rays glared in my eyes. 

      I began walking on the road. 

            "Psst…psst…Fahri! Fahri!" 

      I stopped. My ear caught the sound of a voice calling my name from above. A voice I knew. I looked back searching for the source of the sound. To the fourth floor. Exactly above my room. An clear-faced Egyptian girl had opened her window while smiling, her clear eyes watching me brightly. 

            "Hey Fahri, it's so hot…Where are you going?" 

            "Shubra." 

            "Talaqqi Al Quran?" 

            I nodded. 

            "When are you coming back?" 

            At 5 insha Allah 

            Can you get me something 

            Get what? 

            Buy me a floppy disk? I'm too lazy to go out. 

            Okay, InshaAllah 

            I turned back to the road. 

            FArhi, istanna suwayya 

            Fi eh Kaman 

            I stopped 

            Is money a problem? 

            Don't worry about it. 

            Shukran Fahri 

            Afwan.   

      I quickly walked toward the masjid for salat dhuhr. The heat was no joke. 

      That Egyptian girl was named Maria. She liked to be called Maryam. Two names basically the same. She was the oldest child of Mr. Boutros Rafael Girgis of the great Girgis family- a Coptic Christian family. It could be said the Maria's family were our closest neighbors Their home was exactly above ours. It was really beautiful how polite they were to us as Indonesian students studying in Al Azhar. 

            Maria was a unique girl. 

            She was a Coptic Christian- or Qibti in Egyptian. She had memorized several chapters of the Quran- including Surah Maryam- a surah that made her feel proud. I knew that from a conversation we once had on the metro. We met by chance. She was coming back from Cairo University while I was coming back from Al-Azhar University. By chance we shared a seat. 

            "Hey your name is Fahri isn't it? 

            That's correct. 

            I'm sure you know my name 

            I do. Your name is Maria. The daughter of Mr. Boutros Girgis. 

            You're right 

            What is the difference between Maria and Maryam 

            They are the same name. Like David and Daud. My name is in your holy book- the book that has been most read in the world throughout history. It's even the name of a surah- the 19th one, Surah Maryam. Cool isn't it?" 

      "Hey, how can you say the Quran is the most read book in human history? How do you know that?" I asked in amazement 

      She answered unhesitatingly, "Don't be surprised if I say that. It's called objectivity. And that's just the way it is. Charles Francis Potter said so, ""The Quran is more honored and valued than other holy books. It is more valued than the Old and New Testament according to Priest J. Shillidy in his book The Lord Jesus in the Koran. And in fact there is no book in this world more read and memorized- by millions of people- other than the Quran. Both by students and little kids- one can't pass from the Ma'had al-Azhar without memorizing the Quran. I myself, a Coptic Christian, really like to memorize the Quran. Its language is beautiful and nice to hear." 

      I was amazed, "You like to memorize the Quran? Did I mishear?" 

      Is there anything strange in that? 

      I know Surah Maryam and Al-Maidah by heart. 

      Really? 

      You don't believe me? Try to correct me! 

      Maria then began reciting Surah Maryam. Oddly, she began with the ta'awudz and the basmalah. She knew the etiquette and manner of reciting the Quran. From The Mahattah (terminal) Anwar Sadat Tahrir until Tura E-Esmen; I listened to Maria the whole way; she didn't forget a single letter. Her recitation was good- not as good as an Azhar student. From Tura El-Esmen until HAdayek Helwan Maria continued to chat with me. I ignored the stares of Egyptians, amazed I was on good terms with Maria. 

      That was Maria, the strangest girl I ever knew. While I knew her well enough, both through her own words in that chance encounter, or through her father- who was quite open- she was still a mystery to me. She was a smart girl. Her final grades at Finishing School were the second best in the nation. She had entered the Communications branch at the University of Cairo. And every step of the way, she had achieved the title of mumtaz, or cumlaude. She was always the best in class. She was once offered a job as a reporter for Ahram, the most famous radio in Egypt. But she declined- she would rather be a freelance writer. Definitely a very strange Coptic girl. I noticed she liked to hear the adzan, even though she never missed church. I always thought- What's her angle? 

      All throughout my knowing her, I only heard positive words from her about Islam. In terms of her manners in speaking and interacting, she was more Muslim than many self proclaimed Muslim Egyptian girls. I very rarely heard her laughing; she preferred smile. Her clothes were always loose, neat and tasteful. Always long-sleeved, covered to the heels. But she didn't wear a hijab. But far more tasteful than the Egyptian girls her age who wore tight clothes, sometimes midriff exposing. Maria liked the Quran even though she did not call herself a Muslim. But her honoring of the Quran was often greater than some Muslim intellectuals. 

      She once said that she attended a discussion about the language of the Quran at the Art Faculty at the University of Cairo. The discussion leader was a doctor of philosophy, graduated from Sorbonne, France. Maria felt very awkward at the professor's conceit, when he said that the Quran was not sacred because from a linguistic point of view, there were things amiss. He gave an example from the Quran of a string of letters whose meaning no one knew- Alif laam miim, alif, laam ra, haa miim, yaa siin, thaaha nuun, kaf ha ya ain saad, etc. 

      Maria told me 

      "Fahri, I was very amused to hear that from the doctor from Sorbonne. He is an Arab, a Muslim, but how can he say something so stupid. Even I, a Coptic, can appreciate the beauty of the Quran with its alif laam miim. I feel that arrangements of letters like that, are divine formulas with awesome meaning. It's not easy to know the meaning, but its awesomeness can be grasped by those with taste for high Arabic language. IF that arrangement is seen as a flaw, the disbelievers of Quraish, who didn't like the Quran and opposed it from the beginning would surely have taken that chance to protest. They would have attacked the language of the Quran without end. But in fact, the opposite happened. They admitted its incredible beauty. They felt the language of the Quran was not human language but language from the heavens. So I think that professor was really off the mark; his words were not worthy for someone of his education." 

      I then explained to Maria a few things in connection with those parts of the Quran she had referred to. Full of all kinds of secrets mined by the scholars and commentators- their meaning, their wisdom, and their influence on the soul. I also clarified that Maria's opinion- that the letters were divine formulas with mystical meanings, which only God knew in their totality, was indeed the opinion of the majority of commentators. 

      "Really?" she asked, smiling proudly. 

      I smiled back.  

      In this world there are indeed many secrets of God which cannot be explained by weak humans such as myself. One of them is the state of a girl like Maria. And I didn't feel I needed to ask her why she didn't follow the teachings of the Quran. I felt that question wasn't appropriate for a smart girl like Maria. She sure had her reasons. This was what made me regard Maria is a strange and mysterious girl. The issues of guidance and faith are indeed mysterious questions. Because only Allah can decide who will attain guidance. Abu Talib was the uncle of the Prophet and died protecting the call to Islam. The Prophet's love for him was the same love that he had for his birth father. But guidance is the hands of Allah alone. The Prophet could not do anything for the fate of his beloved uncle. With Maria it was the same. Only Allah could give it to her. 

      Perhaps, since the azan had sounded, Maria had opened her window and looked below, waiting for me to come out. And when I came out to the apartment floor,  she called out in a voice half a whisper. She knew that twice a week I would go out for talaqqi the Quran. Every Sunday and Wednesday. Leaving after the azan of dhuhr and returning after the adzan of Asar. And today was Wednesday. She would often ask me a favor, like buying a disk, photocopying something, buying printing ink. I wasn't too bothered by that. There were many copy shops and computer repair stores in Hadayek Helwan and if not there, then in Shubra el-Khaima. 

      The wind was truly sweltering. Maria was sensible for not wanting to go out, even if the store that sold disks was only 50 meters from her apartment. This was the height of the heat season. The weather report said it would continue until the middle of next week, 39-41 celsius. And that was just Cairo. In the south of Egypt and Sudan, who knew? Surely even worse. The crown of my head boiled. 

      I heard the call of the iqamat. That noble call truly calmed my heart. The doors of achieving peace and happiness were still open wide. I increased my steps. 30 meters ahead was MAsjid al Fath Al-Islami. My beloved masjid- full of unforgettable memories- the place I let out all my joys and sorrows throughout my studies here. The place I entrusted the secret of my nostalgia, seven years since leaving my mother and father. The place I cried out to the Giver of provision at the critical moment when my money had run out, with debts to my friends piling up, when my royalties for translation had not yet arrived. The place I put my heart in order, made my strategies, firmed up my determination and strength for a long struggle. 

      I entered the masjid… 

      Wuss! 

      The cool wind from 5 ACs in the masjid gently welcomed me. Alhamdulillah. Tens of people had arranged themselves neatly in the rows of prayer. I put my cap and bag under a nearby pillar and stood in the second row. Peace spread over all nerves and souls. The blowing air cooled my face and neck. I wiped away the sweat that had just flowed profusely. I felt calm in the caress of the love of God the Most Compassionate. He felt close, closer than my jugular vein, closer than the beat of my heart. 

Event on the Train 

      After prayers, I greeted Shaikh Ahmad. His full name was Shaikh Ahmad Taqiyuddin Abdul Majid. He was a young man who had always been close to me. He never grudged a smile whenever we met. He was only 31 years old, and half a year ago had received a degree in Islamic history from al-Azhar. He had only one child, two years old. He was now working at the ministry of charitable endowments while working for his doctorate. He was a also a lecturer of Islamic history at the Mahad Idadud Duat, which was managed by Jamiyyah Shariyyah, together with the Faculty of Islamic outreach at Al-Azhar. In all of Egypt, until now, this ma'had was only in two locations: Ramsis and Hadayek Helwan. 

      Although still young, his depth of religious knowledge and fluency in reading and interpreting the Quran earned him the title of "sheikh." Humility and high commitment to defend the truth made his him much-loved and honored figure of all classes in Hadayek Helwan and beyond. What was interesting about him was that he was very close with young servants. The title "sheikh" did not make him feel awkward playing soccer every Friday morning with young kids. If Maria was strange for a Coptic girl, I felt Shaikh Ahmad was unique for a scholar. 

      Akh Fahri, where are you going? Asked the Shaikh warmly, a smile lighting up his face. His beard was arranged neatly. I took a moment to gaze at his face. Shaikh Ahmad was definitely a handsome man. He wouldn't be out of place next to Kazem Saheer, a popular Iraqi singer- the heart throb of all teenage girls throughout the Middle East. He also had a beautiful voice- it wasn't surprising that he was loved by all. (Don't really understand the next sentence)… 

      "The same as always, to Shubra," I answered flatly. 

      He understood immediately- Shaikh Ahmad had once studied the Seven Recitations with Shaikh Usman in Shubra. Now and then he would return there. 

      "The weather's bad- very hot. Isn't it best if you just rest? It's not a close walk from here. Think about your health, akh," he said while placing his right hand on my left shoulder. 

      "That's true, Shaikh. But I have a commitment to my schedule. A schedule is a promise. My going is a promise to myself and to Shaikh Usman." 

      "InshaAllah. May Allah accompany your journey. 

      Amen," I answered softly while looking at the wall clock above the mihrab. 

      My time was running out. 

      "Shaikh, I must leave now," I said as I stood. Shaikh Ahmad followed me in standing. I gathered up my bag, cap and sunglasses. 

      Shaikh Ahmad smiled, looking at my appearance. 

      With that cap and black sunglasses you look like a Hong Kong film star. Who would think you are a high-level Azhar student who has memorized the Quran. 

      "That you know it is enough," I answered smiling, "please pray for me. Assalamu Aleykum." 

      Wa aleykum asalaam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu 

      Outside the masjid the assaults of the sun and wind storms continued unabated. Quickening my footsteps, I shuffled to the Mahatah metro 30 meters or so in front of me. I eventually reached the ticket window. 

      Ya Kapten, wahid Shubra! I said to the attendant, whose head was balding and huge. His face full of sweat despite the small fan rotating behind him. When referring to an unknown male, "ya kapten," or "ya Basha" was usually sufficient; if he was older then "ya ammu," if he had been on haj, then "ya haji." 

      "Mashi ya Andonesh" he answered while handing me the ticket. He took my payment of one pound and returned 20 piesters. I entered my ticket into the slot to open the train door. After entering, I retrieved it. Without that ticket I wouldn't be able to get off at Shubra later. And if there was a check en route, I would have to show my ticket. If not, I would be fined- usually 10 pounds- and a good round of cursing my the inspection officers. 

      To the people of Egypt, especially Cairo, the train was a thing of pride. Sophisticated enough; the underground railways at Attaba, Tahrir and Ramsis looked modern and advanced. Naturally, considering the engineers were all French. Egyptians often prided themselves on their railways because of this. 

      "If you are in Mahattah metro Tahrir our Ramsis it is just as if you were in a mahattah metro in Paris." 

      Really? 

      I didn't know because I had never been to Paris. But I once read in a magazine that there was an underground railroad in Paris styled after ancient Egypt- Its walls were adorned with hieroglyphics, and parts were embellished with ancient Egyptian symbols and statues, like the monument of Alexandria, a crucifix shaped pyramid key, statues of Tutankhmoun, Tutmosis, Ramses III, Amenophis III, Cleopatra and others. Such a nuance was very heavy in mahattah metro Anwar Sadat Tahrir, in the heart of Cairo. 

      A dull blue metro approached. Its doors opened slowly. People descended. And then the waiting passengers boarded. I entered coach 5. I was sure I'd find a place to sit. In hot weather like this there would surely be few passengers. So as soon as I entered, I scouted for open seats. Unfortunately, all seats were taken- with five passengers standing. That was amazing, how could that happen? Even in much better weather, finding a seat wasn't hard. 

      My forehead wrinkled. 

      Finding a seat was within one's "portion"- allotted before time began. If one couldn't find a seat, that wasn't one's allotment. I shifted towards the fan- but it was almost useless. The hot wind, turned about my the fan, remained hot. The Metro sped on its course. The air entering the coach was also hot. The desert was boiling. All the passengers were drenched in sweat. 

      A young man with a thin beard, not far from me, was looking at me with a smile. I smiled back. He approached me and offered his hand. 

      Ana ahlukum, Ashraf," introducing himself politely. Using "ahlukum," basically meant that we were both Muslims. 

      "Ana ahlukum Fahri." 

      "Min Shin?" 

      It was very difficult for Egyptians to differentiate between Chinese and Southeast Asians. 

      La. Ana Andonesh. 

      We chatted. I talked about sports- a topic Egyptians were the most fond of. Especially the competition between the three great clubs of Egypt- Ahli, Zamalek and Ismaili. He was from Zamalek. Proudly he said "sheikh Muhammad Jibril is a loyal native of Zamalek."I just smiled. I didn't need to ask for proof. It wasn't important. Intense fans of a club would seek much data to support their beloved club. So I replied by praising some of the greatest players of Zamalek, especially Hosam Hasan. He looked happy. That was my goal- nothing more. Not in vain had I read the books of Shaikh Abbas As-Sisi on how to win the sympathy of others. Our conversation wandered. He was very happy to know I was studying at Al-Azhar. He was even more surprised to know I was going to Shubra to talaqqi with Shaikh Usman. 

      He said, "In Helwan I studied the recitation of Imam Hafs with Shaikh Hasan, a student of none other than Shaikh Usman. Shaikh Hasan would always tell me to study the Seven Recitations with Shaikh Hasan but I never had time. I was so busy with work and family. You are very fortunate, Indonesian." 

      The Metro pounded away. I didn't even realize we had reached Thakanat Maadi. 

      "Akh Ashraf, where are you getting off?" I asked as the train stopped and some passengers made ready to step off. 

      "Sayyeda Zaeneb, Insha Allah." 

      The door of the metro opened. A few people got off. Two seats were left empty. I could have invited Ashraf to sit there with me. But there was a middle aged man still standing. He was looking out the window, unnoticing of the empty seats. I invited him to have a seat. HE thanked me. There was still an empty seat. I invited Ashraf to sit. He didn't want to and forced me to take the seat. Suddenly I saw a woman in an old blue abaya, with a blue hijab entering from a door farther away. I abandoned my intention to take the seat. She had more right to the seat than I did. I motioned to her with my hand. She understood, walked over and sat, saying "Shukran." 

      The Metro sped on. 

      Ashraf and I continued our conversation. This time it was about America. He was very infuriated with America and he had a thousand reasons. His words were as flaring as the speech of President Abdul Nasser to build up spirit in the Arab world during the 1967 war: 

      "Ayatollah Khomeini is right- America is Satan. It must be driven off!" he said, full of rage. Egyptians liked to talk. And when they spoke they always felt themselves to be in the right. I remained quiet, letting Ashraf speak to his heart's content. I intervened only now and then, at the right moments. Now and then I would check my surroundings, including outside the window- so I'd know how far we had reached. I noticed that blue-clad woman take out a copy of the Quran from her bag and read it silently. Or perhaps with a very soft voice. People reading the Quran in the metro, on the bus, and in stations and terminals was not a strange sight in Cairo- especially when the fasting month came. 

      The metro arrived at Maadi, one of the elite parts of Cairo along with Heliopolis, Dokki El-Zamalek and Mohandesen. Some even said it was the most elite, even more so than Heliopolis. That wasn't too important. Those names were all names of elite places. Each had its own specialty. Dokki was where the diplomats resided. Mohandesen was the place of the celebrities and businessmen. Maadi was probably the best arranged area- planned by the English. It streets were wide, every house had a garden, and close to the Nile. Living in Maadi meant high prestige, like living in Paris versus living in other big cities in Europe. That was a comparison I got from Mr. Boutros, Maria's father, who worked at a private bank in Maadi. Prestige is definitely a subjective topic. One living in the quite dirty area of Sayyeda Zaeneb felt more prestige there than other places in Egypt. After all, it was close to the tomb of Sayyeda Zaeneb, granddaughter of the Prophet SAW. As for those living near MAsjid Amr bin al-As- they felt more fortunate to live near the first mosque built in Africa. 

      The door of the metro opened, and some passengers descended. Then the others climbed in. Three westerners entered as well- an elderly lady, wearing a blouse and knee-level shorts. Her face was pale, perhaps because of the heat. With her was a young boy and a young girl- perhaps her children or grandchildren. Both had travel bags. The boy wore black sun glasses and a cap with an American flag; he only wore a T-shirt and shorts. The girl wore a tight, sleeveless, you can see blouse, and tight pants. All of her curves could be seen and her navel was exposed. Both attracted gazes. They looked for a place to sit. But there was none. Many people were standing, including me. 

      I smiled at Ashraf saying "Ashraf, do you want to send a message to the American President?" 

      What do you mean 

      Those are definitely Americans. Next week they might be in Americ. You can leave a message with them that their president not act as stupidly as what you were describing just now." 

      Ashraf turned to the right, looking at those three westerners with a resentful glare. Suddenly he screamed: 

      "Ya Amrikaniyyn, la'natullah alaykum." 

      The passengers who heard Ashraf's words turned in the directions of the three newcomers, just like chicklets startled at the arrival of a fox in their cage. I examined the faces of the Egyptians- unsympathetic and unhappy. Even more so considering that the attire of the western girl could be called impolite. Egyptians regarded Americans as a source of corruption in the Middle East. They were infuriated at how Americans liked to play off the Muslims against the Coptic Christians. America once accused the government and Muslims of Egypt of oppressing the Coptics. Such an accusation riled up the all of the people of Egypt. Immediately Father Shnouda, the highest and most charismatic leader of the Coptics, affirmed that the American accusation was a lie- an accusation aiming to destroy the ties of brotherhood between the Muslims and Coptics, which had been firmly planted for centuries in the land of Kinanah. 

      Fortunately the three westerns could not understand Arabic. They seemed unmoved by Ashraf's words. Indeed, when annoyed, Egyptians could say almost anything. In a market in Sayyeda Zainab I once saw a fish seller scolding his wife. Whatever the reason- he showered his wife with a variety of courses, very crude and unpleasant to hear: "Ya bintal haram, ya sharmuthah, ya bintal khinzir." The hairs on my neck stiffened. It was appalling to hear such words. But the wife wouldn't be defeated. She retaliated with curses no less dirty and crude 

      I never liked to hear harsh language, even less cursing. No one has a right to curse people except God. Mankind has clearly been honored by God, without exception- just as the Quran says "Walaqa karramna bani Adam, And we have ennobled the children of Adam!!" If God has honored mankind, how can a human curse and revile others? Does he feel higher in position than God? 

      I was very ashamed by Ashraf's behavior. It was far from the etiquette of the Quran, which he read every day. He had completed a reading of Hafs. Yet he had not progressed beyond the reading, and had not let it reach his soul. May Allah guide his heart. 

      But what really amazed me was the fact that these westerners were in the metro in such hot weather. If they wanted to travel, why didn't they a limousine or an air-conditioned taxi? I felt sorry for them. They seemed tortured- drenched in sweat, their skin red. Especially the elderly lady, who would gulp down mineral water now and then. Her face remained pale. They were not accustomed to such heat. I remembered Majidov, a friend from Russia. He couldn't stand the heat of Egypt. He stayed in Madinatul Bu'uts, also known as Bu'uts alone- a dormitory for students from all over the world. There was no AC in Bu'uts. When the hot season came, he would waddle from Bu'uts stay in an apartment with some friends at Rab'ah el- adawea. Whoever had AC would be his roommates for the night. But not all Russian students were like Majidov. Many could stand the heat. 

      No one moved to allow that old lady to sit. Many boys and middle-aged men, strong enough, were not willing to give up their seats for her. Normally, seeing an elderly lady, many people would immediately surrender their seat. But not this time. The boy began talking with an Egyptian youth in a checkered, short sleeved shirt sitting near him. Eventually, I realized the boy's intention. He was asking the Egyptian youth to allow his elderly mother a chance to sit. They would be getting off at Tahrir. But that Egyptian boy didn't pay attention. It didn't matter. Did he not understand English? Did he not like Americans? I didn't know. 

      That elderly woman seemed too weak to stand. She began to slip. Just before she reached the floor, the blue-clad woman cried out "Mom, wait! Please sit down here!" 

      That woman with the blue chador got up from her seat. The two western youths led the old woman to the seat. After she took a seat, the foreign girl stood next to the blue-clad woman. I was a marked contrast. Both were women. Yet one was neatly covered. Not one part of her body was exposed that could make a man's heart lust. The other wore tight clothes, with all of form exposed, practically naked. 

      "Thank you. It's very kind of you!" The foreign girl said to the blue-clad one. 

      "Your'e welcome," she replied. The two began chatting. The blue-clad woman offered an apology for her less-polite countrymen. Her English was excellent. I didn't expect that at all. It was a rare accomplishment for an Egyptian; they pronounce "f" like "b"; friend becomes "bren." It was amusing to hear. But this girl was fluent, even more fluent that the newsreporter on Nile TV. 

      The foreign girl smiled saying, "Oh not at all. It's all right. The weather is really hot and tiring. Everyone is tired. When people are like that, it's hard to reach out. That's human nature." 

      "Bushit! Hey veiled woman, what are you doing?"

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