First things first: YES I know that there are riots and violence going on in Cairo and NO, I am not near them and have neither seen nor heard them in my vicinity. The apartment building I live in is like 3 miles away from downtown and Tahrir Square, so we probably wouldn’t know anything was going on if it wasn’t for the news and the text messages we get from the program director anytime he hears about an incident or protest to warn us where not to go. As far as the people who were kidnapped, that was in Sinai, which has been off limits as a travel option the entire time I have been with my program, so I was also nowhere near there and will not be going close. We have not been put under house arrest again, but have been advised to lay low and not really leave our neighborhood. The result of this is that I have spent most of the past two days in the apartment, which should mean that I got lots of studying done, but I’m not so sure that is the case…
But prior to the past few days was really busy and exciting! As i mentioned in my last post, I went to Cairo University to hear the visiting Supreme Court Justice speak; though I’m not all that savvy when it comes to the legal system and such, I feel like it was not the kind of opportunity to just pass up. While there were no earth-shattering proclamations or anything crazy exciting, it was very interesting to listen to the justice speak and to hear the questions that the audience, mostly law students from the university, ask her. A big theme of the Justice’s comments was the equality of laws for all people, regardless of gender, a clarification to just saying that she supported women’s rights by showing examples of laws that were overturned because they were unfair to men. During the talk we were allowed to write down questions to give to her and I asked how she felt regarding legal equality of other minority groups in the United States, but I guess my question was vetoed, bummer.
The next group trip was on Wednesday when the program went to Dar al-Ifta to meet with the adviser to the Grand Mufti of Egypt. The Mufti is considered the highest voice in Islamic jurisprudence in the country, and dispenses advice, called fatwas, regarding the best way to follow religious law. This advice is non-binding and is only a result of the petitions that are sent to him. While most people want to compare him to the Pope in the Catholic church, he is not at all the same, because he is not considered to be the link to God, only a respected scholar in the field of Islamic law. I know that many Americans throw up their hands in terror as soon as they hear the words Islamic Law or Sharia, but what goes on at Dar al-Ifta is completely different than what those people might think. The Grand Mufti has been quoted as saying that the biggest dangers to Islam in the modern world are Islamic extremists, not Christian infidels, believe it or not. The majority of the fatwas that he issues are related to everyday life and the best way to live a godly life according to the Qur’an, the life of the prophet, previous rulings, and modern interpretations. One of the most interesting aspects of the talk we heard was the importance in considering the time and place of any petition for advice, because context is always important to understand complex morals and values. The adviser also stressed the illegitimacy of many fatwas that make their ways to American ears, usually the controversial ones, like calling for the death of someone. A true fatwa can only come from someone who is recognized by the community as a Mufti and will address a question, not express a holy order. While we were unfortunately not able to meet the Mufti himself, I consider the visit really interesting and feel like I am pretty lucky that in less than a week I heard from two of the biggest names in both the American and Egyptian Islamic legal systems.
After the talk we went to visit Al Azhar mosque, the first mosque established in Cairo in 972. Thanks to some small bribes we got a guided tour of the mosque and even got a chance to climb all the way to the top of the minaret. I think that’s gonna be my new thing here, minaret climbing…
Here’s the view from the entry hall; I got to look at this while I was taking off my shoes
In the center are of the mosque. The minaret to the left is the one we got to go up inside. It was especially treacherous because some parts had no windows, so we were climbing a tiny spiral staircase in complete dark! The way down was actually even more terrifying.
Here’s the view from the little platform about three quarters of the way up; i like that you can see the details of the decoration and the cool background with other towers.
Here’s a decent pic of the Citadel from the top of the minaret. I don’t really know anything about this place, but I think it looks pretty awesome. We have a trip there scheduled for later in the semester, so I will hopefully have some cool pics of it from close up later.
View from the top! Once again, I don’t know what is going on with my hair.
Ok so to conclude, I am totally fine, not getting kidnapped, and not going to violent protests and I am keeping my head down. I have high hopes for a positive resolution to the current situation; I will keep you posted 🙂