Today marks the first day of Ramadan, the month of fasting, blessings, and forgiveness.
For all Muslims, Ramadan has a special spirit as it is known as the month for prayer and charitable activities. In Ramadan, Muslims have a different religious spirit, as they are moved by their belief that Ramadan will empower them to change any bad habit. For example, most of them pray in a mosque on a daily basis, and recite the entire Quran from cover to cover in that setting over the course of the month.
On the other hand, for women, whether they have careers or not, it is known as the month of difficult work, the month of unrealistic expectations that are placed on women throughout its 30 days. When you recall the image of women in Ramadan in any house, you will find them cooking in the kitchen until the adhaan (call to prayer) for Maghrib (sunset) while the rest of the family awaits, tired and hungry. Then, afterwards, she is cleaning the house and taking care of her children. Thus, women must try to start the preparations for the holy month early in order to enjoy its spiritual essence.
Daily News Egypt reviews the preparations of women for Ramadan, revealing the needs and challenges of women during the month, also taking a glimpse at women’s opinions of that stereotyped image and the religious opinion in that regard: whether housework is religiously mandatory or not.
Housewives’ preparations for Ramadan
Iman Ahmed, who lives in Beni Suef, told Daily News Egypt that housework during the month of Ramadan is greatly increased due to the multiplicity of meals and food items that women must prepare at the same time, and each woman in the country prepares significantly more food in this month.
She added that Ramadan has certain habits in her town, for example, people make more food during this time of year because it is a tradition that no one fasts alone. Also, every day, families gather in a big family house and the wives of the men cook the food, coordinating among one another the kind of food to prepare.
She continued saying that the house must be perfectly clean before the start of Ramadan.
Ahmed pointed out that certain food items should be available on the dining tables of both the poor and rich, including yamesh (traditional Ramadan food item), and there must be a kind of poultry and a kind of meat, stressing that Ramadan is a special month for charity, including feeding the poor.
Concerning the husbands’ help in the preparations for Ramadan, she said that according to the traditions of her town, it is considered shameful for men to help women with the preparations.
Working women’s preparations for Ramadan is slightly different
Anhar Kandil, general manager for inspection and internal control at Suez Canal Insurance, told Daily News Egypt that working women prepare for Ramadan before it starts. They are used to buying all the things they need before the holy month due to the lack of time and the increase of religious and social obligations in this month.
She added that a day in Ramadan is very short, explaining that the actual hours that a woman can do anything for herself or for her home are really limited, as there are six hours of work, another six hours of sleep at minimum, and at least three hours for praying and reciting Quran. Thus, this leaves only nine hours.
She continued that in those hours, women have to prepare food and drink, conduct their social responsibilities, visit relatives, and care for their houses and families. Therefore, it is very difficult to prepare or buy any household needs in this month.
Kandil added that working women have four responsibilities, including family responsibility, which is to care for their children and houses.
The second one is their work responsibility, which is to do their work in the best way they could, as Islam urges Muslims to master their jobs.
The third responsibility is the religious responsibility, which is praying during the times of prayer, and to contribute their zakat and sadaqqah, both forms of charity in Islam.
And the last one is the social responsibility, as women have a responsibility towards their communities, which is the charitable work, including compassion towards the poor, urging the community to develop awareness to reduce consumption during the month of Ramadan, and raising awareness among all families that the month of Ramadan is a month of worship and not a month for food.
Female Egyptian expatriates miss Ramadan preparations
Maybe most Egyptian women complain about the burdens of Ramadan preparations, however, many Egyptian expatriates long to return to Egypt and enjoy those preparations.
For her part, Dina Ahmed, a pharmacist who lives in the United States with her husband and daughter, told Daily News Egypt that she hopes to return to Egypt and to enjoy the hard work of Ramadan instead of living without feeling Ramadan’s spirit.
She added that there are no big preparations there, describing the month there as a “normal” month.
She explained that they do not feel any hint of what they always felt during Ramadan while they were in Egypt, pointing out that there is an absence of any celebration of the month.
Ahmed added that Egyptian communities in the US gather together and fast together in order to feel that they are not alone.
Meanwhile, Hanaa Aly, a housewife who lives in Saudi Arabia with her husband, and son agreed with Ahmed, assuring that she misses the gatherings, friends, spirit, and atmosphere of Ramadan.
Family budgets doubled in Ramadan
All the aforementioned women complained of the high prices and the financial problems that they face in this month, but each of them complained in her own way. However, they all agreed that men do not pay much mind to these financial burdens or help the women in managing the family budget in order to buy their requirements.
Iman Ahmed, from Beni Suef, said that she does not buy red meat, poultry, or vegetables as they already have their own small farm. Nevertheless, the budget of her house doubles during Ramadan.
She explained that she bought only yamesh and nuts for more than EGP 2,000.
For her part, Kandil also said that her budget doubles, as the prices of commodities increase due to the high demand versus the supply. She also pointed out that she bought more food than usual due to making many invitations for iftar in Ramadan.
She explained that her budget for Ramadan this year, including the decorations of her home, cost more than EGP 7,000.
Meanwhile, the female expatriates explained that their food budget is the same as any other month, but, as there are no decorations on the streets, they used to buy the decorations and Ramadan boxes online for their children in order to celebrate the month’s spirit. They said that Ramadan boxes and decorations cost them about EGP 3,000.
Media forms stereotyped image of women in Ramadan
Shahinaz Mostafa, a homemaker living in Cairo, expressed her disappointment about the stereotyped image of women in Ramadan.
Mostafa agreed with Kandil that women’s responsibilities are not limited to family obligations and agreed with Ahmed that in Ramadan, housework is doubled, explaining that she suffers a lot in Ramadan in not having any time for her spiritual needs.
“I know well that women go to mosques less frequently than men, but the question is, why does the rest of the family not help me with these duties; who said that all these duties should be on the backs of women?” she wondered.
She thinks that this stereotyped image of women is reflected by the media, as when she reads any article about women in Ramadan, she finds that they all talk about how to balance between the household, cooking more efficiently, and teaching children Ramadan traditions.
She continued that on the other hand, if you read any article about men in Ramadan, you will find that they all discuss how to gain the optimal religious benefit from the holy month.
Moreover, Dina Ahmed, who lives in the US, said she thinks women themselves play some role in also the stereotyped image, as they watch Ramadan series and exert great efforts to cook a wide range of cuisines and prepare for everyone their favourite foods.
In this regard, Iman Ahmed said that Islam said that the role of a woman is to serve her family. Meanwhile, to the contrary, Kandil said that it is not obligatory for women to execute such duties.
To end this debate, Amna Nosseir, a member of Egypt’s Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and a former dean of the women’s section at Al-Azhar University, told Daily News Egypt that women’s preparing of food or serving their husbands and children holds a great reward, and that reward is no less than the reward of giving the most generous charity.
However, this responsibility is not obligatory, she said, pointing out that the husbands have to hire servants for their servants to carry out the household responsibilities if they have the financial ability to do so.
Recommendations to help women enjoy the spirit of the month
Ghada Alaa, a relationship and life coach, told Daily News Egypt that in order to solve the problems that women face in Ramadan, women have to prepare all the things they want before the start of the month. They should also cut back on housework in order to partake in this month’s blessings to their fullest.
“Try to educate your children that the duties and the responsibilities of the home is the responsibility of all the members of the family. Distribute tasks for them to do and if they don’t do them, you have to punish them,” she added.
On the other hand, she sent a message to all men not to put pressure on women over housework. “Try to help your wife in preparing the suhoor and the iftar and remember that she is also fasting like you,” she said.
Finally, the idea of Ramadan is to reduce consumption to feel what the poor experience, she said. However, she went on to say, what happens is that buying habits increase and housework is increased, which is totally wrong, and she called on all families to try to reduce their consumption as that will lead to giving women the chance and time for spiritual immersion.