ALEXANDRIA/CAIRO: Essam, an Alexandria-based mechanic, runs a workshop that’s always abuzz with clients’ boisterous questions, the hammering and thrashing of tools and the noise of cars moving in and out.
But in spite of the clamorous surroundings, Essam insists to tune the radio to recitations of the Holy Quran.
“We’re working in a kind of market that’s full of swindlers, thieves and thugs, says Essam. “The only protection is those holy recitations. The other day I was going to be duped into selling my business for peanuts. If it hadn t been for the benediction of the Quran, I would have gone bankrupt, says the experienced mechanic.
Like scores of business-owners in Egypt, he is constantly playing back recorded verses from the Holy Quran, despite religious scholars advice against playing it when no one is paying attention, citing a verse that stipulates pensive listening in silence and reverence once the Quran is recited. But the advice often falls on deaf ears.
“I don’t think they are intentionally overlooking the clear order in that verse, but it is a kind of behavior that relates more to people’s culture, explained Sheikh Mahmoud Ashour, former Deputy of Al-Azhar. “It will take them a long time to reverse this habit that may have been acquired as a result of [psychological] insecurity.
Said Nour Mohamed, the Imam of a Maadi mosque, agrees. “We raised the subject several times [during the Friday prayers’ sermon] but people insist on doing that, which means that the behavior has more to do with their psychological makeup.
Even when the common practice in restaurants is to enhance the ambiance with music, some managers break the rule. A popular cafeteria in Downtown Cairo tunes the TV to one religious satellite channel that always beams Quarnic recitations.
“The Quran is a ‘baraka’ (blessing) that will double the business and fend off the evil eye, said the cafeteria’s young cashier. “The area is also a notorious couples hangout. The Quran is just a reminder that what they are doing is haram [religiously prohibited].
“Why am I playing the Quran? responded one green grocer. “No one has ever asked such a question because it is taken for granted why that should be done, he argued.
“It makes sense that Quranic recitations shouldn’t just be in the background when each person is minding his own business. But at the end of the day this is the shop-owner’s wish. I can’t do anything about it, he added.
“There’s a time for everything, argued Maha Amer, a translator. “You can’t keep it on 24 hours a day and claim you’re listening. This is the shortest way to lose touch with its true meaning and effect.
The same can be applied to religious programs on TV and integrating religion with the use of modern technology.
Dr Magdy Refaee, a neuro-psychiatrist, explained that when people watch religious programs regularly, they do so with divided attention. “The high rate of illiteracy would make it difficult for the majority to understand the true dimensions of many of the issues raised in these programs.
In addition, some cell phone users use one Quranic verse or part of the azan (call to prayer) as a ring tone.
“It’s really embarrassing when the ring tone is a Quranic verse, followed by some of the dirtiest words users might utter in response to their callers.
Sheer contradiction, said Mamdouh Adel, an engineer.
“People have really lost all sense of what could be inspired by these verses, noted Mohamed Gamil, an electrician. “After flirting with a girl, who gave me her cell phone number, I discovered that her ringback tone was a religious song that persuades Muslims to observe their prayers.
“Each time I called her for a date the loud song would pierce my ears and put me off. When I drew her attention to the contradiction [between being religious and dating] she promised to remove the song altogether, but she never did, which was why I dropped her completely.