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A very intelligent Coptic gentlemen of Cairo, who gave us much opportunity to meet the better class of his people, and witness some of their important ceremonies, said to us, that he wished to enter the priesthood in order that he might use the influence of the office for the advancement of women in morality and cleanliness, and, he added with sad voice, most of our priests are too indifferent to this. A few days after in speaking of a Coptic lady we had known in Paris, he remarked with much severity of tone, that she was the only Coptic woman that had been taken to Paris by her husband, and allowed to wear the European dress in the street. We did not further grieve him by telling him that the sister of the lady had also seen the wicked city in the same dress. The incident revealed that even he was scarcely prepared for the important work he coveted.
The Levantine women are mostly Christians and claimed by the Catholics. They have many of the superstitions of the Muslim women, but they have a favourable recognition in the Church and its service. They attend mass, pray for the dead, and confess to the priest. They are somewhat educated and are naturally intelligent and shrewd in their own affairs. The widow who does not desire the aid of the priest in disposing and arranging her affairs, after the death of her husband, omits confession. They believe in the magical effects of lying to turn away evil influences. They are indolent and early become
fat; ; many in Cairo and Alexandria have never seen the city gates or the port. They too are reputed to indulge in serious intrigues, and social crimes. They have not the faith in destiny which enervates the best Muslims, but are courageous in danger. They are not frank in their hatreds or dislikes. They associate with the Copts far more than with Muslims, and are over-fond of festivities.
I have never seen a Muslim woman praying in a mosque except at the Howling Dervishes, when three women in an upper balcony accompanied the brethren in a part of the exercises, by pantomime, and they were insane and there to be cured by the devotions. Nor have I seen a Muslim woman or girl praying anywhere. But there are mosques in Cairo that are named for women and some that have been built by them, or for them with their money.
I knew at least
six bearing women's names; that of Sitt Zeyneb, the grand-daughter of the Prophet, has a clock tower and much decorations, and none but women can enter the bronze enclosure which contains the brocadedraped tomb. The mosque of Sitt Sofeeya, built by her eunuch, has a fine minaret and decorations ; those of Ayesha and Fatmeh, are of peculiar sanctity.
Our wise and instructive Alee, a tall, gaunt Nubian, a rigid Muslim, crammed with histories, legends and much experience, the best authority on our dahabeeyeh, and whom we mercilessly question on the social and domestic life of the women, related to us with many particulars, that his wife and other Muslim women, went twice a year, after a bath, to a side room in the mosque of Fatmeh and Ayesha, to pray, and be advised by a khateeb. This exhortation was praise to Allah, injunction to serve the husband, warning against evil spirits and infidelity, exhortation to teach the sons the things they should know while in the hareem, rhapsodical expressions of God, and blessing asked for the pilgrims and the family of the Prophet. Nothing for daily use is contained in the prayers and not anything for special afflictions, sickness or calamity. They turn to reputed living saints for their miracles, incantations and blessing, rather than to physician or to prayer. They believe in medicine, if one of their wonder-workers give it to them, but are afraid of the doctor and refuse to show their faces when he is called, which
be one cause of there being so few physicians above Cairo. The women believe in Ginns, beings not mortal, who seek mortal mates. Charms and talismans and the envious eye are also part of their religion, and the Koran has special directions upon all these, how to be used and how to be avoided.
The Prophet did not forbid women to attend the prayers in a Mosque, but said it was better that they pray in private. In Cairo women and boys under seven years are not allowed to pray with the congregation in the Mosque, or be present in time of prayer, for the Prophet has said :- “ Sitting an hour with the distaff is better for women than a year of worship,” and “for every piece of cloth woven of the thread spun by women, she shall receive the reward of the martyr." Nevertheless he did assign to her a place in the rear of the Mosque where she may pray looking from afar over the men in front, toward the niche of Mecca, Ancient and modern Mahommedans agree
presence of women inspires another devotion than that appropriate to a place set apart for the worship of God.” Very
few of the women pray. If they prefer to work, the Prophet has excused them from prayer, and from taxing their untutored memories with the ninety-nine beautiful names of Allah.
The Koran does not exclude women from Paradise, but the invitation is not cordial, and there is little promised to her there. The meanest man is to have eighty thousand servants, and can select seventy-two wives from the countless company of heavenly maidens who will have large black eyes, and be of a height equal to his own, that of a tall palm tree, about sixty feet; the man expects to enjoy himself according to his size. If this big, much-married husband wishes the company of his little earth-wife, she can come in after the Paradise girls.
The mother who loses children in infancy, is honored and has a promise of immortality, if she be a believer ; for the child will have the gates of heaven open to her when the husband is ready to enter. Apostacy, even in women, is a heinous sin, by the Koran to be punished with death, and in these later years the Koran has been obeyed in the most brutal way, and without the interference of the law. Women may go on pilgrimage to Mecca with their husbands and families, but the blessing is greater if the husband go without women, and the wife with her son; the pilgrim, and indeed any Muslim, must purify himself after he has been in the society of women, before he can pray. This is by express command of the Prophet who says: “Women are pollution." Our kind old consular agent at Luxor, Alee Moorad, was to go to Mecca this month; his son Ahmed will go with his mother next year.
When a fowl, or sheep, or any domestic animal is killed, there is a short prayer uttered, which is in substance : “If any evil be coming to me, or any harm be wished me, may I cut them off with this knife.” Many such forms are observed which are counted to be religious duties and ceremonies, as among the Jews, but they should be performed by males.
WOMEN IN SOCIETY.
Levantine, Armenian, Syrian, and some of the Coptic women, receive male visitors with the men of the family, and they shop, ride and visit, and eat with male relatives and intimate friends. Coptic wedding which I attended in Cairo, there were many of these foreign women present, but not one Coptic woman, except a young
girl of the family of the bridegroom. The families of both bride and groom were wealthy and important, and the affair was grand and expensive; but it was for men and foreign women. The young girl of the family did the arduous duties of hostess charmingly, with the support of another, a schoolmate of her own age. In visiting the native consuls, governors, village sheykhs and other public men, I have never seen the women of the hareem, except by special invitation from the master of the house. But one meets in Cairo native women of all classes, in the shops, in the bazaars, in the gardens, on donkeys and in carriages, and their evident intention is to enjoy themselves. I know the wife of a pacha, a Copt, who receives gentlemen with ladies, but never alone. Among the noble families there is much visiting, and gossiping, and display of jewelry, and too much freedom in conversation. It is in Egypt now as it was in the past ages; in society, lively, interesting conversation becomes the cream of the entertainment; the native women I have seen, are amiable and engaging, and seem keenly to enjoy the visit of the stranger. But from entertainments where men are present, virtuous women excluded.
The ancient Egyptians were far advanced in their recognition of woman's place in society; there are numerous old bas-reliefs representing the master and mistress of the home receiving their guests together seated side by side, the dancers, singers and musicians presenting themselves to the couple and making their salutations. Greece was in this, far behind Egypt, as the words of Cornelius Nepos prove. He, the Roman, says to the Greeks :-“What mistress of a house can here be shown, that has not the chief part in the house, and what man is there of us who is ashamed to bring his wife to an entertainment ? Then Greek women appeared at none but family entertainments; they were relegated to the upper and most retired part of the house. Centuries of foreign rule have degraded the old Egyptian custom to the Greek level. Among the poor, the filling of water jars, gossip on the street, squatting outside the mud enclosure of the home with dirty children, chickens and sheep, bathing in the Nile, and washing clothing and domestic animals; these are the chief opportunities for woman's social enjoyment. And the keenness with which they relish this part of their daily life, tells the story of its poverty. Morning and evening, along the banks of the river we met the irregular processions of women and young girls, reproducing the ancient picture, with their water jars gracefully and jauntily poised on their
veiled heads. Often a baby sat astride its mother's shoulder sucking a bit of sugar cane, the emblem of a sweet content. A near view inspired sympathy, for some of the figures in the moving picture carried jars which, filled, were to heavy for the delicate necks of the carriers. But the straight slender girl, or elder woman, smiled upon as she lifted it to its place, and easily bore it away. Many a hasty sketch was made of these nymphs of the water jars, and their matchless grace of motion made us ashamed of our awkward gait. Later in the day they came with the family work, and much visiting and amusement made the tasks light and the hours short. Then it was that our few Arabic sentences, expressing our admiration for their ornaments, or their small animals, or other pleasant nothings, opened their hearts to us, and lively conversation, with delicately turned compliments and ill concealed curiosity, revealed to us what years of reading could not. The various articles of our dress, and their price, were a constant interest to them, and the timid boldness of the young girls, was bewitching. They stood before us and quietly exhibited their anklets, bracelets, amulets, necklaces, ear, nose and finger rings, and they eagerly looked under our gloves and cloaks for our ornaments, and were disappointed if they found none. The bank of the Nile is their reception room and recreation ground. Their knowledge of our family affairs was surprising. They knew who of us were married and what was our relationship, where we had been, what we had seen, what antiquities we had bought, where we were going and how long we were to stay, and always what we paid for chickens.
In all upper Egypt I saw but one woman on a donkey, and not one on a camel; everywhere the man rode, sometimes with a child before him, while the woman walked, often carrying a baby. In the streets of the cities it is not good usage for the man to recognize his wife, or any female member of the family old enough to be veiled, as his recognition would betray her to his male friends.
WOMEN IN THE FAMILY.
One word of the hareem itself, the home of the family. The house of a well-to-do man is large, and the rooms many, with ample courts and halls. In those I have visited, the reception room for the men was furnished with European furniture and usually with big, awkward bent-wood rocking chairs; articles of the toilette, closet and office, were lying about the room and the long curtains were frequently