After staying almost four years in Malaysia, surrounded by traffic lights, zebra lines, street signs and all this coddled treatment, driving in Egypt became a living nightmare for me! One that many Egyptians are telling me will never end, oor if it does, it will take yeaaaaars! Something as simple as driving in lanes is estimated to manifest in our reality, I’ve been constantly told, in an average of 30 years.
I couldn’t swallow that it would take Egyptians 30 years to drive in a line, or just line up as a matter of fact. And not entirely because I have faith in this country, but because it’s not such a foreign behaviour to us, Egyptians do line up! all the time, sometimes up to 5 times a day, or at least once a week.
There is a huge emphasis on straightening the lines during prayers that it bewilders me, how can Muslims of Egypt* have such order and drive in such an undisciplined way?!
*This observation applies to Muslims in Egypt or any other country with a similar case. All religions have come as a form of discipline, i am sure there are similar religious practices in other religions that I am not aware of, which teach the same values. So please continue reading this article substituting the Muslim prayer with your own practice. As for atheists, I am sure you’d have very interesting comments.
Driving and praying can’t be mixed but they sure can be compared. A mosque and a street have a crucial thing in common; they are both public spaces full of strangers from all walks of life who need to share that space. There for, there has to be rules for both, the mosque and street users, to follow in order to get along.
Why do we line up in prayers anyways? Without getting in much details there are 3 main reasons:
Unity. It is believed that by standing all in a straight line; ankle to ankle, shoulder to shoulder, we are all one, we are all equal in the eyes of god. It doesn’t matter if you are the richest guy in the world or the most important, this doesn’t qualify you to get more privilege than anyone else. And guess what, the number one reason for traffic congestion is drivers thinking that their time is more valuable than others.
It protects us from satan. It’s believed that our unity and equality makes us stronger to face the devil’s attempts in sabotaging our relationship with God, by provoking evil conducts in us, like selfishness, jealousy, hypocrisy, anger…etc. You might have noticed, soome people change when they switch to a driving mode; put snow white behind wheels and she’ll temporarily transform to the evil queen, you wont be hearing her sweet melodious voice, but lots and lots of car honking!
It’s a characteristic of the Angles. Unlike the devil’s case, we try our best to become more like the angels, and God have constantly described the angels – و الصافات صفا – saying that when they line they are as straight as arrows.
These might not be very convincing reasons for some, and that’s the thing about religion, it doesn’t only address the mind, but the heart as well. It requires a lot of belief in the unknown; something you have never seen, and might not understand, but your faith in God assures you that that’s the right path. And for a very religious nation as Egyptians, that’s why we make sure that our lines are super straight during prayers.
So why don’t we line when we are driving?
Because, contradictory, we are not as religious as we think. As we walk out of the mosque door, we leave our muslim identity behind and return to being an Egyptian citizen. A citizen whose needs are not met, a citizen who has to drive in terrible road conditions, a citizen who can give you million reasons why you should not drive in lanes in Egypt. And this is the fruit of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort of having two conflicting beliefs or thoughts, you know something is right but you act in another way and to overcome this discomfort and close the gap between, excuses are made.
For a citizen of Egypt, there are plenty of excuses, to him he is just using the full capacity of a road that can no longer accommodate the increasing population. On the other hand, we are constantly alerted about cognitive dissonance in Islam, but in Islam we refer to it as “النفس الامارة بالسوء ” AL-nafs Al-ammara bis sou’ ” and translates to english as -if I am not mistaken- The Commanding Self. For a muslim, there are no excuses, the right is right.
However, failure to positively overcome this cognitive dissonance is not the main problem, the main problem is leaving your muslim identity behind in the first place, that you are a muslim in the mosque but just a citizen on the streets. And this is because of a popular argument in Egypt, a battle of whether Islam prioritizes ‘عبادات’ or ‘معاملات’ ? does it prioritize acts of worship like praying, fasting, pilgrimage and so on or transactions, how you treat people and go on with your day? A pointless conflict because the two can’t be divided or separated. There are acts of worship that teaches you valuable manners for your daily life, like praying and lining up. And there are daily acts that are so important to the point that they are considered acts of worship, such as smiling to another is as if you gave charity.
It’s not easy being a good citizen in Egypt at the moment! But then, If it’s extremely hard to become better citizens, can we at least be better muslims?