The Office of Residential Life organized a Bedouin Night on Sunday, where those who were willing to pay 100 Egyptian Pounrds (about $17) could enjoy dinner, horseback riding by the pyramids, and a Bedouin dance show. The Bedouin are a predominantly Muslim, desert-dwelling nomadic group, akin in societal stature to the Basque or Native Americans.
While waiting for dinner, the DJ played a partially Arabic-language remix of the 50 cent song “Candy Shop.” If you’re how aware of how sensual the lyrics are, the chorus goes “I’ll take you to the Candy Shop, I’ll let you lick the lollipop, Go ‘head girl don’t you stop, Keep going ’til you hit the spot, whoa.”
I realize that is certainly a trivial observation that might not having any greater purpose than provoking laughter amonst me and my friends (which it absolutely did). Yet at the same time, an Arab-language remix of such a lewd song is indicative of the complexities surroudning the practice of Islam in Egypt.
Many Egyptians are certainly pious Muslims: most of the women I’ve passed on the street are wearing hijab or niqab — a veil covering the entire face except for the eyes — , although niqab are actually prohibited on the American University of Cairo campus for security reasons. But many women do so not out of religious motivation, but rather to reduce sexual advances by men – it is more conveniant for them to wear a piece of cloth over their head than to be constantly subjected to verbal harassment by men. Throughout many parts of Cairo, the Muslim call to prayer blares out of loudspeakers five times a day; my friend staying in a downtown hostel has been awoken every morning by the 5:15 a.m. call from the Mosque directly across the street. Yet in Zamalek, where many expatriates live, nobody I’ve spoken with has heard the call to prayer broadcast even once. And my roommate from Alexandria goes clubbing and drinks alcohol frequently (I have actually yet to see him sleeping in our room), yet considers himself a practicing Muslim.
I share this information to complicate Western perceptions about the practice of religion in the Arab World. Sure, Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion, and whether out of personal conviction or societal pressure, millions practice a very strict and orthodox version of their Muslim faith. But like Judaism and Christanity, the role that Islam plays within any individual’s life varies dramatically, and it would be foolish to attempt to understand the practice of Islam in a singular, unified fasion, even within a single nation such as Egypt. So while it can be tempting to idealize religious pratice by looking a scripture and assuming universal behavior by those of the Muslim faith within a given society, a deeper and more meaningful understanding can only be achieved by challenging the pervasive assumptions.
It is possible that the Arabic-language version of “Candy Shop” was produced by Arabic-speaking Christians, living perhaps in Lebanon, Syria, or Iraq. But if there was no Muslim audience for such a work, it is unlikely the remix would have ever been released.