Ibrahim Mahdy, 39, has been guiding tourists through Egypt since 2002. The job requires Mahdy to walk around, talk all day and even hike mountains. But even though it’s a physically demanding job, Mahdy has broken fast only once in his career and is adamant about fasting even on his toughest journeys.
“During the summer it’s very hot in Egypt—we all know that—and when you’re a tour guide, you walk around and talk all day, and you lose a huge amount of water, so I usually get more thirsty than hungry,” Mahdy tells us. “But according to Islam, it’s better to work and feel the hardships than to sleep all day. A lot of the tourists wonder how I manage to walk and talk all day without water, but I always tell them that it’s about faith.
You’re taught to be more patient. You feel how some people suffer; the hunger of the poor people and the tiredness of the workers.”
The only time Mahdy broke his fast before sunset, he recounts, was on a scorching hot August day on a climbing trip in Sinai. “As we were climbing, the tourist kept saying to me that I should drink water and that I was killing myself,” he recalls.
“I was resisting, resisting, resisting until 2pm. We had finished the climb and were back on the road and I was so close to collapsing and passing out, so I had to drink water. I drank almost one and a half big bottles of water.”
Mahdy adds that tourists normally come with a lot of knowledge about the culture, traditions and what Ramadan means and “they respect the special circumstances.
” And while they can always find places to eat and shop, Mahdy explains, the touristic attractions are normally open for shorter hours during the holy month.
On a regular Ramadan day Mahdy is already up by 4am and ready for the long day ahead. “As a tour guide, I don’t wake up when I want to I wake up according to the tour schedule. For example, if I’m going on a tour to the Abu Simbel temple, I wake up at 4am.”
Some tourists on Mahdy’s tour refuse to eat and want to join him in fasting for the day. “They then join me in breaking the fast: They want to experience Ramadan and they respect the culture,” says Mahdy who recalls how one time on his way from Luxor to Aswan, he and his clients were stopped by a group of people who invited them to join in for iftar. “There was a big table and the people invited us all to join,” he recounts.
“The tourists were so impressed, they started taking pictures with everyone, the workers from the street, truck drivers and other travellers. We didn’t know these people, but they still shared their food with me and the group.”
Mahdy explains that tourists often want to indulge themselves in the Ramadan experience. “A British tourist once asked to join me for prayers. We were listening to the imam who was reciting the Qur’an and suddenly I saw the tourist crying.
Afterward I asked him why he was crying because I knew he didn’t understand what the imam had said. He answered that his heart had heard what the imam had said.
He then started to read about Islam and a couple of months later he called me and told me that he had converted to Islam.”