Full name: Mr Faraz Mir
Country of residence: United Kingdom
Date Studied: June 2007 – June 2008
Institution: Sibawayh Centre & Private Study - Cairo, Egypt
I’ve been in Cairo for almost a year now. I came in the summer of 2007 having been once before for a short period a few years earlier. I’d given myself a year to study and my general aim was to carry on where I had left off. In my time here I have studied at the Sibawayh Centre (http://www.sibawayhcenter.com/sibawayh/) as well as with private teachers with whom I have pursued Arabic studies, preliminary studies in Shari’ah and Qur’anic memorisation. Overall I have been more than pleased with the quality of education which has exceeded my expectations and the commitment and dedication of my teachers has been second to none.
Of course what you study will depend on your objectives for your time abroad. It is very important to think about what you want to achieve before you set out and plan ahead. Do you want to focus solely on language, moving onto literature and poetry or would an overview of the different Islamic Sciences be more what you’re looking for? The answers to these questions will depend on what your aims for studying Arabic are in the first place and what you intend to use it for when you return home. Having a plan for the future is very important as if what you learn is not used and developed; it is quite easy to forget. So the short of it is, make your studies relevant to real life and think of ways you can apply what you will learn, either by further study, teaching or both.
Furthermore, when you start your studies, ask your teacher to help you make a plan of study for your entire time in Egypt so that when you leave you can do so having completed a programme from start to finish and not leave in the middle. Again, this obviously depends on how much time you have at your disposal.
Finally, an important piece of advice I would offer is to trust your teachers. Unfortunately some students feel they know better and choose to ignore the advice of their teachers who in most cases will know better than you based on a combination of knowledge and experience.
Also never forget to pray to Allah to help and facilitate your time abroad and to make it beneficial such that it counts for you on the Day of Judgement and not against you. Constantly try to purify your intention and know that whatever you learn it is merely a drop in the ocean. This is particularly important for when you return as family and friends may begin to look at you as more knowledgeable. This may well be the case, but always remember the words “Fawqa kulli dhi ‘ilmin aleem” (Over every possessor of knowledge is someone more knowledgeable).
If coming from the UK, I recommend taking British Airways as they fly direct from Heathrow in about 5 hours and if bought in advance, the ticket is quite reasonably priced. To my knowledge all other airlines have at least one stop over; I don’t think it’s worth the hassle and is not even that much cheaper. There is no need to purchase your visa from the UK, a one month tourist visa can be obtained from the airport just before the immigration desks for less than £10. Of course you will need to renew this before the month is up and for this you will to make a trip to the “Mugamma” Cairo’s main administration building, going there is an experience to say the least.
How much cash should you bring with you? That’s obviously up to you, but the more the better. I wouldn’t bother with travellers’ cheques as you have to find somewhere that can cash them and I’m not sure how easy that would be. If you are coming from Scotland, don’t bring Scottish notes with you as they won’t be accepted in any of the Bureau de Changes, as one brother found to his surprise! Also if you have a UK bank account, bring your debit card with you as you can easily withdraw money from numerous cash machines and you can also shop with it too in some larger stores, e.g. supermarkets.
Before travelling however I would recommend that you budget for the entire year based on how long you are planning to stay. Your forecast should include rent, tuition and extra money for eating, travel and general spending etc. If you can, try and overestimate the cost at the start as this is better than coming up short.
Finding accommodation is quite a challenge. There are a number of strategies you can adopt. If you are coming by yourself and don’t know anyone already in Egypt, I’d recommend for the first few nights to book yourself into a hotel as this will give you a base from which to start your search. You can let the Centre you study at help you with this or you can go out on your own. Of course this latter option will depend on how strong your Arabic already is as some negotiating will be needed. If it’s your first time coming, I’d suggest sticking with the centre as they will then try and find you a place with other students which can be both fun and beneficial. If you have already decided on your centre before travelling (something I’d recommend) then ask them about accommodation before you arrive, that way you’ll have somewhere to stay right from the beginning and so won’t have to spend any time at a hotel etc. For a decent sized, fully furnished three-bedroom flat you can expect to pay between 2500 – 3000 EGP, which is approximately £250 – £350.
One can live in Cairo relatively cheaply. This all depends on what you eat, where you go and how you get there. Food wise, it is very tempting to eat out a lot as there is no end of choice and prices are relatively cheap. The choices available extend to more than just burgers and chips and include some quite healthy meals too. Amazingly every restaurant delivers to your door, so if you don’t want to, you don’t even have to step outside! There is a great website – www.otlob.com – which has menus online for you to choose from! However ordering out all the time can get expensive, so although it is tempting, I’d recommend tempering this with some home cooking too, there are supermarkets and general stores everywhere, so everything you need is close at hand.
There are a number of ways to get around in Cairo; taxis, buses, microbuses, metro and trams. Public transport is undoubtedly cheaper though at first can be a little daunting. Travelling by microbus is the most fun, as they tend to be driven by what can only be described as off duty fighter pilots with lightning fast reactions! It’s also very cheap too, for example a taxi journey that costs you between 15 – 20 EGP by taxi will cost you 1.25 EGP by microbus.
The weather in Egypt is lovely all year round, it hardly ever rains and even when it does it’s not usually for more than a few minutes. The summer can get very hot however and air conditioning or a fan is most definitely needed. Winter time, the weather cools down significantly and on occasion can even get quite cold. This is accentuated by the fact that none of the flats are insulated and don’t have central heating. Therefore bringing some warm clothes, a good coat and investing in a small heater and a blanket is probably a good idea.
Coming to Egypt is a great experience which will Insha Allah be a turning point in your life. At first it can be a bit of a culture shock but before long you will feel right at home. The people are friendly, it’s safe and there’s loads to do and see from ancient Egyptian relics to hundreds of mosques and buildings from almost 14 centuries of Islamic history.
There is real knowledge here too, the teachers are wonderful and I’m sure that if they were in the West they would almost certainly be respected more if not treated as shuyukh. You may have to get out and look for all this though, it will not fall on your lap; as a friend once said to me, there is real gold in Egypt, it’s just that you need to scratch beneath the surface to get to it.