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Sin eaters: Sheiks condemn charity meals from bellydancers

boy February 2, 1997
Web posted at: 7:15 p.m. EST (0015 GMT)

From Cairo Bureau Chief Gayle Young

CAIRO (CNN) -- As the sun sets during the holy month of Ramadan, volunteers prepare a meal for the poor.

Muslims fast during the day, abstaining from food and drink, then break the fast with an evening meal, known as Iftar.

It's considered a good deed to offer an Iftar to the poor -- except when the charity comes from the likes of Fifi Abdou, one of the most famous belly dancers in Egypt.


She and other bellydancers earn big money -- and are known for their generosity to the poor.

movie icon (864K/21 sec. QuickTime movie of bellydancers)

But some religious leaders say their behavior shakes the foundations of Islam, and their Iftar offerings are tainted.

Religious leaders from the prestigious al-Azhar University, who wouldn't consent to be interviewed during Ramadan, have preached that accepting an Iftar or charity from a bellydancer is a sin.


The pronouncement is being fiercely debated in Cairo.

Al-Azhar is one of Islam's highest authorities. But many here are poor and rely on charity for the meat and vegetables they cannot afford.

Volunteer Madam Hanaan says Fifi Abdou's nightly Iftars flow from a generous heart. "May God give her a long life," she says of her patron.

Bellydancer Dalia Fuoad says she considers herself a good Muslim, faithful wife and devoted mother.


"How can it be sinful to give charity to those who have less than we do?" asks Fuoad.

Bellydancing is wildly popular in Egypt. One study suggests it represents the country's fifth largest source of income.

And for the poor who benefit from the dancer's gifts, the sheiks' decree may be difficult to swallow.


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