Since taking the ferry into Egypt nearly a month ago I’ve been burdened with burning curiosity about many of the men I’ve met or seen here. Perhaps I was in a sleepless delusional state the first time I noticed it, or perhaps I shrugged it off as a fault of my aging eyes. But something about the foreheads of Egyptians from as far south as Aswan to the coffee shops of Cairo and over to the police checkpoints of the Sinai Peninsula is just odd to this westerner.
They all seem to be bruised, inflicted with a rare skin disease or there’s a serial birthmark that seems far from a coincidence. Sometimes it’s a halo shaped dark brown contrasting slightly with the skin color of the man. Other times it’s raised and appears like a small healing bump of a scar and other times it’s brick red oval or squatty circle.
While I consistently noticed this strange phenomena and in my efforts to reason and wane my curiosity I thought may it’s related to the shaving and personal hygiene habits of these men. And it’s not every man, either. But no, this couldn’t be it. But why did all these men have a big blemish or mark in the middle of their brows?
Some work hard to make a debiba — a symbol of devotion.
Then it occurred to me. With my shoes neatly placed outside the door of the last mosque I visited, I watched several men go through their afternoon prayer ritual. One man isolated on a section of the carpet away from a crowded quadrant bowed down and planted his forehead onto the carpet with a feverous and almost aggressive motion. He remained planted with his forehead seeming to take the bulk of the weight and balance of his body. Other men did this too, but some just delicately touched the carpet with the tip of their forehead. Still others attacked the carpet fervently with brow.
Like anything that receives ongoing and untreated or lubricated friction, bruise or scar will eventually appear. The praying was causing the foreheads of these men to become brown, bruised and blemished. Did they not know this? Were they looking in the mirror in the morning? Was there not some enterprising company offering skin care product por homme to address the ultimate cause of the bruising of egyptian men’s foreheads? My curiosity branched out like a Buzan Mind Map, so I externalized my curiosity and started asking questions.
That’s when I learned all of this bruising and scarring is intentional.
A practicing Muslim’s forehead is supposed to touch the ground at least 34 times a day – in symbolic submission to God’s will. Over a lifetime this could amount to more than a million which could add up to more than a million contacts in a lifetime. But more and more the zebiba appears among young men as the veil does among young women. Why do some have one and others not? Perhaps not everyone wants one. But some who do, I learned, simply cannot. It could something to do with skin-composition or created forcibly or artificially, or come from particular kinds of carpets or mats. Yet some, I’m told, feel it is a gift from God. Accordingly, many young Egyptians believe a light shall emanate from this mark on their foreheads on the Day of Judgment, marking them out as truly devout.
Not every man displays one nor does every woman wear a veil. For more than fifty years, or perhaps longer, Egypt has been secular. As for the debiba? Some may say it’s ostentatious piety and the increased display of it, like the veil in women could segregate and discriminate against those without it as they might be perceived as less devout. This display and isolated acts of vigilantism might affect Egypt’s secular tradition.
Whatever it is, I found it hard not to notice. And that’s fine. To each his own. From M. Anwar my mechanic to some passengers on my ferry boat, to taxi drivers, guides and those toreador pedestrians in Cairo. Interesting.