For some, Ramadan is a time of food and family. For some, it’s a time to improve themselves spiritually. And for some, it’s a time to struggle through a day of tobacco withdrawal. For Mahfouz:
From early boyhood I never studied during the holy month of Ramadan, although this was the month during which I read more than at any other time. My reading, however, had nothing to do with my studies, and reading was my great joy during this month, greater than at any other time of the year. During the fast I could give free rein to my passion for reading, but not for any school literature.
I carried this habit into my adult life, so that I never wrote during Ramadan, just as I never wrote during the summer months. When Ramadan fell in summer, I thus gained one month of writing during the year, as opposed to one month less when Ramadan occurred in winter.
One year, while still a university student, I read the whole of the Holy Qur’an. This was a very special reading, very different from reading it on ordinary occasions. Another year I read the Life of the Prophet by Ibn Hisham, and I remember reading Selected Arabic Literature by Dr. Taha Husayn, Sheikh al-Sakandari and Ali al-Garem, which contained selections of Arabic poetry and prose from the pre-Islamic era to modern times. I also read al-Zayyat’s History of Arabic Literature, as well as a book I greatly treasured containing brief outlines on the histories of Sufi sheikhs and selections of their writings. I remember that during my first years at university I read plays by Bernard Shaw, the poems of T.S. Eliot, and any new publications by Al-Aqqad and al-Mazni. I read the Islamiyat of al-Aqqad and Taha Husayn’s autobiography.
–From Naguib Mahfouz at Sidi Gaber: Reflections of a Nobel Laureate, 1994-2001, by Mahfouz and Mohamed Salmawy