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CAIRO -- THE NILE, the Desert, the Sun, the Pyramids and the People ... These five make Egypt, Egypt.

The mighty Nile is an excellent and ancient traveler, carrying on her currents eons of romance and imagination.

Every drop of Nile water has its own history, as the life-giving river gently flows through the Egyptian desert, turning the bright gold landscape into a long winding thread of lush green. In the midst of this vegetative transformation, the Nile whispers words of love to the desert, separating it into Eastern and Western landscapes. The three make up a Divine interdependent trio, a painting of life for Egyptians to revere and enjoy.

When the Eastern Desert first welcomes the Sun, it knows it will soon bid the golden orb goodbye, as it arcs toward the great Nile and its waiting sister, the Western Desert. The Sun brings ageless life to this family of three; no wonder ancient Egyptians loved the Sun so much that they worshiped it.

Like any patient and gentle caregiver, the Nile does not move fast. Ever attentive, she does not want to miss any of the scenery that thrives on her banks, for every detail is exotic and captivating.

One can imagine the Nile wishing to bring her rich waters and the arid desert soils together in harmony, giving life to more palm trees, flowers, fruits, grains, vegetables, and cotton plants. Even the water hyacinth that floats on her surface bears the romantic name Ward el Nil, or Rose of the Nile.

For nearly her entire length, one can see both kindred deserts from either of her mud banks -- sometimes too close; at other times, far in the distance. By the time the Nile unravels in myriad streams to blend with the Mediterranean Sea, she has carried and kept numerous untold secrets gathered on her long journey from the south.

Just before she ends her journey to the sea, the Nile leaves behind a gift of life to Egypt by depositing a fresh layer of new fertile earth, called tamie, which has built up a large delta of land at her mouth.

Commercial sailing boats, called Sandals, are still used much as they were in ancient times. The Nile wind daily moves people and produce side by side over her waters, passing the great Pyramids and snaking through the vast metropolis of Cairo, just as she has for thousands of years.

The Nile is the essence of Egypt. Over time stretching back some ten thousand years, desert, sun, river and people have coexisted in their unique rhythms. Before the people arrived, the family of desert, sun and river had been together for even longer -- perhaps tens of millions of years.

The Ancient Egyptians believed in life after death and in accountability in the hereafter, so they built the Pyramids - great tombs that would serve as homes for their kings' bodies, to keep them ready for their next lives.

You can read every popular book there is about Egypt (and there are many) but nothing replaces actually being there. Having your own feet on Egyptian soil gives you a sense of attachment; it's more than likely some of your own ancestors originated here.

But your first visit to this amazing country should be considered a preface. Most tourists pass through too quickly; they may have time to see much of Egypt, but not to really live in it. They will enjoy the Nile, the desert, the sun and the Pyramids, but they miss one very important experience -- Egypt's people.

Egyptians are among the most hospitable peoples in the world. Away from the tourist areas, you will easily find them, greeting you with whatever English they know. The sun seems to put them in a perpetual good mood, regardless of how poverty-stricken they may be. The Nile gives them hope for the future and the deserts teach them not to take life's precious gift for granted.

In fact, Egyptians often wonder why visitors are far more interested in their dead ancestors than in the living descendants. Egyptians are usually keen to talk over tea to visitors but find them in a hurry to see some mummies.

Moses was an Egyptian citizen who was born, raised and educated in Egypt. In fact, Egypt had more to do with Moses than his original tribe. Moses' mother trusted the Nile to hide her precious baby in a basket among the rushes and then to carry him to where a royal princess would discover him and rescue him for her own.

Hebrews were not the only foreigners who lived in ancient Egypt; it also became a temporary or permanent home to peoples from North Africa, the eastern Mediterranean and Palestine.

Egypt is the only country mentioned by name in the Qur'an, where it is called Misir. Even in the Arabic language, Misir is used also as the noun given to any given big country or any large city state with a significant civilization. The plural, Amsar, was widely used in the language to describe multiple civilized countries or cities.

The Nile, the twin deserts that flank her sides, and the revered sun shaped

a civilization like no other. Peace and prosperity built the ideal environment for advances in sciences, mathematics, medicine, music, architecture, religion, literature, language, and calligraphy. But more than this, the land and its great nurturing river also shaped a vibrant and unique people.

I am blessed to be one of them.

*Dr. Mohamed Elmasry is national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress. He can be reached atnp@canadianislamicccongress.com

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