(Click to enlarge photo of devotees in Ankara, Turkey, 1978)
In early 1978 Tribhuvanatha Prabhu gathered together a small group of devotees who traveled overland from London to Beirut with the aim of spreading Krishna consciousness in the Middle East for the pleasure of Srila Prabhupada. Five thousand Arabic Bhagavad-gitas and thousands of Arabic Isopanisads were distributed in the midst of civil war. Some devotees were imprisoned, but were eventually released unharmed.
Over the next five years books were distributed and programs were held in Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and the Sultanate of Oman. Eventually a preaching center was established in Cairo (see photos below), where a dedicated congregation was gradually cultivated over the years. Some prominent members of Egyptian society -- including a well-known journalist, yoga teacher and movie director -- attended classes regularly and a core group of serious followers took up the chanting of Hare Krishna on a daily basis.
A number of devotees came and went over the years, and the program met with both success and failure. Nonetheless, Srila Prabhupada's books were distributed in the thousands and many Muslims received prasadam and chanted the holy names of Krishna. Despite the risks involved, devotees there took great comfort in remembering Srila Prabhupada's prophetic words from a lecture at London's Conway Hall in 1969:
"Since we have started this movement in the Western countries, Europeans, Americans, Africans, Egyptians, and Japanese are all chanting. There is no difficulty. They are chanting very gladly and they are getting the results. What is the difficulty?"
Distributing prasadam at the American University in Cairo
Kirtan at the Pyramids
Egypt was the first country in which Srila Prabhupada set foot outside India en route to America. He stopped in Port Said in 1965 and visited the town for a day with the captain of the Jaladuta steamship. Therefore it was Srila Prabhupada himself who first initiated the preaching of Krishna consciousness in Egypt and the Middle East.