A Look At Egypt’s Thousand-Year-Old Ramadan Traditions

The country’s Ramadan spirits originate from Thousand-year-old traditions, rooted in the Egyptian culture.

“Ramadan in Egypt is different than the whole world! It has the taste of the Nile,” says Hussein Al-Jassmi, the Emirati singer in his recent advertisement with Orange, a mobile network operator in Egypt. Indeed, Al-Jassmi’s words could not be more accurate. From the colored lamps and Ramadan’s fawaneess to the television series, Cairo’s cannon, and the folkloric night activities. Celebrating Ramadan in Egypt has its own unique cultural practices. This Ramadan spirit originates from a thousand-year-old traditions, rooted in the Egyptian culture.

One of the most symbolic items of Ramadan celebrations is the Fanoos-Arabic for lantern- and many tales point out that the decorative item’s birthplace is Cairo. The story of “El-Fanoos” took place on the 5th of Ramadan of the Hijri (lunar) year 358 (969 A.D.), when Cairenes were expecting the arrival of Al-Mu’izz li-Din Allah Al-Fatimy. As it was dark outside, military commanders ordered the city residents to light the path for the Caliph. Cairenes turned out with lit up lanterns to welcome the Calpih, who loved the idea. Since that day, “El-Fanoos” became a symbol of Ramadan.

Store selling Ramadan Lanterns in 1875. Source: Egyptian Streets

Another symbol of Egypt’s Ramadan is the cannon, which is situated in Citadel of Salahdin. The Madfaa- Arabic for cannon- used to be fired every day of Ramadan in order to announce that it is time for Muslims to break their fast. The iconic Ifatr cannon’s story is traced back to Muhammed Ali Pasha, when he was testing the cannon he got from Germany, and it accidently went off at sunset. And since then, it became a tradition to fire the Madfaa every day during Ramadan to mark Iftar and Suhoor. Fortunately, the Salahdin Citadel’s cannon was recently fired on this year’s Ramadan, for the first time in 30 years, to mark the first Iftar of the sacred month.

The Iftar canon. Source: Egyptian Streets

The word “Ramadan” comes from the Arabic word “Ramad”, which means something dry or intensely heated by the sun. The name is a connotation for the act of fasting, since Muslims all over the world abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sundown. The concept of fasting promotes gratitude and solidarity with the less fortunate, since it reminds Muslims of the poor’s daily challenges. Moreover, it is believed that the act of fasting can detoxify the body and improve mental well-being. Ramadan is known as “The month of the Quran”, since it was the time when Prophet Muhammed received the first verses of the Quran. Hence, the holy month is usually a great opportunity for worshipers to self-reflect on their intentions, focus on their spirituality, and reboot their relationship with Allah.

There is not a specific set date for Ramadan, since the Islamic calendar is lunar and each month is marked by a new moon. Therefore, Muslims wait for the moon sighting every year to know which day Ramadan falls on. Since the lunar calendar is shorter than the solar one, the 9th month of the Islamic lunar year shifts 11 days backwards every year. As for the food, Muslims typically have two meals: one at sunset called “Iftar” to break their fast and another before dawn called “Suhoor”. Ramadan is known as “The month of good”, as it is filled with random acts of kindness, dozens of free Iftar meals for the poor, and a lot of charity work.

Indeed, everything comes to life during the month of Ramadan, from the delicious oriental desserts and family gatherings to the communal prayers and the festive decorations. Being around the dinner table with your loved ones and enjoying the delicious Egyptian delicacies is one of Ramadan’s cultural and religious values. We hope you and your family are staying safe this Ramadan!