By RIMA AL-MUKHTAR, RIMA.ALMUKHTAR@ARABNEWS.COM
Published: Aug 3, 2011 17:59 Updated: Aug 3, 2011 19:31
Ramadan has always been a festive month for Muslims as well as an opportunity for them to clear their souls of all their sins and experience the hunger poor people constantly feel.
Many traditions have been passed from one generation to another and from one country to another. Most of them have been faded, while others are still carried out today.
During the days of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), hearing the Maghrib Adhan (call for prayer) was the only indication for Muslims to break their fast.
With time, Ramadan became colorful and more festive and in the Umayyad era they used to hang lanterns on the minaret of every mosque at iftar time (breaking of the fast) as indication and take them down after, for those who cannot hear the Adhan.
Then came the Fatimid era and Muslims started a new tradition where they shot cannons as the signal for iftar time.
The story of the Ramadan Cannon dates back to the time of the Fatimid Caliph in Cairo. He received the gun as a present and ordered his assistants to try it out. The experiment took place about sunset during the first day of Ramadan. The people of Egypt took it as a sign to end the day’s fast.
Since then, the caliph ordered that the gun should be fired at sunset and this became a Ramadan tradition.
The cannon was later placed at the highest point of the city so that all Muslims would be able to hear the shot.
This tradition has spread to many Islamic countries including Turkey, Sudan, Morocco, Syria, Jordan and the Gulf countries.
More than 70 years ago in Makkah, Muslims used to open their windows to hear the call for iftar in Ramadan.
“I believe the idea of the Ramadan Cannon was adopted from Egypt, where the tradition started long before I was born,” said Fatima Hashim, an 83-year-old citizen. “Back then life was simpler and clocks were a rare luxury, so when this new tradition came to us many people were excited and those who lived far away from a mosque could hear the echo of the cannon,” she added.
“Even then the cannon was used as a tool to announce the breaking of the fast daily for people too far away to hear the Maghrib Adhan,” said Hashim.
The Ramadan Cannon was especially exciting for children who would stand next to it with their fingers in their ears, waiting for the loud noise as it went off.
“I used to look forward to visiting the cannon in Makkah along with my cousins just to hear the loud bang and break my fast there. This had become our ritual in Ramadan,” said Hashim. “You would always find a small tent where they offered free iftar food for people who come and attend the firing of the cannon,” she added.
Historically in the Kingdom, the Ramadan Cannon has served as a mean to announce the end of the fast at sunset. However, today it plays different but still important role, namely to keep Ramadan traditions alive.
“It’s sad that this tradition is fading now. I moved to Jeddah and I remember that 10 years ago there was a cannon in Sultan Street, I used to take my grandchildren to let them see the cannon before iftar,” said Hashim. “The cannon was sadly removed and we have to watch the one on TV. Minutes before iftar we switch to the Saudi channel to see the cannon in Makkah,” she added.
Makkah is the only place in the Kingdom that still holds this tradition, according to Lt. Col. Abdul Mohsen Al-Maiman, spokesman for Makkah police. “There used to be three Ramadan cannons in the Kingdom but now we only have one in Makkah and that’s why we take good care of it. We hired a group of specialists that work according to a particular schedule during Ramadan,” he said.
“As soon as the fasting month is over, the cannon goes back into storage and we take good care of it throughout the year,” he added.
The cannon is not a real weapon; its job is to only make a loud echoing noise.
“The person in charge of the cannon is a specialist that knows how to work with such artillery and is trained to deal with any unexpected accidents,” said Al-Maiman.
The cannon is located on the mountain Jabal Al-Madafea, which in Arabic means “Mountain of the Cannon.”
“This area was especially picked because of its great location, as people from all over Makkah can hear the echo of the cannon boom,” said Al-Maiman. “This area is empty and there are no houses or offices, and it’s known to be the highest place in Makkah and close to the Haram.”
This year, Makkah cannon fired seven shots to announce the beginning of Ramadan last Sunday and started shooting the cannon once to announce the iftar time and twice to announce the fast time.