Ramadan Cannon; a centuries-old tradition started with a coincidence
Ramadan Cannon - YOUM7(Archive)

CAIRO: Firing Ramadan cannon to mark the end of fasting hours during the holy month has been Egypt’s centuries-old tradition that is about to fade away.

“The Ramadan Cannon, or Madfaa al-Iftar, was fired last in 1992 after the Antiquities Ministry called for its halt citing a potential long-run damage caused to the surrounding Islamic monuments due to the huge sound generated,” Minya University’s Islamic history professor Fathy Khourshid told The Cairo Post Tuesday.

According to Khourshid, the tradition of firing Ramadan Cannon to signal the end and the start of fasting hours dates back to Egypt’s Mameluk era (1250-1517.)

“It all started accidentally when soldiers of Sultan Seif al-Din Zenki were cleaning the cannon and a mistaken bullet, accidently met the exact time of Iftar went in the air,” said Khourshid.

There were not a lot of inhabitants in Cairo at that time, so the sound apparently resonated and reached them through al-Moqqattam hills.

Cairenes thought the Zenki “was alerting them to the time for Iftar,” Khourshid said, adding that the footnote of the Sultan suggested “he should keep the practice to increase his popularity.”

“Zenki was gifted the Ramadan Cannon from a German acquaintance,” Khourshid said, adding that Egypt was the first Islamic state to use the cannon to notify residents of Cairo when to break their fasting.

Starting from that time, Cairenes were instructed not to eat or drink until they heard the firing, said Khourshid adding that the timing was determined by a group of religious scholars and astronauts.

In 1960s, the firing of the cannon was entrusted to the Interior Ministry before it was suspended in early 1970s for security reasons, said Khourshid.

During the tenure of Egypt’s former Interior Minister Ahmed Roshdi, the Ramadan cannon was back to service again but with sound wave instead of live ammunition. It was transported to several places including Al-Muqqattam hill before it was transported to Cairo’s Citadel of Saladin where it is now seen to the south of Mohamed Ali Mosque.

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