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History Behind Firing of Ramadan Cannon in Cairo

Mon 18 Mar 2024 | 06:46 PM
Ahmed Emam

The Iftar cannon is an important part of Egypt's culture and traditions, and it is still observed in many regions of the country. In Cairo, the cannon is fired from Madint Elbooth Islamia. It is a replica of the original antique cannon which was used to signal the end of the fast in old times.

The Iftar cannon also serves as a unifying force for the people of Egypt. It brings together individuals from different walks of life, regardless of their nationality or religion, to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan. The firing of the cannon is a moment of collective celebration, with people gathering in different locations to break their fast together.

Historically, there are several stories revolving around the appearance of the Iftar cannon and its role in the lives of Egyptians.

According to history books, the governor of Egypt in the Ikhshidid Dynasty Khushqadam was trying out a new cannon given to him by one of the governors. It happened that the first shot came at the time of sunset on the first day of Ramadan in the year 859.

During the reign of Khedive Abbas I in 1853 A.D., two Iftar cannons used to announce the break of fasting in Cairo: the first from the Citadel, and the second from the Saray Abbas Pasha I in Abbasiya, a suburb of Cairo.

It was decided during the reign of Khedive Ismail to place the Iftar cannon in an elevated location so that its sound could reach the largest area of Cairo. The cannon settled in Al-Mokattam mountain. Every day, the cannon leaves the Citadel carried on a cart with huge wheels, to Al-Mokattam mountain to strike during sunset announcing Iftar. At the end of Ramadan, the cannon returns back to its permanent location at the Citadel, awaiting Ramadan of the following year.

The Iftar cannon was originally used to announce the sighting of the Ramadan crescent. Once the crescent was observed, the cannons would fire from the Citadel to joyfully announce the month of fasting. It also fired 21 bullets throughout the three days of Eid al-Fitr.

For many Egyptians, the sound of the Iftar cannon is an essential element in their lives, particularly during Ramadan. It dates back to the era of Mohammad Ali and has been a tradition until the radio appeared.

Although the audio recording of the cannon was broadcast daily on the radio and television until officials decided that the launch process would be broadcast on air during the Maghrib call to prayer from the Citadel, the actual striking of the Iftar cannon stopped. However, the Egyptian Minister of Interior Ahmed Rushdi decided to re-launch the cannon from Salah al-Din Citadel throughout Ramadan at Suhoor and Iftar in 1983, bringing back the cannon’s role and splendor.

In the early 1990s, the Egyptian Antiquities Authority asked the Ministry of Interior to stop firing the cannon from the Citadel. They were concerned that firing the cannon 60 times during Suhoor and Iftar in Ramadan, and 21 shots for each call to prayer on the three days of Eid al-Fitr, would negatively affect the life span of the monuments in the area. 

The Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi Citadel, Alabaster Mosque, Sultan Hassan Mosque, Al-Rifai Mosque and the Four Citadel Museums are all open museums for Islamic antiquities and the authority warned that the powerful vibrations caused by the cannon would damage them.

Two of the three remaining cannons that belong to Mohammad Ali’s family were transferred to Al-Mokattam. The third cannon has been preserved as a tourist attraction in the courtyard of the Police Museum in the Citadel of Salah al-Din, overlooking Cairo from a high hill.

Nowadays, Egyptians hear the sound of the Iftar cannon on the radio or television screens as it remains a joyful Ramadan tradition in Egypt.