Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim lunar year، it is a time of fasting، blessings and prayers to commemorate the revelation of the first verses of the Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad by the Holy Spirit Gabriel. It is a time when Muslims refrain from eating during daylight hours as an act of sacrifice that reminds them of the challenges of the poor.
The daily meals become limited to two، the first of which is the “iftar” which is breaking the fasting that takes place immediately with sunset. The timing of the second meal - “sohour” - is variable according to personal preference، but usually delayed as much as possible until just before dawn. In between “iftar” and “sohour”، people are allowed to eat and drink liberally.
After breaking the fast at sunset، the city comes to life with different activities، shopping malls and at the hotels، where Ramadan theme tents are set up and folkloric entertainment is held on a nightly basis. Sitting in one of the cafes on the Nile is also very pleasant، where there is light entertainment and good food offered. The mosques are all lit up، shops are open almost all night، the streets are decorated in Ramadan themes، and the food displayed in the shops is the customary offered especially during the holy month.
Egypt has a different flavor during the holy month. As August tends to be a warm month، it is best to plan the schedule where the most famous ancient and religious sites in Egypt are to be covered earlier in the day، followed by museums that tend to open a little later during Ramadan.
As the day gets warmer، the shopping malls such as City Stars in Nasr City suburb or First Mall in Giza، are a delight to browse around in، where local and famous brand merchandise are displayed in shops، food outlets and other entertainment is available. There you will also find some of the better local handicrafts. As the evening approaches and the city come to life، visitors should enjoy browsing around the medieval streets of Cairo. Especially streets like Mu’ezz Eddin، Azhar and Khan El Khalili areas، Fostat in Old Cairo، and the famous gates and walls of Islamic Cairo. Alexandria city also has its atmosphere during Ramadan، where the sidewalk cafes by the sea، a walk on the Corniche or a visit to Anfoushi - the fishermen’s area - and El Attarin where antique furniture and trinkets are sold، whether you are there، day or night، it is a delight. In the evening، a visit to the famous mosque، Morsi Abul Abbas area where themed-decorations are hung everywhere، is a must.
The month of traditions
Ramadan is an inspiring tradition that reflects well on Islam. Muslims give food and money to the poor، as well as to travelers who cannot otherwise stop to eat when it is time to break their fast. Food is supplied by many different groups، including wealthy individuals، restaurants and other foundations، often setting up tables along the streets for this purpose.
Ramadan is the magical month that is accompanied with all the mysterious customs that have become associated with Ramadan، often has no intrinsic link to religion. Among those are:
Fanoos Ramadan or Ramadan Lantern
Fanoos Ramadan or Ramadan Lantern One of the visible sites of the month، that is distinctly an Egyptian tradition، are the colourful lanterns found displayed in many shops. As the month approaches، people buy the lantern to decorate their homes and children expect to get one to play and sing Ramadan songs with، while swinging their glowing lanterns. The lantern is often made from recycled tin cans and most recently there are displayed plastic lanterns that play the latest popular music.
Many stories of its origin have been told. One of the popular stories has it that a Fatimid Caliph wanted to light the streets of Cairo during Ramadan nights، so he ordered all the sheikhs of mosques to hang Fawanees that could be illuminated by candles. As a result، the Fanoos became a custom that has never been abandoned.
To see a large display of “Fanoos Ramadan” and where it is originally made، you should go towards the 11th-century city gate of Bab Zuweillah in the vicinity of the Islamic Museum and next to the Tentmaker’s Bazaar. Part of Ahmad Maher Street where the tinsmiths and marble cutters have their shops، is transformed into the Street of Lanterns during the month.
The DrummerEach morning during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan، an hour or two before dawn، drummers (mesharati) tour the streets، hammering out a repetitive beat to wake people up to have their sohour (pre-dawn meal). This tradition dates back to the Ottoman era when people didn’t have alarm clocks to wake them for sohour، drummers would walk through the streets beating their drums. They would also sing a rhyming couplet -- a reflection of the popular culture.
At the end of Ramadan، the drummers go to houses in their street to ask for money for the wake-up service they provided for the neighborhood during the whole holy month. Almost all phases of the drum-beating tradition، from walking through the streets beating the drum to singing rhyming couplets and collecting money، are still observed. This centuries-old tradition keeps ongoing as it carries the spiritual aspect of old Ramadan days.
The Cannon and Breaking the Fast
The Cannon and Breaking the FastThe firing of the cannon from atop the Citadel is a tradition that all Egyptians wait for to break their fast at sunset. It may not be heard today all over، but people still enjoy turning on the television set to watch the cannon being fired before they all sit down to eat. Legend has it that this tradition started by Khedive Mohamed Ali (1805-1848) when he ordered a number of cannons for the Egyptian army، and so it happened that one cannon was accidentally fired during sunset in Ramadan and people then thought that this was a new tradition ordered by the Khedive.
Desserts KonafaFor some reason، this month is associated with the sweet tooth، where most pastry shops and homes innovate in their creations of desserts.
Among these are the Baklava which is made of Phyllo dough and filled with either nuts، cream or ricotta cheese، The Basboosa with Semolina cake، Konafa with shredded dough، also filled with nuts or cream، and Qatayif that is pancake like dough stuffed with nuts and deep-fried.
One of the interesting scenes during Ramadan is to watch the Konafa shop swirl the dough، round and round in a huge round open oven and produce a hair thin dough.
Main Meals the bean dishThe two most important dishes on the table during Ramadan is the bean dish seasoned with olive oil and garnished with tomatoes and onions.
The other is a soup of any kind. People usually break the fast with the soup، since they have been fasting all day and need something light to start the meal with.
Also، a medley of dried fruits such as prunes، raisins and apricot in syrup، is another favorite during Ramadan.
Ramadan’s Drinks Sweetened Karkadey (hibiscus rose petals)، Erq Sous (licorice)، Humous (chick pea drink)، minted tea، Kamar El Din (dried apricot paste juice)، Kharoub (carob)، Tamr Hini (Tamarind)، are the prevalent drinks found at most hotels and coffee shops during Ramadan. They are all thirst quenchers and contain a horde of vitamins.
A Walk through Cairo
Medieval Cairo is like walking through a time machine where you are transported back to Cairo’s past Islamic heritage with its ancient mosques and forts. This is truly where you feel the spirit of Ramadan..