Famous Ramadan Traditions and Their Origins in Egypt
By Muhammed Aladdin
For Muslims, Ramadan is a special time of the year; it is all about family, giving back, and spirituality. However, in Egypt, the month of Ramadan has traditions that can be seen nowhere else; even the traditions that are prevalent throughout the Arab world have their origins in Egypt.
From family gatherings to charity, Egyptians have their own way of celebrating the month of fasting, and in a way, it brings all of us closer to one another. Now, behind each tradition, there is a story that most of us know little about.
Having said that, here is our list of Ramadan traditions and their origins.
On sunset, when it is time for Muslims to break their fasting, the sound of a boom reverberates throughout the silent streets of Cairo; it is the sound of Ramadan’s Cannon shooting to signal Al-Maghrib time. For centuries, the ‘madfaa’ or cannon, has been the only method for people to know it’s time to eat.
The story goes that the popular Egyptian Ruler Muhammed Ali had brought a cannon from abroad and was testing it at the same time as iftar, and once it fired, people rejoiced. So, Ali decided to turn it into a tradition.
The legend says that the founder of Cairo, the Fatimid Caliph Moezz Li Din EI-Allah, was returning to Cairo in Ramadan. As he entered the city’s gates, the residents turned out en masse with lanterns aglow to welcome him and celebrate his arrival.
These lanterns had become one of the symbols of Ramadan, and to this day, Egyptians buy star-shaped lanterns or ‘fawanees’ to celebrate the coming of the holy month of Ramadan.
Traditional foods and drinks
Food drives the conversation in Egypt during the holy month of Ramadan, and there is a number of traditional dishes that are a staple of each home during Ramadan. These include mahshi (rice and herbs stuffed veggies), bechamel pasta, molokhia, and so much more.
There are also traditional beverages that Egyptians cannot live without in Ramadan, such as Kamar Al-Din (apricot juice), Karkade (hibiscus tea), and Tamr Hindi (tamarind).
A rather recent tradition is mosalsalat, which are Egyptian or Arab-made series that people binge-watch during Ramadan. Almost all good, memorable series have been shown for the first time in Ramadan. The reason why Ramadan has become a season for series is that most Egyptians after iftar stay at home and watch television. Therefore, almost all television directors and producers jam their work throughout the thirty days of Ramadan.
First-day family gathering
Ramadan is all about family, and there is a tradition that the first day of Ramadan should be spent with family members. Nothing in the world can take an Egyptian away from his or her family on the first day of Ramadan. This tradition has its origins in the religious teachings of Islam.
One of the most important traditions of Ramadan is when all the neighborhood teenagers and children get together with their parents and work on decorating each street with Zeenat Ramadan. These ropes of colorful bands of triangles go back and forth between balconies, with lanterns and colored lamps, give the streets a vibe of joy that only Egyptians can relate to.
Khayamiya is a decorative textile used to decorate tents across the Middle East. In recent years, the textile has become exclusive to Cairo, Egypt, that a whole market called Souq Al-Khayamiya has been dedicated to it.
Khayamiya is an elaborate pattern of colorful appliques, that is primarily used for curtains, covers, fashion, bags, bedspreads, and tablecloths.
Ramadan football tournaments
The origins of this tradition are not clear, but in Egypt, during the holy month of Ramadan, every club, youth center, or football field must have a football tournament throughout the thirty days of Ramadan. These matches are very competitive and are usually played late at night around 12 A.M., after which players can go have sohour together.