Nothing signifies the Holy Month quite like the deafening boom of cannon fire at sunset. Here’s the story behind this iconic symbol of Ramadan.
There are many competing legends about the firing of the cannon over Ramadan, but they all have one thing in common – the tradition started quite by accident.
Some historians believe that the custom dates back to as far as 10th century Egypt, when one of the Fatimid caliphs ordered a cannon to be placed on Cairo’s Muqatam Hill so all Muslims would hear the signal to break their fasts.
Another story dates back to the 15th century, when a Mumluk sultan of Egypt wanted to test out a cannon he had recently acquired. He just so happened to fire a ball at sunset, and people assumed this was his thoughtful way of letting them know they were allowed to break the fast.
Another version attributes the blast to Ismail the Magnificent, ruler of Egypt and Sudan in the late 19th century. His soldiers were said to be cleaning one of his cannons when it fired by mistake.
Again, the public interpreted this as a new Ramadan ritual, and congratulated him on his genius. His daughter, Princess Fatimah, knew good PR when she saw it, and issued a decree saying from then on, the cannon would always be used to mark iftar.
Known as midfa al iftar, the Ramadan cannon remains a much-loved custom to this day – even though most Muslims now have convenient smartphone apps telling them exactly when they can break the fast.
In Dubai, the practice was introduced sometime in the 20th century, during the rule of Sheikh Saeed Al Maktoum. In the 1960s, Dubai Police were entrusted with the important task, which they are still responsible for today.
Where to see Ramadan cannons in 2019
Each cannon is assigned four officers, with cannons placed across six locations in Dubai including Burj Khalifa, Eid prayer grounds in Al Mankhool and Al Baraha, Fort Island at Madinat Jumeirah and at City Walk.
There is also a backup cannon kept in reserve… just in case of any malfunctions.
Major-General Abdulla Ali Al Gaithi, head of the General Department of Protective Security and Emergency explains, “It has been tradition since the 1960s to use cannons to announce Iftar every day [during Ramadan]. We fire around 200 cartridges across Dubai during Ramadan and Eid from the six cannons. Each cannon is fired twice in a row to announce Ramadan, once every day to announce Iftar and twice in a row to announce Eid and again twice in the morning of Eid, after Eid prayers”.