Ramadan has a special place in the hearts of all Egyptians. While the essence of the month is the same all over the country, there are certain rituals vary in different parts of Egypt. In big cities like Cairo and Alexandria, evening “taraweeh” prayers followed by festive socializing in Ramadan tents might be established traditions, but rituals in most other parts of Egypt are more simple during the holy month.
A group of Matrouh Bedouins, with good eyesight, head to an elevated area to observe the crescent moon, which would mean the start of the holy month. They notify their people of the arrival of Ramadan by lighting a fire. Thirty stones are then collected by a woman elder to keep track of Ramadan days. While they typically consume five meals a day, they only have three during Ramadan: iftar, dinner and sohour.
On the last day of the month of Shaban, the governor makes a formal announcement at the city’s mosque about the beginning of Ramadan. This is followed by a festive procession that moves past the railway station and crosses the canal. The celebration is similar to a big parade and comes complete with floats, which usually belong to local businesses.
To announce the start of Ramadan, the people of Siwa fire a gunshot in the air. Every person who hears it also fires a shot to spread the word. Women hang dates on their doors and clean their homes in preparation for the holy month. They also stay home for its duration. The people of Siwa view Ramadan as a time of complete reverence and devotion to God. Consequently, they refrain from anything that might serve as a distraction, such as dancing and playing music. A group of people goes door to door collecting money and food donations to give to the poor.
It is said that sometime in the 1870s, a canon was accidentally fired around sunset, and the public thought it marked the beginning of a new Ramadan tradition; announcing it was time to break the fast. So, Khedive Ismail’s daughter decided to make it one. However, people in Upper Egypt couldn’t afford a canon, so they beat a drum instead; once at dawn for people to stop eating, and once at sunset for people to start eating. These drums are made of copper and camel leather, and people beat them to this day.
Coexistence and harmony are the essence of the holy month, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai. The monks prepare and serve iftar and sohour to the Muslim workers and residents of Saint Catherine. They also lighten their workers’ workload and allow them to pray within its walls.