Sunday, June 26, 2016

Short Story: Celebrating Ramadan

Celebrations have been taking place on Al-Muizz li-Din Allah Street in Islamic Cairo following the sighting of the Ramadan new moon, reports Nevine El-Aref  .

Fatimid period rituals celebrating the spotting of the new moon of Ramadan were revived yesterday night in Al-Muizz Li-Din Allah Street in Islamic Cairo, but with a small twist. To the rhythm of traditional flutes and drums, revelers gathered on the steps of the Bab Al-Fotouh Gate at the northern end of Al-Muizz Street to celebrate the sighting of the new moon.

Guided by Minister of Culture Helmi Al-Namnam and head of the ministry’s Cultural Development Fund Neveen Al-Kelani, they walked along the Street from Bab Al-Fotouh towards the Textile Museum accompanied by traditional tanoura dancers dressed in their colourful skirts.

A stage had been set up in front of the Textile Museum where poems praising the Prophet Mohamed such as Kamaron Sedna Al-Nabi Kamaron (Mohamed is like the Moon) were performed along with spiritual recitations and folkloric songs for Ramadan, such as Ramadan Gana (Ramadan Arrived), Halo ya Halo and Madih an Monagah (Praying to the Lord) associated with the famous Sheikh Sayed Al-Naqshabendi.

“The celebrations are similar to those that were held during the mediaeval Fatimid era,” Al-Kelani told Al-Ahram Weekly, adding that at that time Al-Muizz Street glittered with lamps and colourful decorations during Ramadan. Shop-owners ornamented their shops to welcome Ramadan, and the caliph himself progressed through the district on the night the new moon of Ramadan was spotted.

Wearing a glittering costume ornamented with gold and silver thread, the caliph would walk from the Bayn Al-Qasrein area of Al-Muizz Street to Bab Al-Fotouh along with officials wearing official coloured garb and riding horses with golden saddles.

The caliph would have distributed money and food as he walked, especially rice with milk to the poor. Returning to his palace, he would have been welcomed by recitations from the Quran. He would then have entered his private quarters, changed his clothes, and sent a silver plate of desserts to every emir in the empire. Clothes, money and incense would have been distributed to officials and the poor.

During the later Mameluke era, Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, head of Islamic Cairo at the ministry, said, the country’s top judge was the protagonist of the Ramadan celebrations. When the new moon was seen, he would walk from Bayn Al-Qasrein towards his official residence to announce the beginning of Ramadan and all the streets he passed would have been lit by candles and fawanees, or Ramadan lanterns.

In the Ottoman era, the country’s four top judges met at the Al-Mansouriya School at Bayn Al-Qasrein to observe the new moon. If they saw it, they would start to walk along the street holding candles and fawanees. Sufi groups and handicraft makers were among the walking group.

During the French expedition to Egypt at the end of the 18th century, the same celebrations were held. But in 1798 the French general Napoleon Bonaparte set a canon on top of the Kom Al-Nadoura hill in Alexandria that was fired each day at sunset to mark the end of the fast. 

In modern times, at the beginning of the 20th century the Khedive Abbas Helmi II transferred the responsibility for observing the Ramadan new moon to the legislative court in Bab Al-Khalq in downtown Cairo where the parade announcing the sighting began. Large coaches decorated with flowers were at the front of the procession with Sufi groups and a military band. Fireworks were lit, the streets were lit with fawanees, and the minarets and domes of mosques were decorated with coloured lamps.

The parade passed the Al-Bakri Palace in the Al-Khornonfish area of Cairo where the city’s nobles once lived. Another parade was traditionally launched from the Salaheddin Citadel led by the Al-Mohtaseb (the inspector of weights and measures). Senior merchants and fawanees makers would have been members of the parade, along with Quranic reciters and members of Sufi orders.

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