Iftar cannon reverberates through the ages
Dubai - The Ramadan tradition of firing the cannon continues to boom.
Signalling the beginning of the Maghreb prayers and Iftar, the sound and sights of a cannon blast has played a significant role during the month of Ramadan for several centuries.
Though the cannon's original purpose was to announce the ending of the fast during Ramadan, in the present day, the cannon fire announcing Iftar plays a significant role in keeping traditions alive.
Historians have also speculated that the tradition of firing the Iftar cannon during the holy month of Ramadan could have begun accidentally. In the UAE, the tradition of firing the cannon started in Sharjah, between 1924 and 1950, during the rule of Sheikh Sultan Bin Saqr Al Qasimi.
"This ensured that the Bedu, who were living outside the city, could hear it," said Abdulla Eisa Al Serkal, founder-director of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Centre for Cultural Understanding.
The Ramadan cannon was introduced in Dubai by Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed, the late Ruler of Dubai, in the early 1960s, added Al Serkal. "They would get ready to fire the cannon at least two days before the start of Ramadan, waiting for the moon committee to sight the moon. Originally, two locations were used for firing the cannon: Zabeel and Al Ras," he said. The firing of the cannons is under the supervision of the Dubai and Sharjah Police Weapons and Ammunition departments. In the past, the cannons were antiques from World War I; these are now in the Dubai Police Museum. "Today, the police department uses sound cannons which fire blank shells dated from 1945," said Al Serkal.
Al Serkal added: "Some historians date the original custom of firing cannons during Ramadan back to 10th century Egypt, when a Fatimid Caliph ordered that a cannon be placed on Cairo's Muqatam Hill so all Muslims would hear the sound of the blast, signalling and letting them know that it was time to end their fasts."
Dr Eisa Abdellatif, a consultant at the Zayed International Foundation for the Environment, said the custom is popular in many Muslim and Arab countries and cities, including, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Makkah, Jeddah and several other places.
Dr Abdellatif also pointed out that several countries are now also adopting sonic cannons instead of military ones "Even if we were to use a traditional cannon, its effects on the environment is not that significant. Here in the UAE, it is fired for purely historical and traditional purposes."
Sharjah continues legacy
Colonel Ashoor Sabet, director of Special Tasks at the Sharjah Police, said although the cannon is used in many Arab cities, it no longer serves its primary purpose but is a symbolic tradition.
"The Ramadan cannon is one of the historical legacies that continued in the UAE. It is associated with the holy month and its spiritual traditions," Col Sabet said.
Dubai follows suit
Major-General Mohammed Saeed Al Marri, assistant commander-in-chief of Dubai Police for Happiness and Community Services, said: "In the early 1960s, the police were using guns to inform people that the time of their daily fast during Ramadan had ended."
He added, "Today, the Police uses British-made cannons, type of PDR MK1L Cannons ammunition D. The cannons are subject to maintenance on a regular schedule, to maintain its traditional form." The police official stressed the keenness of the Dubai Police General Command to preserve these Ramadan rituals, which include the official announcement of the holy month and the breaking of the fast, as well as the announcement of the confirmation of the Eid holiday, noting that the section equipped six guns, including five primaries, and one in reserve, for use.
Tourist companies have also listed these sites as places of interest to visit and watch the firing of cannons, during the month of Ramadan. Maj-Gen Al Marri revealed that there would be an interactive programme for the public every day, before the cannon is fired. Al-Marri also stated that mosques throughout the emirate have also been proactive in announcing the end of the fasting hours, via their audio equipment and audio and visual media.
(With inputs from Afkar Ali and Amira Agarib)
Quick-fire facts about Ramadan cannons
The practice dates back to the 10th century, from Fatimid Caliphate period
In Dubai, it was introduced during the time of Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum, who ruled from 1912 to 1968
In Sharjah, Sheikh Sultan bin Saqr Al Qasimi introduced the custom during his reign between 1924 and 1950
In 1930, the Dubai Police started handling the cannons. Only sound cannons are used today