“Ramadan means taraweeh prayers (evening prayers). It means a family gathering for a meal. It means the maghreb call for prayers on television. It means the sound of a cannon [a signal for Muslims to break their fast].
It means children playing football at night. It means sohour [the meal Muslims eat before they start fasting]. It means fajr prayers [prayers before dawn]. It means sweets like konafa. It means Ramadan decorations in the streets. It means the lanterns that light up the universe.”
This is how Ramadan, the holy month in which Muslims fast during the daytime hours, is described on the Ramadan Betaa Zaman (Ramadan of the Past) Website that depicts features of Ramadan in the past and posts images of them.
A lot of traditional features of the holy month have almost disappeared as times have changed and with the development of technology.
The older generations especially have been seeking a way of remembering their childhood memories during the holy month, and a group of young people have made this possible through this Website.
They post images that remind people of Ramadan in the past like a picture of a traditional Ramadan lantern, an image of a foul (fava beans) cart, or even a video of a programme, a song or a serial that was aired on television in the past.
This helps people from the older generation recall how their families celebrated Ramadan and tells the younger generations how their forefathers celebrated the holy month.
The Website is like a time machine that takes people on a trip to the past. Even on opening the page one gets a feeling of nostalgia. There are images of “Bogi and Tamtam,” for example, a popular puppet show in the 1980s and 1990s, and of Ramadan lanterns made of copper and glass.
Many people from the older generations had nothing but these lanterns to play with as children during Ramadan, and they would light them with little candles that would fit in the bottom.
There are also images of street decorations made from coloured paper, which were much simpler than the neon lights used nowadays.
There are also images of people having a collective iftar, the meal that Muslims have after dusk as the first meal after breaking their fast, and other images of the mawaed al-rahman (tables of charity) organised for the poor during the holy month.
The Website has many images depicting how our grandparents celebrated Ramadan in the past. They also tell stories about the origins of things used in Ramadan, like the lanterns and the cannon.
There is a countdown on the site to tell people how many days are left before the beginning or the end of the holy month.
“What beautiful pictures. This is truly Egypt in Ramadan,” wrote one of the page’s fans. “What was the thing you liked most in Ramadan in the past that is not there now,” they ask. One answer was “love…love…love.”
The site was set up by Ahmed Abdel-Aziz, 16, and Abdel-Rahman Malek, also 16. Ahmed is also the administrator of the site. The editor is his brother Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, 18.
Ahmed gives details about how it all started. “The idea of Ramadan Betaa Zaman started last year. It was my idea. It is to help people recover their wonderful memories from the past.
It also aims at reminding people of the times of prayer and posting news about Ramadan, like when it will start and when it will end,” he says, adding that the contents of the Website includes prayers, zekr (supplication) and Quran recitations.
He also says that they plan to organise competitions on their Website in the near future. So far, they have 4,141 fans or people who like the page whose ages range from 12 to 60. “We intend to expand the page and to open other branches in other fields,” he comments.
“The idea of Ramadan Betaa Zaman was Ahmed’s originally. I had a page called Yalla Kora (Go Football) which was not so successful. Ahmed wanted to have another page, so he came up with the idea of Ramadan Betaa Zaman,” said Abdel-Rahman, a secondary school student from Upper Egypt.
“Ahmed and I have been friends for about nine years now. Ahmed decided to design a page with me since he is not a big fan of football. Then we started to post things on it. At first, the page had no followers and we had to stop posting things because we were busy studying for our preparatory certificates. Then we resumed,” he said.
Abdel-Rahman communicates with Ahmed on Whatsapp and makes sure that they regularly post on the Website. It is only Ahmed and Abdel-Rahman who can post images or videos on the page. “We also thought of marketing products, but it didn’t work out. There are three people monitoring the site including Ahmed and his brother and myself, but the most active are Ahmed and me,” he said.
“I focus on things that remind people of the past. One example is images of lanterns or of a mosaharati,” the person who wakes Muslims up to eat sohour, he said, adding that they also post images of things their parents tell them about from the last century.
“We sometimes take our content from another page called Ramadan 2019 and then post it too. In most cases, we take photographs of things and post them.
Last year, many of the photographs were taken by the people supervising the page, for example.” They are working on having people react to their Website on the social and human level.
Abdel-Rahman has learnt firsthand about the preferences of those who visit their Website. “In some cases, when I post something with a lot of writing on the site many people do not read it. But if I post a fascinating picture it attracts them more, so I write shorter posts now with more pictures,” he said.
“I want to reactivate the football site by posting content about football on the Ramadan Betaa Zaman page as well,” Ahmed commented.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 May, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Reviving Ramadan memories