With the advent of Ramadan, Ahram Online takes this opportunity to remind us of the essence of the holy month and what makes it priceless.
Sighting the crescent?
Before the use of modern technology, officials used to manually sight the crescent in a celebrated ceremony to determine the first day of fasting. Here are some rare pictures of the practice from 1936.
‘Wahawi Ya Wahawi, Eyaha’
This the chant that usually accompanies children as they run around with their colourful lanterns. As children, we were never sure if it was supposed to be “Eyaha” or “Eyoha”? Now we know it is definitely Eyaha.
“It’s an ancient Egyptian figure of speech addressing the moon in honour of Queen Eiah,” Egyptologist Fatma Keshk explained to Ahram Online, saying the chant was affiliated with the moon festival, where wahawi is a cheer to the moon. Eiah Hotep was a queen mother who led the country while her other son, King Ahmose, was fighting the Hyksos. In praise of her courage and wisdom, her son, the victor, granted her the medal of courage and engraved for her a mural at Karnak Temple. Read the chants in her praise here.
As for the lanterns, the main symbol of Raman in Egypt, they became popular during the Fatimid reign of Egypt, specifically on 24 July 968. On that day, the Fatimid Caliph Al-Mo’ezz entered Cairo at night, and the populace carried torches and candles as they went out to welcome him. In order to shield the candles from the wind, some of them placed them on a wooden platform and wrapped the platform with palm fronds and leather. More on lanterns here.
Hand-made paper decorations
Before we started importing Ramadan decorations, making them was the job of the children of the neighbourhood, who recycled old paper, cut it in various geometrical shapes, and hung it across buildings with a big lantern in the middle. This is how it was done and revived.
Before the cannon blows
This is a phrase with which only those who have lived in Egypt would be familiar.
The tradition began in 1460, when Mamluk Sultan Al-Zaher Seif Al-Din Zenki Khashqodom received a cannon as a gift from a German acquaintance. Testing the cannon, the sultan’s soldiers fired it at sunset, coinciding exactly with the maghreb call to prayer that marks the end of the day’s fast. Read about how it all started and about when the first charity banquets were laid out.
‘Wake up, sleepy head’
The first mesaharati was during the Prophet Muhammad’s time. It was Bilal Bin Rabah, who assumed this responsibility. In the year 853, the wali (governor) of Egypt would walk all the way from the city of Askar, now Ibn Toulon, to Amr’s Mosque in Fustat, now Masr Al-Qadima, accompanied by an entourage who called out to people to have the sohour. Ghabsa Bin Ishaq is said to have started the practice. Read more on the mesaharati.