CAIRO – 21 May 2017: Muslims around the world are expecting the magical month of Ramadan, which is accompanied by many joyful customs associated with this occasion.
The majority of Ramadan traditions are not generated from religion. This fact made Ramadan an opportunity to bring all Egyptians together, regardless of their religion, to enjoy various activities and events all through the month.
Cairo is famous among Arabs and Muslims to be the best destination for living a true Ramdan experience. In Egypt, you can combine the spiritual and religious experience with entertaining activities during the holy month.
One of these unique traditions is Ramadan lanterns, known as Fawanees, which have always been very special to Egyptians. They come in various shapes, bulbs and colors.
The tradition of having Fawanees during Ramadan has passed from generation to generation. Ramadan is not complete without the image of children happily playing with their Fawanees in the streets, singing the Egyptian Arabic poem composed by Ahmed Sherif, "Wahawi ya Wahawi."
Egyptians are keen to decorate entrances of buildings, balconies and streets with Fawanees few weeks ahead in preparation for Ramadan. Furthermore, Egyptian Fawanees makers and workshops start producing thousands of Fawanees depending on the level of demand.
Nowadays, alongside the original masterpieces, you will find the made-in-China version of Fawanees; Chinese lanterns are made of plastic and lighted by small bulbs. They play different songs including famous Arabic songs, and have multi-colored electric bulbs. They also boast pictures of cartoon characters loved by children, or Egyptian politicians.
The Chinese plastic lanterns compete with the Egyptian metal ones because they are cheaper and sold in large quantities. However, some Egyptians are still keen to keep their iconic symbol and their traditional local crafts.
Egyptian Fawanees makers in Beni Suef confirmed that metal Fawanees made of copper and tin are stronger than the Chinese plastic ones.
Hassan Kamal Jouda, from Beni Suef says, “An Egyptian Fanous maker does not rely on a machine; we carefully handcraft our Fawanees … [They] are durable and some of them are lighted by electricity or a candle. Children love metal Fawanees as they can be kept for the next Ramadan. Despite China's competition, their Fawanees are malfunctioning and easy to break."
Hassan's brother, Adel, adds, "Fawanees are made of tin and copper, which we buy from Cairo; the glass from Beni Suef. Afterwards, we send them to Cairo to print pictures and phrases of "Ahlan Ramadan"[Hello, Ramadan!] … and "Ramadan Karim"[Happy Ramadan] on the four sides including the side which opens."
The prices of Fawanees range between LE 10 ($0.55) and LE 35 ($1.94) depending on the materials used and size of the Fanoos. Bigger ones cost over LE 300 and are purchased by large department stores and hotels; they are often placed in entranceways to attract people.
Beni Suef manufacturers said that Fawanees prices raised this Ramadan over last year due to the increase in prices of raw materials comparing to last season. The price of 1 kg of tin reached LE 560 in comparison to LE 300 last Ramadan. In addition, glass now costs LE 40 while it was LE 7 last year.
Fawanees makers urged the government to reduce the prices of raw materials, explaining that the surge impacted the prices and created a decline in demand in comparison with last year.
The story behind Fawanees
The tradition of Fawanees has many old stories of origin. They are believed to have primarily appeared in Egypt and spread to all Muslim countries.
One of these stories says it developed from the torches lighted during Pharaonic festivals and birthdays. Another says the Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim Bi-Amr Allah wanted to light the streets of Cairo during Ramadan nights, so he ordered all the sheikhs in mosques to hang Fawanees lighted either by candles or oil. As a result, the Fanoos became a custom that has never been abandoned.
A third story states that women were not allowed to leave their houses except during Ramadan during the time of the Caliph Al-Hakim Bi-Amr Allah. Even then they had to be accompanied by a little boy carrying a copper Fanoos. The Fanoos later was used as a tool to caution men in the street of the arrival of a woman, so they would move away. Laws later softened and women were allowed to go out alone, but people kept the tradition of Fawanees.
It is also said that it is a Coptic Christian tradition of Christmas time, as people used to celebrate with colorful candles. The story adds that as many Christians converted to Islam, they preserved the tradition.
The Fanous remains a very unique symbol of Ramadan in Egypt. Ramadan is not the same without the lights shining from it and without the traditional song “Wahawi ya Wahawi.” Ramadan is coming, make sure to go out and enjoy the spirit. Make sure you buy a Fanous.
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