CAIRO – 7 April 2022: “Iftar cannon, Strike”, a phrase that all Egyptians love and await at sunset every day of the holy month of Ramadan.
Historically, there are several stories revolving around the appearance of the Iftar cannon and its role in the lives of Egyptians.
History books say that the governor of Egypt in the Ikhshidid Dynasty Khushqadam was trying out a new cannon given to him by one of the governors. It happened that the first shot came at the time of sunset on the first day of Ramadan in the year 859.
In the middle of the 19th century, specifically during the reign of Khedive Abbas I in 1853 A.D., two Iftar cannons used to announce the break of fasting in Cairo: the first from the Citadel, and the second from the Saray Abbas Pasha I in Abbasiya, a suburb of Cairo.
During the reign of Khedive Ismail, it was decided to place the Iftar cannon in an elevated location so that its sound would reach the largest area of Cairo.
The canon settled in Al-Mokattam mountain. Every day, the canon leaves the Citadel carried on a cart with huge wheels, to Al-Mokattam mountain to strike during sunset announcing Iftar. At the end of Ramadan, the canon returns back to its permanent location at the citadel, awaiting Ramadan of the following year.
The function of the Iftar cannon further developed as a tool to announce the sighting of the Ramadan crescent. Once the crescent was observed, the cannons would fire from the Citadel to joyfully announce the month of fasting. It used to also fire 21 bullets throughout the three days of Eid al-Fitr.
Thus, the sound of the Iftar cannon continued to be an essential element in the lives of Egyptians, especially during Ramadan, through the cannon which dates back to the era of Mohammad Ali. That was the case until the radio appeared.
When the radio appeared, striking the Iftar canon from the Citadel stopped, although the audio recording of it was broadcast daily on the radio and television until the officials decided that the launch process would be broadcast on air during the Maghrib call to prayer from the Citadel. Egyptian Minister of Interior Ahmed Rushdi decided in 1983 to re-launch the cannon from Salah al-Din Citadel throughout Ramadan at Suhoor and Iftar, bringing back the cannon’s role and splendor.
However, in the early 1990s, the Egyptian Antiquities Authority asked the Ministry of Interior to stop striking the Iftar canon from the Citadel, fearing for the area, which is actually an open museum for Islamic antiquities, as it includes the Salah al-Din al-Ayyubi Citadel, which he built in 1183 AD, and the Alabaster Mosque built by Mohammed Ali in the Ottoman architectural style in 1830, in addition to the Sultan Hassan Mosque, Al-Rifai Mosque and the Four Citadel Museums.
The authority warned that firing the cannon 60 times during Suhoor and Iftar in Ramadan, and 21 shots for each call to prayer on the three days of Eid al-Fitr, will negatively affect the life span of these monuments due to the powerful vibrations it causes.
Two of the three remaining cannons that belong to Mohammad Ali’s family were transferred to Al-Mokattam. The third cannon has been preserved as a tourist attraction in the courtyard of the Police Museum in the Citadel of Salah al-Din, overlooking Cairo from a high hill.
Until now, Egyptians hear the sound of the Iftar cannon on the radio or on television screens, as it remains a joyful Ramadan tradition in Egypt.