5 Unique Ramadan Traditions You’ll Only Find in Cairo


Step into the vibrant streets of Cairo during Ramadan, and you’ll discover a tapestry of traditions that are as colorful as the city itself. From the mesmerizing calls of the mesaharaty echoing through the pre-dawn hours to the jubilant cannon fire signaling the breaking of the fast, Cairo’s Ramadan is a time of unique customs and timeless rituals.

In this bustling metropolis where the ancient and the modern collide, here are five Ramadan traditions that capture the essence of Cairo like no other.

5. El Mesaharaty

Initially absent in early Islam, the role of the mesaharaty emerged during the Abbasid era (750-1261) under Caliph Al Nasser in Egypt.

The mesaharaty, a traditional figure during Ramadan, roams the streets before dawn, drumming and calling out, “Wake up sleepers, praise Allah!” This ritual serves to rouse people for their pre-dawn meal, known as sohour, which marks the beginning of the fast.

The mesaharaty, named for the task of waking people, traditionally walks through neighborhoods, drumming or chanting phrases to awaken residents by name, ensuring they partake in the suhour meal.

4. Cannon fire marking iftar

Many Muslim countries announce the breaking of the fast during the holy month by firing cannons at sunset, but Cairo was the first city to commence the tradition!

According to legend, in 865 AH (1460 CE), the Mameluke sultan tested a new cannon by firing it at sunset during Ramadan. People interpreted this as a deliberate signal to break the fast, and the sultan continued the practice by firing the cannon at both Iftar and Sohour throughout Ramadan. Historical records also mention cannons being fired from the citadel and the Muqattam Hills.

3. Fanous Ramadan

For more than a millennium, the Ramadan lantern, known as the fanous, has stood as a quintessential symbol of Ramadan in Egypt. Legend has it that people emerged carrying lanterns to welcome the Fatimid Caliph Al-Muizz li-Din Allah on the fifth day of Ramadan in 358 AH (970 CE). Originating during the Fatimid era, the lantern industry thrived in Egypt, with artisans crafting them year-round, but particularly ramping up production as Ramadan approached.

2. Ramadan tables or Maedet Rahman

The custom of Ramadan tables traces back to the Abbasid era under Governor Ahmed ibn Toloun in 880 CE. Initially, he hosted a feast for elites, who were then tasked with feeding the needy—a practice likely inspired by the Abbasid Caliph Haroun Al-Rashid’s palace tables in Baghdad.

Later, during the Fatimid rule, Caliph Al-Muizz li-Din Allah revived the tradition by organizing feasts for worshippers in Cairo’s Amr Ibn Al-Aas Mosque, distributing palace-cooked food to the poor.

Today, this tradition persists across Egypt’s streets. Initially held by the affluent, it transitioned to institutions like the Nasser Social Bank, which set up tables near Al-Azhar Mosque in Historic Cairo to serve thousands. Additionally, the first Coptic tables emerged in Shubra in 1969.

1. The “Erk Soos” seller

“Heal and brew, oh licorice, cool , brew, and rejoice, oh thirsty” .. These are the phrases that the licorice seller sings to advertise a drink that has been known since ancient times for its sweet taste, especially during the month of Ramadan and in the summer when the weather heats up and the body’s need for fluids increases. It is also often what Muslims drink after the Maghrib call to prayer, especially in small neighborhoods, but it remains a drink favored by the poor and the rich.


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