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Ramadan 2020: Traditions from across the Arab world

At the moment, the entire Muslim world is celebrating the holy month of Ramadan. While the same fasting and meditation requirements apply everywhere, many traditions differ in different communities and regions of the world. Here are a few of them...

Cannons in Lebanon

In several Middle Eastern countries, it is customary to hear the cannons resounding, reporting the break of the fast at the end of the day. This tradition, called midfa al iftar, is said to have begun about 200 years ago in Egypt. It is said to have originated accidentally, when the Ottoman lord Khosh Qadam fired a shot during a cannon inspection at sunset. Although the practice disappeared in 83 during an invasion of the country that saw all the guns confiscated, the national army revived it as a result of the war, and it persists today, as it does in many Gulf countries.

Lanterns of Egypt

Every year, the Egyptians welcome Ramadan with fanoos, those colorful lanterns that symbolize the joy and unity inherent in the holy month. Opinions differ as to the origin of this tradition, but it is said to date back to the Fatimid dynasty, and to the welcome the Egyptians gave to Caliph Al-Muʿizz li-Dīn Allah on his return to Cairo. Very well established in society, they are often seen in the arms of the youngest children who roam the streets during Ramadan to collect sweets while singing.

Mheibes in Iraq

At dusk, shortly after the break of the fast, Iraqis of all generations gather to play the traditional game of Mheibes, the game of the ring. Two teams compete to try to find out who is the holder of a ring hidden on one of the participants. This tradition continues to live on in spite of the geopolitical difficulties of the country, a sign of its cultural and historical importance.

Children’s songs in the Emirates

Like Halloween in the West, children in the Emirates and other Gulf countries visit their neighborhoods in colorful outfits to collect sweets in traditional tote bags called kharyta, singing traditional songs that resonate in the streets. This tradition is called Haq al Laila, and it takes place on the 15th day of Sha’ban, the month before Ramadan. It too is shared by various other countries in the Middle East.