Five minutes before Iftaar, with the food spread out in front of us, and after making our respective duas, Masood turns on the T.V. We love watching the cannons being fired right before the call of prayers. It’s nice to see how people gather around the cannon (at a safe distance, of course) and wave their hands at the camera.
The firing of the cannon is an important Ramadan tradition here in the U.A.E. It is believed to date from the early days of Islam, when the Fatimid caliph instructed that a cannon be placed at the highest point of a city so that during Ramadan, all Muslims would be able to hear the shot, signaling the end of the fast at sunset.
In the U.A.E. however, the tradition started in Sharjah in 1803, during the rule of Sultan Bin Saqr. Dubai followed this tradition in 1912, during the rule of Shaikh Saeed Al Maktoum.
The Imams are instructed by the Ruler not to call for Iftar until they heard the firing of the cannon. The timing was determined by the Ruler upon recommendation from a group of religious scholars.
By 1960, firing of the cannon became the responsibility of the Dubai police, and has remained under their supervision ever since.
Historically, military cannons were used; this has now been replaced by sonic cannons.
Today, there is no practical reason for the firing of the cannon, but it still exists in an effort to preserve the tradition. The Ramadan cannon has become symbolic and is an integral part of the U.A.E. tradition.
The cannon firing team consists of one sergeant, one traffic officer, and three soldiers. They arrive about an hour before sunset. A soldier loads a blank charge into the cannon and sets the safety switch to prevent any mishaps. The men communicate over the walkie-talkie as the sun dips lower in the sky.
A few minutes before the cannon is fired, a huge crowd gathers around the cannon to witness the firing, before going to the mosque to break their fasts and pray. They wave to the cameras and call their friends and family at home to watch them live on T.V. The Sharjah government also provide Iftaar meals to people who come to witness the cannon fire.
Photo and facts courtesy of the Gulf News.