Ramadan 2023: Watching the Iftar cannon at a traditional market in Qatar

Souq Waqif courtyard is at the centre of festivities in Doha

Qatar's iftar cannon firing, on the first day of Ramadan. Olga Stefatou/ The National
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It was less than an hour before the Ramadan iftar cannon was scheduled to fire in Doha, and Suhail Abdulrahman was hard at work.

On the first day of Ramadan in the gulf nation, the student volunteer was overseeing the preparation of more than 500 bags of food and toys that would be distributed to families visiting the central courtyard of Souq Waqif, the country’s popular traditional market.

“The packets contain yoghurt, dates and water and will be given to visitors to break their fast once the cannon is fired,” said Mr Abdulrahman, one of the 10 volunteers working with the market’s management team.

“And this year we also have special gifts for children, including Barbies and fishing sets.”

An hour before the sunset, the Qatari Armed Forces arrived with the cannon and crowds started to gather around the barricades near it.

Long before the arrival of loudspeakers, television sets and other digital gadgets, the cannons were fired twice to announce the beginning of Ramadan, and then once every day to declare the sunset call to prayer and end of the daily fast.

Today, the iftar cannon, or the Midfaa Iftar, remains an intrinsic part of Ramadan celebrations in Qatar, and can be found at Souq Waqif, Katara Cultural Village, Lusail Boulevard and Souq Wakrah, among other locations.

Reem Nabhan, who came with her two children to see the cannon being fired, recalled the time when she visited the market as a child.

“At the time it was a very small space, with a few vendors selling their wares. There were no barricades around the cannon like now … my siblings and I would climb on it and get our pictures taken,” she said, as her children shut their ears in anticipation of the loud sound.

“I have only seen the ceremony beamed on our TVs so far … today I will see it for real,” said another volunteer, as he sets up the table of gifts in the courtyard.

In another corner, in his pearl shop, Saad Ismail Al Jassem, among the oldest pearl divers in the country, recounted stories of hearing, from his village, the “two shots” of the cannon that signalled the start of Ramadan.

“When we heard the boom, we knew it was time to begin our fast,” he said.

“I remember coming to this market with my father at the time, both to buy and sell things, But we always ended our fast at home in the village.”

As the time for maghrib sunset prayers approached, the guards lined up and the cannon was fired with loud thunder and the sprawling space filled with smoke.

Children cheered and rushed to collect their gifts and the market came to life.

“I brought my son to Souq Waqif to see the cannon firing because this is one of the traditional places. He has only seen it on TV, but this was much more impressive. We will go to all the spots this year,” Yasmin Benamara said.

“My throat shook! I only shut my ears, not my throat,” said Yasmin's nine-year-old son as he collected his toy set.

As the day wrapped up, Mr Abdulrahman said he looks forward to the volunteer work throughout the month.

“It is believed that since we are helping others to break their fast for free, we get twice the 'hasanat [credit for good deeds]' or benefits for fasting,” he said with a smile and set off home.

Updated: March 26, 2023, 6:13 AM