Dubai’s Ramadan cannon fired twice to announce start of holy month

Six British and two French cannon have been placed at various locations around the emirate

Dubai's Ramadan cannon fired twice to announce start of holy month

Dubai's Ramadan cannon fired twice to announce start of holy month
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Ramadan cannon were fired twice on Wednesday to herald the beginning of the holy month.

Although able Muslims will not start fasting until Thursday, Ramadan is said to begin the once the sun sets the night before.

The same loud blasts from the heavy pieces of artillery will be heard daily to announce sunset, or maghrib, prayers, which is when Muslims break the fast for the day. The breaking of the fast, known as iftar, will be marked by a single shot from the cannon throughout the holy month.

On Wednesday, The National followed Dubai Police officers as they carefully shuttled the artillery from Al Wasl Road to Expo City Dubai.

Police have placed six British and two French cannon in various places across the emirate for the duration of Ramadan, allowing visitors to experience the traditional ritual.

The British-built cannons, which were used in the Second World War, can be found at Expo City Dubai, Burj Khalifa, Madinat Jumeirah, Uptown Mirdiff and Hatta Guest House. Additionally, a travelling cannon will be taken to 15 sites across the emirate throughout the month.

The French-made D75 cannons were initially used in the First World War but were introduced into service with Dubai Police in the 1960s to welcome high-ranking guests of the Ruler of Dubai. Afterwards, they were put on display at Dubai Police Museum. This Ramadan, they will signal iftar at Dubai Festival City and Damac Hills.

The practice of firing a cannon to signal the end of a fasting day is said to have begun in Egypt at some point during the 10th century. It is relatively new to the UAE, having begun in the 1960s, according to First Lt Matar Al Tayer from the department of community happiness at Dubai Police.

“In the 1960s, there were no [loudspeakers] in the mosques. So, it was the cannon fire that alerted people to break the fast. Dubai Police have continued the tradition and we want to introduce it to the younger generations,” he said.

The cannon are transported to their locations three hours before iftar with the help of a police patrol car. Each cannon weighs about 1,650kg. The speed of the car should not exceed 80kph to ensure the cannon arrives safely.

“There are flashlights on the cannon for the safety of the cannon and of the people driving on the roads,” said Lt Al Tayer.

The cannon have a sound range of 160 decibels, which can be heard up to 10km away. Visitors are asked to maintain a distance of at least 30 metres from the cannon because of the noise.

According to protocol, four officers operate each cannon. A fifth may also be present to give orders.

Two officers march towards the cannon, one passes the blank cartridge and the other loads it in a carefully organised and meticulous procedure. The other two officers remain at the back, as guardians of the cannon, and give orders. When it is time for iftar, an officer shouts the order and the cannon is fired.

Two shots are fired to mark the start of Ramadan, while only one signals sunset each day during the holy month. Two blasts also signal the start of Eid Al Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan. And two shots are fired again before the start of morning Eid prayers.

“We hope this tradition continues to the next generations and Dubai Police welcomes people to this event,” Lt Al Tayer said.

Although mosques sound the call to prayer, known as adhan, from loudspeakers, the cannon-firing tradition lives on.

Dubai Police's Ramadan cannon at Expo site — in pictures

Updated: March 22, 2023, 3:13 PM