Jerusalem’s Ramadan observers break their fast to the sound of “cannon fire”


Jerusalem’s Ramadan observers traditionally started and ended their daily fast when they hear the sound of cannon fire, and this year is no exception as Rajai Sandouka keeps up a long-held family tradition by setting off sound bombs in the city’s Muslim cemetery to replicate the sound of cannon fire.

In keeping with a family tradition, Rajai Sandouka lets off sound bombs to replicate cannon fire in the Islamic Cemetery overlooking Jerusalem’s Old City at the start and end of the daily fast observed by Muslims during during the holy month of Ramadan.

Sandouka sets off the sound bombs after receiving a signal from the nearby al-Aqsa mosque.

Members of Sandouka’s family have handed down the tradition of alerting Muslims to the daily fasting period during Ramadan through the sound of cannon fire for 120 years.

Sandouka said his grandfather had fired a cannon when Jerusalem was under Ottoman rule, which lasted until the First World War.

He explained that that Ottoman-era Ramadan cannon was replaced by the current one in the Islamic Cemetery when Jerusalem and the West Bank were under Jordanian control, between 1948 and 1967.

“The Ramadan Cannon - my grandfather used to fire the cannon during the Ottoman era. The cannon that my grandfather used is now at the Islamic museum at the al-Aqsa mosque. During the Jordanian era, they changed it to this one,” Sandouka said.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 conflict, in a move that was not recognised internationally.

Since then, Israeli authorities have restricted the use of the cannon.

“In 2001 or 2002, the (Israeli Authorities) prevented us from using the gunpowder which we used for the Ramadan cannon, explaining that they did so for security reasons, because there were explosions. I remember that the first eighteen days of Ramadan (in 2002) we did not fire the Ramadan cannon,” Sandouka said.

Subsequently Sandouka negotiated a deal through which sound bombs can be let off, although the Ramadan cannon itself is not fired.

“I knocked all the doors, until we reached a deal to use sound-bombs. Since then we are using the sound bombs not the old real cannon,” he said.

This year Sandouka said he had complied with a request from the Jerusalem municipality for him to move the sound bombs to a safer location in the Islamic cemetery.

The Islamic cemetery overlooks a busy bus station and is not far from the site of the Garden Tomb, which is a popular destination for Christian tourists because it is believed by some to be the site where Christ’s tomb is located.

“Now they are saying that we are not allowed to use the sound bombs here near the cannon, because of its proximity to the bus station and the Garden Tomb, which is dangerous. So they asked us to fire the sound bombs 15 metres away from the crowded area. So I moved the location of the cannon down,” Sadouka said.

Most Muslims rely on the “azan” -- or call to prayer -- transmitted from a mosque through a loudspeaker, or on an alert transmitted through the radio, television, or internet, to know when to break their fast.

But in Jerusalem, Muslim residents still choose to adhere to tradition and listen out for the sound of cannon fire to signal the time for iftar, the breaking of the daily fast.