Ramadan fanoos is the colourful lantern that adorns the streets of many Arab countries during the holiest month of the year for Muslims.
In Saudi Arabia, where I spent most of my childhood, the lantern was an integral part of the Ramadan experience. Huge copper fanoos with coloured-glass windows would be erected at the gates of mosques and shopping malls. Small plastic ones filled the bustling open-air marketplaces.
It is widely believed that the tradition originated in Egypt during the Fatimid Caliphate, where it is said the caliph was greeted at the beginning of Ramadan by lantern-carrying residents of Cairo. From there, it spread to other cities in the Islamic world – Damascus, Aleppo, Ramallah, Gaza, Amman and Riyadh, among others.
At school in the coastal city of Jeddah, I would craft fanoos from colourful paper before returning home to string dozens of the lanterns along a piece of rope that stretched across our backyard, from one huge palm tree to another. Only a few would survive the month without being shredded by the wind or visiting crows, but to me and many others those simply made lanterns became synonymous with Ramadan.
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