Editor’s note • The Salt Lake Tribune’s senior religion writer, Peggy Fletcher Stack, is on assignment in the Middle East. Besides her deeper reporting, she is sharing shorter daily dispatches. This one is from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates • In this city of skyscrapers emerging out of the Arabian desert, it is somehow apt that the end of the daily Ramadan fast is signaled by a cannon blast — a ceremony that thousands watch on TV or livestreamed on the internet.
For Muslims, the practice of fasting from sunrise to sunset during this holy month is a holy one, which they attempt to fulfill with exactness, including the precise minute the sun goes down.
Before there were reliable clocks to mark the time, cannons would alert believers it was OK to eat. The sounds and sights from the mortar fire could be recognized throughout the surrounding area.
These days such celestial events are known with precision on Apple watches or phones but the canon blast ties this nation to its sacred traditions.
I don’t think I have ever stood that close to a cannon as it exploded before, but I can tell you when Maj. Abdullah Tarish Al Amimi, commander of the Dubai police artillery unit, gave the order, my ears burned and the ground under me momentarily shook. Other viewers broke into cheers and then happily moved into a nearby tent arranged for their iftar — after the fast — feast.
Such cultural touchstones keep modern believers connected to their past and the wisdom of their elders, Al Amimi told me. “I call it ‘the peaceful cannon.’”
As the dusk deepened over this bay of the Persian Gulf, I relished that symbolism.
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