The World Cup has come to an end – at long last to some and way too quickly for others. It has been a year of surprises – England making it to the semifinals for the first time in 28 years, Lionel Messi missing a penalty and defending champions Germany losing to Mexico to name a few. 2018 was also the year Egypt qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1990, perhaps with a little bit of help from Liverpool’s own ‘Egyptian King’ Mohammed Salah.
Mo Salah has made quite a few headlines with his success in Champion’s League where he finished as this season’s top scorer with 29 goals. He has not only become a national darling for the Egyptians, but also become a symbol for the fight against rising Islamophobia in Europe. Hell, he even got his shoes into the British Museum. But this year he also lit up the Ramadan in Egypt.
Ramadan, which started in mid-May and ended on the 14th of June (also the exact date which the World Cup began), is the nine month of the Islamic calendar and is a month of fasting to commemorate the very first revelation of the Quran to Mohammad. The end of Ramadan is celebrated by the two to three days holiday of Eid el-Fitr, where the fast is broken.
In Egypt, the Ramadan has taken on a special appearance. The entire month is illuminated by lanterns, fānūs, that hang not only from mosques, but also from balconies, store fronts, cafes and from windows or over alleyways. The lanterns come in many different shapes and sizes and children often walk the streets with smaller ones in hand. Some lanterns are made from recycled tin cans or plastic while the more traditional ones are made from copper with coloured glass and remain very popular even though the Egyptian markets are seeing a rise of imported Chinese lanterns.
Despite a countrywide import-ban on these lanterns, special plastic lanterns were allowed in this year. They took on the likeness of Mohammed Salah as both figures like the plastic one below, while Egyptian shopkeepers added his picture to the coloured glass of some of the more classical lantern designs.
The ethnographic collection at Moesgaard Museum holds five of these beautiful traditional lanterns like the one at the very top. It is clear from this lantern that the designs are inspired by Islamic geometry and art and show a great deal of craftsmanship. Its creator, Randa Fahmy, started creating lanterns in 1975 and she was inspired by Mamluk metalwork design. Her works therefore draws inspiration from traditional Islamic art, but every work is unique in its own right but adheres to the original Islamic canons of design. In 1981, she opened the Al Ain Gallery with her sister and jeweller Azza Fahmy, both now famous designers, and here Moesgaard’s lanterns were purchased.
Imagine hundreds of these lanterns lighting up the dark nights of the entire month of Ramadan – greeting the happy people finally being able to break their fast at sunset. The Ramadan lanterns have become an intrinsic part of the celebrations since their introduction to Egypt, which some people believe to have been during the Fatimid period and the rule of Saladin (909-1193). They have become a symbol of joy and the holy month.
The lanterns take on slightly new designs, new colours, new materials and shapes every year – as is certainly the case with this year’s Mo Salah lantern! This means that every year introduces a new generation of lanterns that are just a little bit different from last year’s. This means that the lanterns in Moesgaard’s collections can give us a unique glimpse at what the lanterns looked like when they were made and collected in 2001.
Maybe Mo Salah’s lantern could be a new addition to the ethnographic collections to continue telling the story of a long, continuous, but ever-changing tradition of Ramadan lanterns?
Visit the creator of Moesgaard’s lanterns here
See more fantastic pictures of the lanterns being made and exhibited on the street, and read more about their origins here
//Katrine Mandrup Bach