The holy month of Ramadhan is also a festive season characterised by colourful decorations. One of the most remarkable of all decors is the iconic Fanoos (lantern), which can be seen illuminating the entrances of buildings, houses, and shops.
These lanterns elevate the unique Ramadhan atmosphere not only emphasizing joy and celebration but also the season’s sense of spirituality. While the lantern is called “Fanoos” in Arabic, its origin is Greek, meaning something that is a means of lighting. In some languages, it is also called “Vinas”.
How fanoos became associated with Ramadhan is up for debate and also varies depending on who is telling the story. Some narratives showed that the lantern has its beginnings at the dawn of Islam during the time of the second Caliph, Umar son of Al Khattab. Muslims were using them to lighten the way at night to go to mosques. In Islamic history, Egyptians were believed to be the first people who invented the idea of fanoos, and from this land of the pharaohs, it moved to all countries of the world. While it has different origins, most stories seem to agree that usage thrived during the Fatimid period with three different historical accounts serving as proof.
The first Historical account is that of the Fatimid Caliph who used the lantern to sight the moon of Ramadhan. The children went out with him to light up the way for him.
Another account tells of the Egyptian people and their children holding lanterns to greet the Fatimid Caliph al- Muizz li-Din Allah who was due for a visit in Cairo on the first night of Ramadhan. Pleased with the sight of the beautiful lanterns, the Caliph ordered craftsmen to start making them commercially, and he issued a decree requiring people to hang lanterns on the doors of every shop and house at night or face a penalty.
According to another version, a Fatimid ruler banned women from leaving the house all year, except during the holy of Ramadhan.
They can, however, leave the house on the condition that their children walk a head of them, carrying lanterns to light the way and signal the passing women. When the women were finally free to go out at any time, the tradition of carrying lanterns while walking the streets and singing along stuck. Children have grown to love the rituals of holding lanterns while walking down the road and singing with their friends. Despite the fall of the Fatimid era, the lantern tradition carried on. It was so significant that it, later on, got associated with Ramadhan.
The industry of lanterns evolved since the Fatimid era. The lantern we see today is not the same as how they were made in the past. The current shape and look of the modern lantern didn’t come until the end of the nineteenth century. Originally, lanterns were made of glass with a holder for candles. Later on, metals and glass were combined and as people became more creative, the addition of colourful glasses and different decorations fully transformed it into how we know it today. Now commercially produced, electrical lanterns are also easy to buy and acquire. Families are keen to acquire and decorate houses with colourful lanterns.
Bushra al Ghailani a mother of three children decorated her house with electrical lanterns. “During this holy month, I decorated my house with lanterns to distinguish Ramadhan from the rest of the months. Lanterns add an atmosphere of joy, happiness, and pleasure,” Bushra said. “It’s an amazing feeling having the Ramadhan touch to my house decors. I’ve kept expanding my ideas and improve the aspects of my home decor yearly. I used the electrical lanterns to keep up with changes and I believe they are healthier and cleaner than the manual lanterns,” Bushra added.
In Oman and several countries all over the world, fanoos and lanterns remain to be a great Ramadhan tradition loved by children and adults alike.