When the coming of the holy month of Ramadan, the streets of Cairo are filled with “Ma’edat Al Rahman” (tables of mercy) which is a vital ritual in Ramadan illustrating social solidarity – something which characterises the holy month. On these tables are displayed all kinds of foods according to the neighbourhood they are in, providing Iftar (break of fast) for the needy and passers-by.
The name of these tables is inspired from Surat (chapter) Al Ma’eda in the Qur’an. It calls for the spreading of mercy amongst Muslims, as this was the main reason for these tables during the era of Prophet Muhammed. It started with a group from Al Ta’ef who arrived when the Prophet was in Medina and they announced their conversion to Islam, so the Prophet then sent them their iftars and suhoor (meal before fasting) meals, and the caliphs followed Prophet Mohamed’s tradition. Omar Ibn El Khattab established “Dar Al Deyafa” (the hosting home) to provide iftar for those who were fasting.
The first Ma’edet Al Rahman in Egypt was in the era of Ahmed bin Toloun in 880 in the fourth year of his rule. He had prepared a feast to which he invited merchants and dignitaries on the first day of Ramadan, then he ordered them to open their homes to feed the poor. He also ordered that this decision be applied everywhere. This feast was when the idea of Ma’edet Al Rahman started in Egypt.
Over time, the tradition disappeared then came back again during the era of Al Mo’ez leldein Allah Al Fatimi, as he prepared a Ma’eda (table) for the people who pray in Amr Ibn Al Aas Mosque. The food was cooked in his palace then distributed to the poor. Some of the tables were of a length of 175m. In the Fatimid era, the palace workers would provide a major store of sugar and flour as well as sweets such as kenafah, qatayef, and baklava and they would distributed them to the people of Egypt.
It is said that the tradition of Ma’edet Al Rahman dates back to the Abbasid period during the rule of Haroun Al Rashied as he would set tables in his palace and he would roam around them in disguise to ask the people breaking their fast about the quality of the food so that they would tell him their opinions honestly without compliments.
The Mamluk ear in Egypt was famous for the generosity of the rulers in spending on the poor and the needy as extra wages were given to workers, students, and orphans.
Ma’edet Al Rahman remained a tradition related to Ramadan throughout Islamic eras and the rich would race to prepare tables every year.
In the 20th century, the tradition returned again under the government sponsorship of the Nasser Social Bank which would prepare a table near Al-Azhar Mosque to feed 4,000 persons. The first Coptic table of that kind was set in the Shoubra neighbourhood in 1969 in Al-Afadal Square. Since then, these tables were seen and remain present in the streets of Egypt.
Over the past five years, the presence of these tables has become more prevalent and a place for the poor to find various kinds of foods. Some of the most famous Ma’edet Al Rahmans in Egypt are located in Al-Azahar, Al-Hussein, Al-Sayed Zeinab, and Ramses Square.
These tables can also be found near restaurants which serve ifrar.
Many mosques in Egypt prepare these tables through collecting money from people who pray.
In the villages of Upper Egypt, young people go out on highways and sit on the side of the street close to iftar the time and invite car drivers to join them.
Ma’edet Al Rahman in Qatar
That tradition also remains famous in many other Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Emirates, and Qatar. Charity organisations are keen on setting tables, providing dates, and ready meals so that people can both pray the Maghrib (sunset) prayer and have their Iftar.
In Qatar, those who set these tables take into consideration that there are guests on the table who come from different countries, such as India and Bangladesh, so the food is prepared to suit the taste of these other cultures.
In Nigeria, there exists is the largest number of Muslims, even compared to Africa, as Muslims represent 65% of the total population. The main dish in Nigeria would be the “Cono,” which is made of corn, fat, sugar, and cocoa soup (crushed rice with sugar and milk).
A few days before the start of Ramadan, some major companies and institutions prepare initiatives of Ma’edet Al Rahman across the country in Ramadan. In the morning, volunteers and workers work together to prepare the meals, and before iftar people start coming in to eat.
Ma’edet Al Rahman in Syria
In Ramadan, Syrians have many rituals and traditions despite the ongoing war. The tables are prepared in Syrian cities and have become a point where residents of a neighbourhood of all levels gather around one table.
Some Syrian cities are famous for this tradition and continue to retain it as Syrian women prepare the best dishes for Iftar.
Ma’edet Al Rahman in Turkey
The tradition also continues in Istanbul to celebrate Ramadan. Usually, gun shots are fired before Maghrib and Ma’edet Al Rahman is prepared for the poor and the needy in public squares, in cooperation with charity organisations.
The Turkish are divided into two groups during Iftar. The first prefers to eat dates then only a small amount of food. They then pray and continue their iftar after Maghrib prayers, while others prefer to have ifrar first.
The tables of Iftar would have dates, olives, cheese, and Turkish soup, as well as Dawood pasha kofta, and Beida bread.
Ma’edet Al Rahman in Somalia
In Somalia, Ramadan is distinguished by many iftar tables near mosques or inside mosques so people can eat then pray.
Ma’edet Al Rahman in the Philippines
The idea of having iftar tables has spread in the Philippines as some of the pilgrims saw them in Mecca and they took the tradition to their country.