Lantern maker lights up Ramadan in Jerusalem

 At his shop in Jerusalem’s Old City, Palestinian craftsman Issam Zughair makes traditional lanterns for Muslims marking the holy month of Ramadan, battling competition from cheap Chinese imports.

Zughair’s shop is decked out with lamps both large and small, some hanging from the ceiling and others displayed outside to draw the attention of passers-by during lively Ramadan evenings.

He learned the trade from his father, a carpenter who originally made lanterns out of wood.

“My father opened this shop in the 1950s — we want to protect that heritage,” Zughair said, sitting with his wife in their small home above the business.

The largest lantern in the shop is two metres tall, shaped to resemble a mosque and created specially for Ramadan.

It was made from sheet metal and glass, using a technique that is believed to date back to the Fatimid caliphate in 10th century Egypt.

Zughair believes the lantern is the largest traditionally-made one in Jerusalem.

“There is no-one that rivals me in building them,” he said.

The 67-year-old imports materials from Egypt and Turkey and crafts the lanterns in his Old City shop.

He can add Koranic verses, religious phrases or names of God, according to the wishes of buyers.

Lanterns play a special role during Ramadan, which began on Monday.

As Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, nocturnal life takes on added significance. Traditionally, lanterns light the way for religious events.

Najeh Bkerat, from the Al-Aqsa Academy for Science and Heritage in Jerusalem, said they are a symbol of Islamic culture and heritage, especially during the fasting month.

“People carry them as an expression of the light, the goodness and the joy of Ramadan,” he said.

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