Meet the ‘Mesaharaty,’ Ramadan’s traditional pre-dawn drummer

A Mesaharaty, or dawn awakener, strikes his drum to wake observant Muslims for their overnight 'sahur', last meal, before the day's fast during Ramadan in Sidon's Old City in south Lebanon just before dawn July 12, 2013. (Reuters)

Come Ramadan, many age old traditions in the Islamic world are revived. One of such interesting traditions, especially in the Arab world, is the “mesaharaty”, or the night caller, who takes upon him the task of walking around the village or city, waking people for suhur, the light meal Muslims take before they begin the dawn-to-dusk fasting.

In small villages, the mesaharaty - also known as 'Al-Tabbeil' (drummer) in other parts of the Arab world - will stop in front of each house and call the inhabitants by their name to wake them up for the meal.

Mesaharaties still appear wearing traditional costumes during Ramadan in some Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Yemen, reviving the age-old tradition, despite the advancement in technology that offers various devices to remind people of the time for iftar and suhur, reports Al-Madinah newspaper.

Mesaharaties use various methods to wake up people. They chant traditional songs such as “Ya Ebadallah, wahhidullah, eshi ya nayem, wahhid Al-Razzaq.” (O the servants of Allah, believe in the Oneness of Allah, wake up and pray to Allah, the sustainer).

The mesaharaty does not take any payment for this night-time work, but it is customary at the end of Ramadan to give him gifts for his strenuous efforts during the month.

A man plays traditional drums as he takes a part in the Mesaharaty, a Ramadan tradition where drummers wake people for the meal before the day's fast, during a festival in Beirut, Lebanon June 9, 2016. (Reuters)

A man plays traditional drums as he takes a part in the Mesaharaty, a Ramadan tradition where drummers wake people for the meal before the day's fast, during a festival in Beirut, Lebanon June 9, 2016. (Reuters)

The mesaharaty, who adopts various methods to call people for suhur, has been an icon of Ramadan in many Arab countries for centuries. But as a result of the technological advancement, the practice is slowly dying out to become a part of folklore.

In the early days of Islam, there were no mesaharaties in its traditional sense going around waking up people for the meal at dawn.

The job of mesharaty first appeared during the time of Abbasid caliphs. Otbat Bin Ishaq, then governor of Egypt, was the first known mesaharaty in history. He walked through the streets of Cairo to remind people about the time of suhur in the year 238 AH.

It was not an easy task. Bin Ishaq had to exert a great efforts to uphold the tradition by walking from the military (Askar) city to Fustat, chanting: “Ebadallah, tasahharoo, fainna fissahuri Baraka.” (O the servants of Allah, it’s time to take suhur. There’s God’s blessing in suhur.)

During the time of the Fathimides, Al-Hakim Bi Amrillah issued a decree asking people to sleep early after the taraweeh prayer. At the same time, he instructed military officers to knock at the doors of people to wake them up for suhur.

With the passage of time, the rulers appointed individuals or mesaharaties to wake people for suhur. They knocked at the doors using the sticks they carried while roaming around the cities and villages. Some mesaharaties used to beat drums in attractive rhythms to wake up people.

Across the Islamic world, mesaharaties have taken different forms over the years. While in Oman they beat drums to wake up the people, in Kuwait mesaharaties march through the streets accompanied by children reciting prayers. In Yemen, individuals knock at the doors of people with a stick and tell them to wake up.

In Sudan, a child accompanies the mesaharaty, carrying a lantern or fanous. He will have a book with the names of inhabitants and will knock at the door with his stick, call out the name of the head of the family and tell him: “Ya Ebadallah, Wahhiduddayem, Ramadan kareem.”

In Lebanon, Syria and Palestine, the mesaharaty uses a whistle to remind the faithful of the time of suhur. Before Ramadan, he will visit the houses to register names of residents and write on the door the names of family members and call out their names at the time of suhur.

In the last 10 days of Ramadan, people will prepare cakes and the mesaharaty reminds them about the benefits of fasting and advise them to reduce their food intake to make fasting more effective.

A Mesaharaty, or dawn awakener, strikes his drum to wake observant Muslims for their overnight 'sahur', or last meal, before the day's fast in Sidon's Old City in southern Lebanon just before dawn August 27, 2010.

A Mesaharaty, or dawn awakener, strikes his drum to wake observant Muslims for their overnight 'sahur', or last meal, before the day's fast in Sidon's Old City in southern Lebanon just before dawn August 27, 2010.

In Morocco, the mesaharaty will knock on doors with his stick. Egyptians are used to the knocking of mesharaty and his drum beat. They will sing the traditional song: “Suhur, suhur, esha ya nayem, wahhid Al-Dayem, Ramadan kareem, esha ya nayem, wahhid Al-Razzaq.” (Wake up you who are sleeping, pray to the eternal God, Happy Ramadan, God is the One who provides you with sustenance.”

Since the time of the Mamelukes, the Egyptian government used cannons to remind people about suhur and iftar by firing them a little before the Fajr prayer and at the time of Maghreb. Live ammunition was used to fire the cannons until 1859 when the authorities started applying a safer system.

Cannons are still use in Egypt as a kind of Islamic heritage, though they have put an end to the service of mesaharaty. Today various technological devices are used to wake up people for suhur. Some television channels air interesting programs throughout the night and many watch them and sleep after suhur.

People no longer need the knock of a mesaharaty to wake up for sahur. However, many communities still encourage them as a symbol of Ramadan.

This article was first published by the Saudi Gazette on June 14, 2016.

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