Tradition of Ramadan drummer beats on in Lebanon

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Emerging from a dark alleyway is musaharati, or Ramadan drummer, Rodwan Mahmoud Al Zahed.

In the middle of the night, he walks around the streets of the Lebanese city of Tripoli beating his drum and singing songs praising God and the Prophet Mohammed.

Soma may view his actions as a nuisance, but this is part of an age-old tradition that dates back to the Ottoman era.

As a musaharti, Al Zahed wakes people up for their suhoor meal, the last meal that Muslims have before beginning their day-long fast.

At times people stop to give him money for the work that he's doing during the holy month. But Al Zahed doesn't see his task as a profession, but as way to carry on a tradition.

“It is a heritage more than it being a profession, it is a kind of worship, because we are paid by doing things related to the praising of the oneness of God, and praying for our dear prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him. And then we move to materialistic things that you call, wages. But we call it more of a Eid bonus, a gift for Ramadan's farewell, for Eid al-Fitr,” said the 46-year-old drummer.

“Around 200 years, 200 years and even a little more. Because initially we were assigned this profession by the Ottoman decree from the Ottoman Sultan that was ruling Tripoli at that time,'' he added.

For the millions of observant Muslims who observe the fast during Ramadan, they fast from dawn until sunset, which means Al Zahed is up and about before 4am to make sure people have something to eat or drink.

With advances in technology, there's less of a need for someone to wake people up before dawn, yet residents in Tripoli say Ramadan wouldn't be complete without the traditional musaharati.

“The musaharati is history. When Ramadan comes it brings welfare and well-being, Ramadan addresses praying and worship and the musaharati. From the time when we were born, we've known of the musaharati,” said local resident, Khodr.

Others in the city appreciate how tiring the work of a Ramadan drummer can be, and think they should receive more support from the local authorities.

“The musaharati means something to people around the world, even for Lebanon and the people from the North especially. The musaharati ends up being tired all night long, and unfortunately he doesn't receive any support from the municipality or the politicians,” said one Lebanese man.

Al Zahed who grew up accompanying his musaharati father, also has some younger musicians to aid him along the way.

They play to people in their doorways, at times holding spontaneous concerts in the entrances to people's homes.

And with a little over a week to go until Ramadan is over, Al Zahed and his young musicians still have many more nights of dawn drumming to do.

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