Today’s Ramadan anecdote is one you’ll be hard-pressed to believe – it’s something we in the West can’t imagine, an age-old ritual that is still practiced today in parts of the Muslim world.
(By the way, I apologize for being away so long. Real life got temporarily super-hectic, but inshallah I’m back!)
The word is musaharati (moo-sa-ha-RA-tee), and it comes from the same root as suhoor (suh-HOOR), the pre-dawn meal that is eaten just before the fast begins each day.
The musaharati is the guy (or guys) who walk around the neighborhood in the wee hours before sunrise, beating on a drum and hollering/calling to everyone to wake up for suhoor. In some places, they go from house to house, making sure that the residents wake up; in others, they just walk down the streets calling and drumming, and leave the results up to the sleeper and his God.
The feasting-and-fasting cycle is as much community as it is individual, particularly in Muslim areas, of course. It is neighbor looking after neighbor, a collective ritual (the wake-up call) practiced privately (the meal).
Here’s a very short video of a rare female musaharati (Cairo), and some neighbors describing the importance of the tradition.
To me, it’s a little like when I drive through my neighborhood in mid-December: many houses have lights, decorations, and a tree in the window. The radio plays Christmas songs. There’s an unspoken understanding between us, a shared joy – we are community at Christmas.
My husband loves to go Christmas shopping with me – he doesn’t even mind the crowds. He loves the sense of anticipation and celebration in the air. It’s communal.
The musaharati is welcomed, not cussed out for waking the whole neighborhood – he is inviting every household to join with every other household: “wake up, sleeper, and meet with God!”
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FEATURED IMAGE: occupied Jerusalem, Old City, Ramadan 2019. These young men are “Al-Musaharati”, who, during the month of Ramadan, walk and beat drums in residential areas to wake worshippers for their “suhoor” meal. With the current technological development, this tradition has disappeared from almost all neighbourhoods, even though it had long been a common profession in the Arab world. Photo from the Int’l Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) archive.