Traditions and religious customs are plenty in Islam, very beautiful and full of meanings. Because this is the first day of Ramadan I would like to tell you about one of the symbols and traditions of Islam that I love from the first moment I discovered it. He is misharaty/ mesharaty/mesaharaty, he is the one who wakes up the people for Suhur. For the ones who don’t know, Suhur is the meal that Muslims are having before dawn, before the first prayer of the day called Fagr. The Muslims that are fasting during Ramadan have to wake up for Suhur to drink and take a snack. Muslims do that because is Sunnah , tradition given by the Prophet Mohamed, who said that “ Suhur is a blessing” and they also do that because it helps the believer over day to not feel the need of drinking or eating. There for Suhur is a very important tradition for the Muslims and as aid to it they have this job of Mesaharaty. It is believed that is one of the oldest traditions and one that has strong roots related to Ramadan month. Mesaharaty is a man who walks through the night, making stops on every single street and beating his drum. This ritual happens before Suhur by one or two hours, sometimes even two times by night. The drum beats are accompanied by a chanting that may differ from place to place but its meaning is the same everywhere. “ Suhur , suhur , Es ha ya nayem, wahed el dayem, Ramadan Karim, Es ha ya nayem, wahed el razaq” . There are words that cannot be translated word by word because they are losing their beautiful meaning but here is what they mean: “Wake up you who are sleeping, pray for eternity, Happy Ramadan”. “Razaq” is a complex word and means The One who sends you and gives blessing to your everyday food.
The first Mesaharaty was Bilal, the first official muezzin of the Muslims. The Prophet was asking him to wake up the believers for Suhur. The whole concept of Mesaharaty was developed on Abbasside era, especially in Bagdad on the time of Caliph Al Nasser. He asked a person called Abu-Noqata to wake up the Caliph and all the other Muslims. In Mecca Mesaharaty is called Zamzami. He used to carry with him a fanous (Ramadan lantern) for the ones who may not hear his calling at least to see his light.You can read here http://expertscolumn.com/content/fanous-ramadan-lantern a history of the fanous, meanings and traditions. In Sudan Mesaharaty is walking on the streets with a child who carry for him a list with all the people names that he has to call and wake up for Suhur each and every night. On the end of Ramadan he will pass by each house and collect money from the people who woke up during the month.
In villages and small communities, Mesaharaty is standing in front of each home and call by name the inhabitants from that house till they woke up. He has a very good memory and obviously he knows all the people from that area. You will hear him calling: “Wake up you who sleep, wake up ya Amir, wake up ya Omar, wake up ya Ahmed”. This job is inherited from father to son, from generation to another. The father takes his child always with him, wandering the streets and teaching him everything he knows. In the villages where the traditions still have their places in the heart and habits of the people, Mesaharaty is manufacturing his own drum using old and well kept secrets of his predecessors. The sound of the drum must be very powerful and the material must be very solid to not break easy. The genuine material used is actually a lamb skin very well processed. This man does not have a basic salary, he does his job with pure heart just following and keeping the tradition for the sake of God. But he is much appreciated by the community and because they know is a volunteer work, the people reward him in the end of the month with money or food.
Nowadays the Muslims are using alarm clocks for waking up and slowly the old tradition of the drummer is getting lost cause of the new technologies. But thanks God the custom didn’t die. I live in a big city in Egypt, Alexandria, and Mesaharaty never missed a Suhur. Here Mesaharaty is still a living tradition that enriches the month of Ramadan and brings back loving memories. I love to hear him in the silence of the night when all the people try to rest and sleep before the fasting starts. His voice is soft and really enchanted; his calling comes from past ages reminding of the roots. His beating of the drum is also soft but powerful in the same time, is not just another loudly noise out there in the street. Sometimes I throw a piece of cloth over my head and run out on the balcony just to take a look, to hear his candid calling and see the rhythm of his hands hitting that round and white drum.