Mesaharati comes calling

, CULTURE

Traditional dawn awakeners, famously known as the Mesaharati, are messengers who amble down streets, giving out a reminder of pre-dawn suhoor meal

As the blessed month of Ramadan is at the threshold, my mind transports to our childhood days where some traditions, which we were part of, seem to have a disconnect these days. One such Ramadan tradition has been of a night caller, beating a drum pre-athan, calling out residents to have their pre-dawn suhoor meal, their final chance to have a meal before the next day’s fast.

I still vividly remember hearing the voice of an old man banging a slender rod on a crude metal and shouting, ‘Wake up, wake up. It is time for suhoor’ in my native place in India. Though, at many places, this Ramadan tradition might have faded into oblivion, yet the Mesaharati, as he is called in Arab countries, continues to keep the tradition alive and kicking.

In the beginning days of Ramadan, the Mesaharati while walking in the neighbourhoods, used to be accompanied with a group of children holding little lanterns to light his way, especially in Sudan.

It is interesting to learn from the pages of history that places like Lebanon, Jordan, Syria and Palestine, the Mesaharati a few days before Ramadan, would visit each house and write the names of residents on doors and call out their names at the time of suhoor. In many instances like in the alleyways of Sidon in Lebanon, the Mesaharati recites poetry as well to wake people up. Attired in a traditional dress with a tarboush (the red cap), the Mesaharati still continues to roam the streets declaiming poems in praise of God.

The song 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) was quite popular with Mesharaties in the Arab World. In small villages, the Mesaharati made it a point to knock on each household to wake people for suhoor.
The Mesaharati is not paid neither selected by the any association; though no one pays him for the ‘job’ but you will always find someone volunteering for it. Mesaharati, if from a poor background, is given some remuneration towards the end of Ramadan.

Origin

It is believed that it was in Egypt, the tradition of Mesaharati was evolved and spread to other countries, especially Saudi Arabia, Oman, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, Morocco, etc and later to the subcontinent and Africa, Indonesia, etc.
According to some sources, the first recorded Mesaharati was Otba bin Ishaq, then Abbasi governor of Egypt, who ambled through the streets of Cairo to remind people about the time of suhoor in the year 853 AD. Despite being a tough task, he undertook the walk to remind people of suhoor beginning from the city of Askar (military) to Fustat (the capital of ancient Egypt on the East bank of the Nile), chanting: Ebadallah, tasahharoo, fainnafissahuri Baraka. (O the servants of Allah, it’s time to take suhoor. There’s God’s blessing in suhoor.) Abu Ali Mansur (better known as Al hakim bi Amr-Allah), the sixth Fatimid Caliph, instructed his military officers to knock at the doors of people to wake them up for suhoor.

Because of alarms, mobile phones, etc. people may no longer need the knock of a Mesaharati to wake up for suhoor. Notwithstanding the new technology having set in, at many places the tradition of Mesaharati still lives on.

By: Aftab H. Kola

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