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Musaher - The charm of Ramadan


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Musaher - The charm of Ramadan
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Musaher - The charm of Ramadan by Lebanon Traveler

He is the one who wakes sleepers. He is the one with the resonating voice, the one everybody waits for, the one kids follow. He is the "musaher". Sandra Khalil goes in search of this elusive character to find out his secret.

Musaher or musaharati is the name given to the person who, during the Moslem holy month of Ramadan, roams the streets of his village beating his drum to remind people to have their "suhur", the final meal before the beginning of the day's fast. During Ramadan, the faithful are to abstain from food and drink in a dawn-to-dusk period, meant to test their faith and discipline.

The musahers first appeared in the Abbasid era. Uqba bin Ishaq, then the ruler of Egypt, was the first person to walk around Cairo walking people up so they could have a bite before the start of another fasting day. In the Fatimid era, the government issued a decree advising people to sleep early during Ramadan, while soldiers were given the task of knocking on people's doors, waking them for the suhur. From then on, the musaher has been an integral feature of Ramadan in all Arab countries. Though a dying tradition, the musaher is one of the many charms of the holy month of Ramadan and has become an element of its folklore, just like the lantern and the iftar (the meal at the end of the day's fasting) canon.

The musaher's job starts an hour ahead of daybreak. He dresses up in his traditional getup, takes his drum and stick and leaves home on his noble mission. His chant vibrates in the silence of the night, "Esha ya nayem…Wahed el Dayem…Ramadan Karim… Esha ya nayem… Wahed al razaq" meaning, "Awake faster and praise Allah… Welcome Ramadan, month of forgiveness", followed by three beats of the drum. As he passes by the houses, he calls each resident by their name to make sure his duty is fulfilled. Because his task is to wake everybody up, the musaher makes so much noise that he can be heard in all directions. After they take their pre-dawn meals, traditionally men and women head to the mosque for morning prayers.

Being a musaher is not a job; it's a calling and a religious duty. The musaher does not get paid for what he does. He does it out of faith. In the old days, they were highly respected for their devotion and were considered wise men due to their incredible memory as they remembered the name of each and every resident of their village. Today, they are just a manifestation of a beautiful tradition. Nonetheless, those fortunate enough to have a musaher in their neighborhood regard him with great esteem. Since the musaher does not get paid for what he does, each resident makes sure to tip him, either with money or food, to show their gratitude at the end of the holy month.

Nowadays, with alarm clocks and different forms of entertainment that can keep you up all night, the musaher is becoming obsolete. The younger generation is not interested in learning the craft especially that it serves nostalgic purposes.

Unless you are staying in a village with locals, as a tourist, you might not catch a musaher in action. However, you can still experience the charm of Ramadan by attending an iftar, or by spending time with locals in what's known as a Ramadan tent. Should you happen to be in the old Bab al Ramel district of Tripoli, or the old souks of Sidon, stop by in the evening for a thirst-quenching cup of tea, a refreshing glass of Jellab made from raisin and grape molasses, or a filling glass of Amaredine, made from dried apricot syrup. Play backgammon with one of the locals and share a shisha. And, if you start feeling a bit peckish, there's an endless choice of sweet or savory dishes to satisfy your hunger.

If you cannot make it to a souk then many hotels and restaurants throughout the country serve sumptuous iftars, tables are laden with appetizers for all to share as those fasting wait for the obligatory bowl of soup. But a traditional way to break one's fast is first with a date and a glass of Jellab or Amaredine. Then comes the main course and by the time dessert arrives most are full and there is little room for more food. At hotel or restaurant suhurs, buffets are the norm and dessert is definitely on the menu. If you are around during Ramadan you are sure into to bump into an event or two. Ramadan Kareem, or let Ramadan be generous. -
Fri Aug 17, 2012 6:29 pm View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
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