“Oh fasting person, proclaim the oneness of the everlasting,” chants the Musaharati (a special drummer) as he beats on his drum as an accompaniment to his cheers and recitations in the pre-dawn darkness of the streets of Syria.
According to an ancient Islamic tradition, the Musaharati is the person who shoulders the responsibility for waking the faithful who are fasting during the month of Ramadan before the first prayer of the day, so that they may partake of a pre-dawn meal called Suhoor before starting their fasting at sunrise.
This is a role that the Musaharati has been performing for centuries, since long before the days of alarm clocks and cell phone apps. With the passage of time and the dawn of the age of technology, the traditional role of the Musaharati became less important and began to disappear from the urban neighborhoods in most Arab countries.
Muslims in Syria continue to observe Ramadan, even though the current living conditions are extremely difficult for all. Runaway inflation has made the necessities of life unaffordable for most of those living in the cities, while those living in refugee camps in the northern countryside struggle daily just to survive.
In the old days, the Musaharati would carry a basket along with his drum to hold the gifts of food, sweets, and drinks that the people would give him in appreciation for his service. At the end of Ramadan, he would visit the homes of the people and offer Eid greetings, and they would fill his basket with symbolic gifts in return.
No offerings are expected to the Musaharati this year, but the faithful in Syria still find comfort in the fact that the age-old tradition continues to thrive.