Monday, October 09, 2006
The Mousahher of Ramadan
I have already given a superficial idea to non-Muslims about Ramadan. The underlying and fundamental premise of Ramadan is that of compassion and sharing. When we go hungry and thirsty we should be able to associate more readily with the underprivileged and poor. For many people around the world, hunger and thirst are facts of life. In that sense, Ramadan is intended to catalyze a purging and humbling effect on the psyches and souls of practitioners.
So, with the setting sun, the Muezzin chants Allah Akbar and a cannon is fired simultaneously for all to hear. It’s the end of fasting for the day and Muslims celebrate their achievement by sharing a generous table with family, neighbors and the needy. No Muslim should sleep on a full stomach if a neighbor is hungry. In Ramadan this assertion is brought forward and to a higher level. For financially able Muslims this is the perfect time to give their alms to the poor in the form of cash and/or food portions. Absolutely no one should go to bed without having had a decent meal. If that were to happen, then the entire (community) is to blame.
After the main meal of Iftar at sunset, fasting Muslims socialize in the evening and well into the night. Many choose the comfort and privacy of their own homes, while others enjoy the heightened abundance of nightlife alternatives in cafés, restaurants and tents.
Later, a couple of hours before sunrise it’s time for the last meal, the Sohour. Around 2:00AM, a solitary figure carrying a large drum appears at the corner of the block. He is called the “Mousahher”= the man who wakes people up so that they can eat and drink before the start of another day. We are indeed very lucky in Tartous since we still enjoy this long established tradition. I hear that in many other cities in Syria and abroad it has all but disappeared. The Mousahher would walk the streets, beating his drum, yelling out the names of the occupants of the buildings he’s passing. Some chants are more elaborate than others, but not in Tartous. For as long as I can remember, the Mousahher would simply yell something like:
“Ya Ahmad Wahidou Allah” = (Hey Ahmad, declare that God is One and Only). Tradition had it that only the names of men and boys were yelled out. That has changed in recent years and proud fathers would tell the Mousahher about the names of the newly born boys and girls to include in his nightly repertoire.
I have tried to video capture our Mousahher Abu Ali for the last few nights without success. Finally, I left our balcony on the second floor as soon as I heard him coming and waited for him down in the street. When he emerged around the corner, I told him that I want to take his picture and he was very glad with the opportunity. I believe the attached footage is Abu Ali’s first video clip. Nevertheless, I hope I was able to convey the essence of the experience. For the fasting ones around the world, I pray that Abu Ali was able to bring you memories from years gone by. If this is the first time you hear about this long established Islamic tradition, just think about the Mousahher as the counterpart of Santa Close. He’s a real man who volunteers for this privilege (rather than job) for one month every year. Whether poor or not, he would share the alms handed over from the neighborhood with the needy and less fortunate.
Kids would urge their parents to let them stay up to see the Musahher at least once or twice during the holy month. Parents would oblige and do so on the weekend when there is no school the next day. I have no idea how many Mousahhers cover Tartous today. When I was a young boy, there were only two or three in town. Although I am not certain, there must be many more today. They are volunteers, roaming the streets and alleys of Tartous every night of Ramadan, beating their drums, urging people to declare that God is One and Only.