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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.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Salam Abu Fares, thank you for taking the time and the effort to explain our Ramadan’s traditions to non-Muslims, I will certainly refer my western friends to your Blog as an interesting source of cultural glimpse about this month.
Ramadan’s spirit is intriguing to lot of non-Muslims; and it is in this month when they come to know that our tolerance, empathy and submission have reached a pinnacle.
Thanks again and keep up the good work.

abufares said...

Hi Dubai Jazz

Thank you for dropping by.
I appreciate your encouraging words.
Writing about our traditions, about Syria in general and Tartous in particular is a pleasure for me.
I only hope that readers can enjoy my words as much as I enjoyed writing them in the first place.

Shadi said...

Wonderful!

Thanks Abu Fares.

And greetings to Abu Ali, from Japan

abufares said...

Hey Shadi

Glad you liked it.
Don't they have Samurai Mussahher in Japan?!

Anonymous said...

Mashallah, This is the firs time i see a Musahher from Tartous. The rythme of his drum is different from that of Damascus, which is rather simple. Glad they did not disappear!

Keep the good job M3allem.

Mu'Az
Japan

I love Munich said...

I had to watch this clip several times ... I found that SO GREAT!
What a wonderful tradition! This man indeed called the inhabitants BY NAME? It doesn't go warmer and more personal ... in our unpersonal and cold world!

Not only is he certainly better than ANY alarm-clock - I absolutely LOVE this way of calling people to have suhour and at the same time, to emphazise, there is ONE God!

It is difficult to express how I feel when I see that - all I can say is: I LOVE IT!! Tell him a friend from Munich/Germany sends him her BEST regards and will ask Allah to send his blessings for the great job he does!

Thanks so much for sharing that priceless clip - and the GREAT post!!

abufares said...

Dear Mu\'Az
I\'m glad you liked Abu Ali. If I remember correctly, in Damascus they use much smaller drums and sticks.
Thank you for passing by.

Dear Karin
So you got your first view of the Musahher and liked it. You\'re right, it doesn\'t get any more personal than this and I truly think that such traditions should be guarded and protected dearly.
I also appreciate the fact that we have not \"yet\" gone commercial with these traditions. I hope we never do.

Yazan said...

I also appreciate the fact that we have not \"yet\" gone commercial with these traditions. I hope we never do.


the old fashioned abu fares, tsek tsek...


;)

again, another beautiful post..

abufares said...

Ya Yazan, Wahida Allah
TAM TA TAMTAM...TAM TAM
(that was the sound of a drum)

Omar said...

walla hal Abu Ali got popular.. wonderful tradition indeed. Up until we left Damascus, we had a msa7er come as well. He lived at the other end of our 7ara, and I remeber going out to the balcony to see him pass through.

abufares said...

Hi Omar
Gald to hear from you. Of all the people who migrated to Canada from here, isn't it strange that there was no Mousahher?

Omar said...

especially when you consider the need for such skills in Canada. I'm suprised they're not opening immegration to msa7reen

Anonymous said...

Omar, I wonder how efficient a Mousahher would be in Canada, giving the harsh weather circumstances!
BTW, I've heard that Canadian immigration procedures have been streamlined, I believe that applicants are no longer required to submit documents before getting eligibility, is that true Omar,? can you shed some light on it?

Serena said...

Salaam, thanks for visitng my blog. I had to comment on this post because I have never heard of this tradition before! We do not have it in my part of the world. I think it's such a beautiful thing, and Inshallah I will get to wake up to hearing the Moussaher one day. Regards, Serena

abufares said...

Hi Serena
I have no idea when or where did this Mousahher tradition start.
I know that it's very old in Syria, Lebanon and Egypt to be certain. As for other countries, I'm not at all certain. I would appreciate the feedback from someone who actually knows about the origin of this tradition.
Thank you for dropping by.

Anonymous said...

شكرًا يا أبو فارس

This reminds me so much of Syria. I lived in Muhajirin in Damascus for two years and the mousahher used to come around every morning in Ramadan.

Tartous was one of the places I most liked in Syria and it is very nice to see you writing about it!

abufares said...

Hi Anonymous
Thank you for dropping by and I'm real happy to be able to bring you back some nice memories.