Sounds of Ramadan that ring out through the ages

While the practice has declined gradually due to the change in people’s sleeping behaviors, the use of new technologies such as alarm clocks, among other reason, some people are still volunteering to keep this tradition alive around the Arab world.  (Getty images)
Updated 18 May 2018
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Sounds of Ramadan that ring out through the ages

  • One of the oldest and most deeply rooted of Ramadan customs is the Mesaharati, in which a volunteer goes around to wake up Muslims during the holy month to eat the suhoor meal before they start their fasting at the Fajr prayer call at dawn. 
  • While the practice has declined gradually due to the change in people’s sleeping behaviors, the use of new technologies such as alarm clocks, among other reason, some people are still volunteering to keep this tradition alive around the Arab world. 

JEDDAH: The Mesaharati, or public waker, is one of the oldest and most deeply rooted of Ramadan customs. The title is given to a person who voluntarily takes it on himself to wake up Muslims during the holy month to eat the suhoor meal before they start their fasting at the Fajr prayer call at dawn. 

Abdul-Muhsen Doom, the mesaharati in Al-Balad’s Ramadan Festival, said that the practice was mainly created because people used to go to bed after Taraweeh prayers every night. 

The Mesaharati's main role was to wake people up for suhoor using his drums while repeating the still-known phrases of “Sabbahak Allah bil ridha wa alnaeem” (May Allah wake you with satisfaction and bliss) and “Ya nayem wahhid Aldayem” (Sleeping, praise the Permanent Allah). 

The Mesaharati would stand under each house window, calling everyone by name until he heard a response before moving to the next house, Doom said. 

“During which, the sound of suhoor cannon was the known sign for all misahratiyah (the plural of mesaharati) to start their rounds around each one’s neighborhood as every neighborhood used to have its own mesaharati chosen by its own residents,” he said. 

When Doom was a child, Amm Yahya Galangi was the mesaharati of his Al-Mathloom neighborhood.

Malak Baeesa, the omdah, or mayor, in Al-Balad, Old Jeddah city, told Arab News that the Mesaharati is one of the most appreciated Islamic traditions of the month of Ramadan. He said that a mesaharati title is an honor, equivalent to being selected as the omdah, that used to be given by the people of a neighborhood to a well-known person among them.

While it had been a popular and actively practiced profession in most Arab countries, the need for a mesaharati gradually declined 40 years ago due to the change in people’s sleeping behaviors, the use of new technologies such as alarm clocks and the development of cities, where it became harder to hear the mesaharati’s voice. 

Yet some people are still volunteering to keep this tradition alive around the Arab world. 

It is believed that the first mesaharati, or drum holder, was Bilal Bin Rabah, one of the Prophet Muhammad’s companions. He used to walk the streets and roads throughout the night to wake people up.

 

Distinctive calls

In a Hadith by the Prophet Muhammad, he said: “Bilal calls the adhan in the night, so eat and drink until Ibn Umm Maktum calls the adhan.” 

However, some say the tradition first appeared in Egypt, where the mesaharati used to roam the streets of Cairo holding a small drum and tapping it with a piece of leather or wood. He was often accompanied by a child holding a lamp to light the way and echo his distinctive calls. 

The mesaharati would call the name of each house owner as he passed by. At the time, the women would wrap a coin in a paper and light it so the mesaharati would be able to find it in the darkness. 

The tradition is practiced in several Muslim countries including Egypt, Syria, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine. Each of these countries has their own mesaharati traditions and songs or prayers that they chant as they walk the neighborhood to wake the people up. 

The mesaharati in Syria, for instance, used to have strong connection with his community. People trusted him to deliver food and money to those whom he knew were in need.

When Ramadan comes to an end and the celebrations of Eid Al-Fitr start, the mesaharati receives gifts of money and food from people to express gratitude for his services during the month. 

“Although the mesaharati is considered a voluntary role, people pay him whatever they can once Ramadan comes to an end, as an Eidyah (Eid gift) during Eid Al-Fitr,” Doom said.

Decoder

Ramadan terms

Mesaharati: The term comes from the word sahoor, which is the pre-dawn meal, the second main meal Muslims have during Ramadan. Suhoor: An Islamic term referring to the meal consumed early in the morning by Muslims before their fasting starts. Taraweeh: Extra prayers performed by Muslims at night during Ramadan. Hadith: A word that denotes the words and actions of Prophet Muhammad. Eid Al-Fitr: A religious holiday, celebrated by Muslims worldwide. that marks the end of Ramadan.


Saudi Arabia to introduce new tobacco license law

Updated 16 min 22 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia to introduce new tobacco license law

  • Annual license will cost more than $26,000
  • New law could lead to more vaping, says expert

JEDDAH: Cafes and restaurants in Saudi Arabia will have to pay up to SR100,000 ($26,675) a year to sell tobacco products inside and outside their premises, after the Cabinet approved the proposed regulations and fees for a new licensing law.

Saudi Arabia was one of the first countries to ratify the World Health Organization (WHO) Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in 2005, an ambitious plan to reduce smoking rates from 12.7 percent to 5 percent by 2030.

The Health Ministry has taken steps to curb smoking through awareness campaigns and cessation clinics. Taxes on cigarettes doubled in 2017, leading to a 213 percent increase in smokers seeking help to kick the habit in the months that followed.

Saudi restaurant owner Hassan Moriah supported the Cabinet decision, although he said customers would be hit the hardest.

“Every restaurant and café manager should be licensed to provide this service. I believe all restaurants and cafés will support this decision too, but I believe the only people who will be affected by this decision are the customers,” he told Arab News. “All outlets will raise the price of hookahs. The actual people who would be paying for it to reach SR100,000 are the customers and not the cafés. Yes, there will be people who cannot afford to pay the new prices and they may have to cut down on their hookah consumption.”

The new law would also affect places that were not so popular, he added.

Associate professor of history at Middle Tennessee State University Dr. Sean Foley, who is writing a book on smoking in Saudi Arabia and the wider Muslim world, said the new law was part of the Kingdom’s attempts to address a serious health crisis while also meeting a goal of the Vision 2030 reform plan to move away from non-oil revenues.

“While raising cigarette taxes is a proven strategy for reducing smoking, the new SR100,000 annual fee for Saudi restaurants to permit patrons to smoke may be even more important,” he told Arab News. “Many restaurants may not be able to afford to pay for such an expensive permit, so there is likely to be less smoking in restaurants. That would mean there will be fewer people exposed to second-hand smoke in restaurants, itself a serious problem, and existing smokers would have a powerful new incentive to quit. Studies have consistently shown that creating smoke-free areas is one of the most powerful tools to motivate and help existing tobacco users to quit while preventing new smokers from picking up the habit.”

"The academic, who has written "Changing Saudi Arabia: Art, Culture, and Society in the Kingdom" published this year, said the Kingdom had some of the highest smoking rates in the world.

He added that the problem was getting worse as the number of smokers in Saudi Arabia was expected to rise from six million to 10 million in the coming years.

He warned that while there was the danger of a rise in smuggling and other black-market activities — because of the higher costs associated with smoking — there were other challenges too.

“The real danger is not the rise in black-market activity but that Saudis will continue to switch in large numbers to a product that is currently legal to use — vaping. While purchasing any of the products associated with vaping is illegal in the Kingdom, it is legal to vape in public and many Saudis buy vape juice and vape modules online.”