Mesaharati: An ancient career fights extinction in digital age

Historian Abdelmajid Abdul Aziz says mesaharati first appeared in Egypt during the Fatimid dynasty. (Social media plhoto)
Updated 06 May 2019
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Mesaharati: An ancient career fights extinction in digital age

  • A sweet and honored Ramadan tradition of the good-old days

CAIRO: A mesaharati is a person who wakes others up before dawn in order to eat before their fast during Ramadan.

The job has been around for generations, and despite the technological revolution, it is an honored tradition that continues to this day.

The Al-Jabarti family, for instance — from which the great historian Abdul Rahman Al-Jabarti is descended — is famous for having members perform the task.

Its origins, though, are disputed. Historian Abdelmajid Abdul Aziz said mesaharati first appeared in Egypt during the Fatimid dynasty, arguably the most decorated period for Ramadan celebrations.

According to 15th century Egyptian historian Mohammed bin Iyas, the profession began in the days of the Caliph Bi’amr Allah, who commanded citizens to sleep immediately after the Taraweeh prayer. 

He would then send out his soldiers in the early hours, knocking on doors and shouting before dawn prayers began, to wake people for suhoor.

Abdul Aziz said that the Egyptian Governor Ibn Ishaq was the first to individually perform the task professionally in 832 AH (1432 CE). He would walk from the city of Fustat to the mosque at Amr ibn Al-Aas, and call out “O worshipers of Allah, eat. Suhoor is a blessing.”

That tradition has continued until modern times, lasting almost 600 years. 

The mesaharati's "baza" drum.

But now, it is facing extinction as fewer people are drawn to take up the role, and technology supplants it. ‘Am Magdy, a 59-year-old mesaharati, told Arab News that his work begins from the last day of the month of Shaaban all the way until after Eid Al-Fitr. 

He has performed the task annually for more than 40 years, having inherited the role from his father, and knows the names of all his neighbors so as to call each one personally before dawn.

Magdy said that he thought of leaving the profession, though, because of the spread of television and the extension of programs into the early hours of the morning, but his neighbors and children asked him to continue.

Sometimes he is accompanied by a group of children as he roams the streets, echoing phrases that have been recalled over centuries such as: “Wake up sleeping person, there is only one God, it is time for suhoor fasting people.”

He also rhythmically bangs a drum called a “baza,” which according to him is loud enough to wake up a whole neighborhood. After Eid Al-Fitr prayers, he then passes through the areas he walks one last time to collect money for his efforts throughout Ramadan.

But he is unsure whether his sons will inherit the task as he did. “My children are not interested in the profession. I used to take them with me when they were young, and they would be so happy to see their friends responding to our calls. But over time they lost this joy and became preoccupied with their work, and some even advised me to stop practicing it myself,” he said.

Decoder

What's a mesaharati?

A person who wakes others up before dawn to eat before their fast during Ramadan is called a mesaharati. It is an honored tradition that continues to this day, lasting almost 600 years, despite the technological revolution. A mesaharati roams the streets, echoing phrases that have been recalled over centuries such as: “Wake up sleeping person, there is only one God, it is time for suhoor fasting people.” He also rhythmically bangs a drum called a “baza.”


Israel eases Gaza fishing restrictions after truce

Updated 1 min 55 sec ago
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Israel eases Gaza fishing restrictions after truce

  • Israel extended the fishing limit to up to 15 nautical miles
  • The move restores the fishing zone to the limits set in April ahead of Israel’s general election

GAZA CITY: Israel announced Tuesday it had eased fishing restrictions off the blockaded Gaza Strip after a cease-fire with Hamas ended a deadly escalation earlier this month.
Israel extended the fishing limit to up to 15 nautical miles, said COGAT, the defense ministry unit that oversees such regulations.
The move restores the fishing zone to the limits set in April ahead of Israel’s general election.
Gaza fishing union official, Zakaria Bakr, however told AFP on Tuesday morning it had yet to be informed of any changes.
COGAT did not provide further details, but in April the limit was set at six nautical miles in the north near the Israeli border, 12 off central Gaza and 15 in the south near the Egyptian border, according to the fishing union.
Israel banned fishing completely when the two-day flare-up of violence began earlier this month, but lifted the ban with a restriction of up to 12 nautical miles following the truce.
The 15-nautical-mile limit is the largest allowed in years by Israel, which has fought three wars with Palestinian militants in the enclave and has blockaded it for more than a decade.
But human rights activists note that it still falls short of the 20 nautical miles agreed under the Oslo accords of the 1990s.
Israeli authorities did not say the move was linked to the truce reached earlier this month with Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules the Gaza Strip.
But Palestinian officials said at the time of the May 6 cease-fire that it included Israel taking steps to ease its blockade.
Israel media reported late Monday that the cease-fire, brokered by Egyptian and UN officials, is a six-month deal that includes the expansion of the fishing zone as well as the transfer of medicines and other aid to Gaza.
Negotiations are to also take place on issues including Gaza’s severe electricity shortage and border crossings, the reports said.
In return, Hamas would calm protests along the border and halt maritime demonstrations aimed at breaking the blockade.
Hamas denied the reports and Israel did not immediately comment.