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

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.”


Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

Updated 1 min 58 sec ago

Scramble for Syria after US withdrawal

  • Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades

ANKARA: As Ankara pressed on with its offensive in northeastern Syria amid international criticism, Washington announced some 1,000 soldiers were withdrawn from the zone.

With the US departure, the attention turns to how the regional actors, especially Turkey and Syria, will operate in their zones of influence in the war-torn country where the possible escape of Daesh fighters from prisons could result in more chaos.

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Turkey considers the SDF and YPG to be terrorists allied with the PKK, who have been involved in a bloody campaign for autonomy against Turkish states for decades. The PKK is listed as a terror group by Turkey, the EU and the US.

But, whether some 50,000 YPG fighters will be integrated into the Syrian Army or will try to maintain their autonomy is still a matter of concern.

Mazloum Abdi, commander-in-chief of the SDF, recently wrote for Foreign Policy that the Kurds are finally ready to partner with Assad and Putin.

Yury Barmin, an analyst at the Russian International Affairs Council, said: “Damascus and the SDF struck a deal at the Russian base in Hmeymim to let the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) enter the Kurdish-controlled area in the northeast and deploy at the Syrian-Turkish border. The SAA is set to take control over Manbij, Kobane and Qamishli.”

However, Barmin told Arab News that a deal between Damascus and the SDF would greatly contribute to a buffer zone that Turkish President Recep Yayyip Erdogan intends to create in northern Syria, allowing Kurds to take some areas along the border without directly antagonizing Ankara. This policy, Barmin added, would be unacceptable to Moscow.

“There are now lots of moving targets and the goal of the Syrian Army — whether it will take some strategic cities or control the whole border along Turkey — is unclear for now. As Russian President Vladimir Putin is on his official visit to Saudi Arabia, his decision for Syria will be clearer when he returns home,” he said.

HIGHLIGHT

Some experts claim that with the US decision to withdraw its forces, the territorial claim of northeastern Syria by the Kurdish YPG militia and its political wing, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), has finished.

Barmin also noted that Russia let Erdogan operate the Adana agreement to a certain extent, under which Turkey has the right to conduct cross-border operations.

“But now, Russia would like to show Turkey its own red lines in the region,” he said.

However, Navvar Saban, a military analyst at the Omran Center for Strategic Studies in Istanbul, said that the Syrian regime is not capable of striking a deal without being backed by Russians, and that Moscow would not want to lose its relationship with Ankara.

“Russians always talk about the Adana agreement. We are now talking about a renewal and reactivation of the agreement with new specifications to allow Turkey to go deeper into Syrian territories. In this way, the Russians will have a bigger chance to allow the Syrian regime and Turkey to communicate. It is something that will open the diplomatic channels,” Saban said.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump tweeted: “Big sanctions on Turkey coming! Do people really think we should go to war with NATO Member Turkey? Never ending wars will end!”

Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington, said that if the US is completely out of the way, Russia and Turkey will have to either agree or contest each other to take over the US territorial control in northeast Syria. He added that this might be the most crucial race in the coming weeks.

Concerning the diplomatic channels between Damascus and Ankara, Macaron thinks that the channels were and will remain open between Moscow and Ankara since they have common interests beyond Syria.

“If Turkey had no other option, it might have to settle for controlling a few border towns, but this means Erdogan can no longer effectively implement his plan to return Syrian refugees, most notably without funding from the international community. Ankara is more likely to succeed in striking such a deal with Moscow than with Washington,” Macaron told Arab News.

Many experts agree that the Syrian chessboard will be determined predominantly by Russian moves.

“Assad has no say in what will happen next, Russia is the decision maker and there is little the Syrian regime can do unless Iran forcefully intervenes to impact the Russian-Turkish dynamics in the northeast,” Macaron said.