Rima Al-Mukhtar, [email protected]
Publication Date: 
Wed, 2011-08-10 20:19

“Mesaharati in Saudi Arabia is a Ramadan tradition just like the Ramadan Cannon and the lanterns,” said Ibraheem Hashim, an 85-year-old citizen. “Ramadan is a festive month for Muslims; you will always find them trying to bring back their old traditions in their food, clothing, decorations and culture,” he added.
According to the history books, Mesaharati emerged from the era of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and Bilal bin Rabah (may God bless him) was the first Mesaharati in Islamic history as he used to roam the streets and roads throughout the night to wake people up.
It was also said that in Makkah the imam used to climb on the minaret holding a lantern and call for suhoor meal, so people who could not hear him, could at least see the light.
Hashim defines the Mesaharati as the public crier who wakes people up, chanting: “Oh sleepers wake up and pray to God.”
“In the beginning, the Mesaharati used to knock on people’s doors and wake them up while others used a stick to knock,” he said. “In time, the Mesaharati used a special drum and beat it while chanting, as this was a better festive way for waking people up,” he added.
The Mesaharati used to walk around neighborhoods with a group of children holding little lanterns to light his way, said Hashim.
“The Mesaharati job is voluntary; no one pays him for waking them up. You will always find someone volunteering to wake people up to have suhoor. Back in the day, people were more pure and had warm hearts,” said Hashim.
“But Muslims did not leave him unpaid. On the last day of Ramadan when the Mesaharati came knocking on people’s doors, they used to give him Eideyya (money given to people for Eid) and this was their way of saying thank you,” he added.
There was more than one Mesaharati in each city or village.
“In every neighborhood there was one who lived in the same street. People had to know and trust the man to allow him to roam their streets late at night,” said Hashim. “Some people invited him in for suhoor to sit and eat with their own family and offer him a home cooked meal,” he added.
Life was much easier back in the days when people used to trust each other. “People did not worry about walking down the street in the dark, as they had faith in each other. They knew deep down that the neighbor would have his back when needed,” said Hashim.
“Even the Mesaharati would only worry about stray dogs who would roam the streets so you would always find him walking with a stick to keep them away from him,” he added.
Back in the days Muslims used to sleep early in order to wake up early. Now, they stay up all night to watch TV according to Hashim.
“The Mesaharati’s role has started to fade ever since technology started to enter people’s homes in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “People started depending on the radio, TV and alarm clocks to know when it was time for suhoor. In the past, people used to sleep all night knowing that the Mesaharati would for sure wake them up,” he added.
“There is no use for Mesaharatis anymore. People are staying up late and those who don’t, rely on alarm clocks to wake them up. I guess the clock took the Mesaharatis’ role away,” said Hashim.
Bigger homes and air-conditioners are other reasons behind the Mesaharatis’ gradual disappearance.
“It was much easier for a Mesaharati to walk by small homes in a village, as people used to be able to hear him crying out loud,” said Hashim.
“Now that we live in bigger homes in busy cities, how can a Mesaharati walk around big streets without being harmed? And air-conditioning units are very loud; you can hardly hear the cat meowing down the street,” he added.
Other Islamic countries adopted this tradition and are still celebrating it today. Countries such as Egypt, Syria, Sudan, Jordan and Palestine are still holding this old tradition to make their Ramadans more festive and joyful.

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