This is such a beautiful tradition in Muslim societies. How can we lose it
Thursday, September 18, 2008Ramadan drummer struggles with changing times in Sidon
New technologies making traditional wake-up call obsolete
By Agence France Presse (AFP)
SIDON: For the past 37 years, Mohammad Fannas' "tambour" drum has woken up Muslims of the Southern Lebanese city of Sidon during Ramadan for their last meal before a day of fasting from sunrise. But now Fannas feels endangered and faces competition from text messages on mobiles and from other modern tools.
He has been a messaharati ever since the age of 15, waking up the faithful for suhour, a pre-dawn meal to help practicing Muslims last until sunset without food or water in their fast during the holy month of Ramadan.
Every night, Fannas crisscrosses the alleyways of Old Sidon, a conservative Muslim port city along the Mediterranean coast 40 kilometers south of Beirut.
He trades in his modern clothes for a traditional robe and white hat as he carries his work tools: a tambour and a lantern.
"This lantern is my old friend," Fannas said. "It gives me a sense of tradition and warmth. It also lights my way when the electricity is out, as frequently occurs in Lebanon."
Fannas begins his nightly rounds near the port where hundreds of fishing boats are docked. He saunters past the old stone houses, adorned with arches and stained glass windows.
He passes the Saint Nicholas Church and a synagogue in the old Jewish quarter, where the faithful used to pray before the departure of the last of the city's Jewish community with the Israeli Army's 1985 withdrawal from Sidon after three years of occupation.
"Wake up, wake up and say God's name," Fannas calls out to residents, often using residents' names.
"Abu Mohammad, Umm Ismail, Aziz. Get up," he calls out from beneath their windows.
"Every Ramadan, I try to keep up the traditions of the messaharati, but I fear we are becoming an endangered species," said Fannas. "Modern times and technological advances are too quick and too strong for me."
"Today, you have modern messaharatis who go down the streets in cars fitted with loudspeakers, with a recording calling out to the faithful."
"Text messages are another modern method being used, so the messaharati doesn't get tired. He wakes up a hundred people in a minute.
"But it's too impersonal for my taste," he said.
"I prefer to play my tambour and recite hymns learned and improved over four decades of work," he said. "Residents of a certain age hold them dear and wait for them year after year." On the last night of Ramadan, Fannas does his rounds accompanied by a small musical troupe playing copper instruments of various sizes.
They recite hymns and add a festive note, bidding "farewell to the blessed month." Fannas then makes the rounds to all the apartments and houses in the neighborhood to collect the fruits of his labor. "There isn't a fixed price. It depends on the generosity and means of each household," he said.
"Some messaharatis are sponsored by religious groups which determine their wages in advance. I wouldn't be surprised if they soon start asking to be paid in euros," Fannas quipped.
At the end of Ramadan, Fannas stores away his robe, his lantern and the drum in a corner of his modest home.
During the rest of the year, Fannas takes on small jobs such as serving Turkish coffee or singing at charity events. "But I count the days until Ramadan and my job as a messaharati."