The Musahhirati: An Important Feature of Ramadan

By: Aisha Braima

KHARTOUM (Sudanow.info.sd) - “ Get up good Moslems.. Get up for your sahoor ..Get up good Moslems and observe the Eternal God’’ . Ramadan is gracious .. Allah is the most gracious!’
As the young hours of the day grow bigger and exactly at 2:30 pm, the Sudanese villages and towns suddenly burst with these shouts to the accompaniment of sounds of drums, whistles and other musical instruments, urging the faithful to get up for their sahoor (pre-dawn meal).
This is a typical Ramadani practice that has been going on for centuries now.
In order to have a comfortable fasting day, the Moslem is advised to take a meal minutes before the fasting begins. And according to the wisdom of the Prophet Mohammad, the sahoor is a blessing and ''even a sip of water can do,’’ The Prophet advises.
But not everybody can wake up on his own for this important meal. He/she needs a reminder. Here came the need for a person who can wake the faithful up for the sahoor: The musahhirati!
The first musahhiri Islam had known was His Eminence Bilal Ibn Rabah, who also called the Moslems for the regular daily five prayers at the time of the Prophet.
Bilal had used to roam the alleys of the Madeena (The Prophet’s Town) calling the Moslems to get up for the sahoor, fully exploiting his characteristically melodious voice. And the faithful used to obey his call, with gratitude.
Ever since the musahhirati had become a Ramadani profession, often inherited in the same family or clan everywhere around the Moslem World.
But not all the musahhiratis are the same. Countries differ in the way the calls for sahoor are uttered and the instruments used to wake the devout for this helpful meal.

In Egypt drums are used. In Morocco and Yemen the musahhiratis used to knock the house doors. In the Levant (Syria, Lebanon and Jordan) the musahhiratis move from one house door to another playing lutes and mandolins and chanting special Ramadani songs.
Mecca’s most remembered musahhirati was al-Zamni who used to climb the Holy Mosque’s minaret and dangle two lit-lamps tied to a rope for the outlying Holy City’s dwellers- who cannot hear his voice- to know that it was time for the sahoor.

Musahhiratis in various Islamic countries
Musahhiratis in various Islamic countries

مس 4
مسحراتي 2


In Sudan the musahhirati’s is a light hearted profession. He is a social celebrity in his own right.
The musahhirati in Sudan must have a nice voice in the first place. Coarse voices abstain.
However, the Sudanese musahhiratis are contented with anything that makes noise. A drum is exemplary. But if not available, a tin, a cooking pot or any other thing makes a sound can do.
The noise is frightening, of course. But once you realize that it was the call for sahoor, fright disappears and peace and pleasure prevail. In this, the musahhirati is seen as our night patrol who tends to our security and peace.
In the countryside the musahhirati is a social star, loved by all. Children and youngsters, in particular, have fancy in him and enjoy to accompany him in his tour of the village, chorusing what he says and imitating his body language.
Says Musa’ab Awad: One of my lasting memories is my walk with the musahhirati around our calm town in the Blue Nile State. It always amuses me to remember that our district commissioner had once offered us a bucket of juice when we as musahhiratis approached his home. We then made it a habit to stop at his door in the hope of a similar offer. To remove any embarrassment, he one day told us to look at the house and ‘’ if the lamp is on, that means we are awake and there is no need to call. And if it is off you can call !’’. But we always continued to stop and call ! And he used to come out, beaming with smiles!Al-Haj Salim Bashir was the musahhirati of al-Hijra neighbourhood of Omdurman. He inherited the profession from his father. His son Abulmahmoud then inherited it from him and the cycle goes on with Abdulmahmoud’s nephews Yasir and Salim taking over. And even when the family moved to the Mahdiyya neighbourhood, they continued to roam the area using drums and other instruments, trailed by youngsters from the neighbourhood.
Says Yasir: I had loved this practice as a young boy when I used to accompany my uncle. My uncle used to carry the big drum and me and the area’s youngsters used to carry lighter drums and tins chanting verses in praise of The Prophet Mohammad and other religious songs. The area’s dwellers (men, women and children) get out, greet us and give us juice, dates, wheat flakes, rice and milk.

Yasir says they still keep their uncle’s tradition with some change in the songs, in keeping with the changing conditions. But song themes continue to be the same: praise to Allah and His Prophet.
He says their job begins at 2:30 am and continues every day –with the same breath- for the first three weeks. But during the last week they slow down because people are already awake for the Qiyam (late night) prayer after which they go to the market to buy the Eid al-Fitr requirements.
Yasir says sometimes they are so absorbed in what they do until the sahoor time is over and they have no time to go back home for the meal and just take water from a nearby place and return home to sleep.
In the past the musahhirati was tied to certain families in each area. But because of the changing demography due to continuous immigration any group of young men in any area can do the job.
Of these is Mohammad Abdulrahman Ali of Addamar Town of north Sudan who and his group use the tar (tambourine) and religious songs to awaken the faithful. Sometimes they sing love songs for a change. Dwellers help Ali and his group with juice, dates and sometimes food to encourage them. But sometimes they feel unwanted like when a man came out of his house one day saying “ Do you still remember the musahhirati work?..it is outdated now!’’
Ali urged his fellow citizens not to busy themselves with the devices of modern technology and devote their time to prayer and reading the Qura’n instead, in this holy month. ’’Let’s return to our roots and keep our noble traditions,’’ he said.
So, in the rural areas the musahhirati job is still alive. But in urban areas, particularly in upscale quarters of Khartoum, people don’t heed it any longer, given the available phones and clocks that can do the job.
Now the question: Has the musahhirati practice lost its gloss?
Yasir and his group say people will continue to need the musahhirati, if not to wake them just to remind them that it is time for the sahoor. ’’People will continue to need the musahhirati with his nice voice and his melodies that remind them of the beauty and the greatness of the Holy month of Ramadan,’’ argues Yasir.
“Thieves and wild dogs disappear when they hear the musahhirati’s sounds and the streets become calm and safe,’’ he further argues.


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