Al-Ihsa, Asharq Al-Awsat- The residents of Al Ihsa in Saudi Arabia still remember the famous Musaharati who fills the month of Ramadan with his unique drumbeats. A traditional figure, the Musaharati roams the streets and ancient alleys beating his drum to awaken those who are fast asleep in time for Suhoor, an early morning meal to be eaten before the sun rises when Muslims begin their daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan.
Tradition, which is being re-established on a symbolic level today, sees the children hastily trailing behind a man who is dressed in his customary garb, beating his drum. It is an image that is neither engrained in their memory, nor part of their experience or exposure except in their imagination.
Today, attempts are being made to revive the traditional cultural heritage by re-establishing the idea of the Musaharati so that it can equally co-exist with other professions and popular crafts, some of which have become extinct while others lost their significance. The idea is to cast professions, now rendered obsolete, into new artistic or dramatic moulds to remind audiences of the cultural heritage that they are missing out on.
Once a familiar personality, the Musaharati has a universal image in the Arab world, drumming and singing in the streets. In Al Ihsa, the Musaharati jokes and plays with the children who await him impatiently every day during Ramadan.
He starts his rounds in Al Ihsa’s residential areas just after midnight to wake up the soon-to-be fasting in time for their meal before the call to the dawn prayer when the fast begins. It is an annual tradition in Ramadan that has been going on for many years.
A long time ago, the Musaharati would walk around between the narrow alleys and streets. Now, with the advent of modernity, he beats his drum from the comfort of a car, and occasionally uses a microphone to call out in the night.
Every province in Al Ihsa has one Musaharati who is known to the resident families and children, nobody else can assume that position. It is also an inherited profession that is passed down in families and some families have become well known for one Musaharati or other such as the families of Bu Obeid and al Shayeb.
Hajj Ali al-Shayeb, a former Musaharati, recalls a time when there were no streetlights in the residential areas, which meant that he took much longer to complete his rounds. This started a tradition that he would be rewarded by a Sohoor meal at one of the houses before sunset when the fast begins but this tradition died a long time ago with the emergence of technology.