The Misaharaty (Musaharati), waking people to sohoor in Egypt

El Misaharaty

The Ramadan Drummers

Heba Fatteen Bizzari

A misaharaty plying his trade

The natives must be restless. Are those drums I here?

Ramadan has a mysterious tradition that has come to be associated with it for various reasons. The Misaharaty (Musaharati) is one of the oldest, most deep-rooted traditions found during Ramadan. El Misaharaty is the name given to the person who walks and beats a drum in residential areas to wake people up to eat their sohor (a meal eaten before the beginning of the fast) before morning prayers. Yet, today, this ancient practice seems to be in decline.

El Misaharaty is always accompanied by the children of the neighborhood who enjoy helping him in beating his drums and calling out: Es ha ya nayemWahed el dayem.Ramadan KarimEs ha ya nayem Wahed el razaq meaning "Awake, oh faster and praise Allah. Welcome to you Ramadan, month of forgiveness." He starts his round at 3:00 am sharp and beats his drum three times, after his chanting. He goes from his house and walks to nearly every house in the neighborhood. As he reaches each house he stands in front of it and calls its residents by name. Typically, since his duty is to wake people up, the Misaharaty makes so much noise that he can be heard for several blocks in all directions.

For 28 years, Sheikh Mohamed Abdel Razik has carried on this tradition in the streets of Cairo. As we are prepare to enjoy the magic of one of his ordinary nights, he tells us the story of becoming a Misaharaty.

People during Ramadan enjoying sweets

When I was eight, my parents died in a car accident in Qena, and so I forced to move and live in Cairo with my who I had not seen since I was born. He was an Imam and a Misaharaty during Ramadan. So when I was enrolled at the school in the neighborhood, I was envied to have a Misaharaty right in the same house where I lived. To them he was like the fairy tale heroes, said Abdel Razik.

Soon Sheikh Ali, became closer to me than my own father. He was very kind to me, and he taught me much. He told me that a proper man should know how to recite Quran and pray, During Ramadan, he took me with him each night, to wake up people in the neighborhood for Sohor. I used to walk along and call out with him the names of our neighbors. His drum was loud enough to wake the people in the next village, he added.

The Misaharaty is greatly respected in his neighborhood. He is considered to be a wise man. He is capable of memorizing all the names of the locals and therefore become very beneficial in many situations. Sheikh Ali, knew all the people in the neighborhood. He also knew what each did for a living. So he helped during the times when someone was in need, or missing. When I grew older I inherited the job from him besides my work as a car mechanic. I have been doing it for 28 years now, and Im hoping to pass it to my son so this magical job continues.

While the job of the Misaharaty is voluntary, residents of the neighborhood often tip him with food or cash when Ramadan is over. On the first day of Eid al-Fitr (the Festival) our house becomes crowded with Eid sweets and money as our neighbors visit us after the Eid prayer to celebrate the Eid.

Today, Cairo has both its modern and more ancient sides, and of course many Egyptians now use alarm clocks to fulfill the function of the traditional Misaharaty. Therefore, the art of the drummer is diminishing, though in some neighborhoods his work continues to be necessary.

Misaharaty style Ramadan Lanterns

Halima Mitwaly, a 34 year-old mother regrets the loss of this magical tradition. He only visits those who need to be awakened. People like us. I think that the people who have alarm clocks to awake them dont need him and therefore he wont go to them. But if they want to see him they can visit him at our neighborhood. We see him everyday during Ramadan from behind our windows and and on our terraces.

Of course, tradition dies very hard in Egypt, so the Minsaharaty is likely to continue his trade for some years to come in Cairo, this city of so many wonders.