Amman, Jordan – Every day at around 2am during the holy month of Ramadan, Zaid Daifallh, better known as Abu Bashar, leaves his house with only a drum and stick in hand. As his drum beats louder, children flock to him as he strolls between the small alleyways, decorated with flashing lights shaped like crescent moons, stars, and lanterns.
Daifallh is there to remind residents of Wihdat camp in eastern Amman that it is time for Suhoor, a meal Muslims eat at dawn before starting their daily fasts during the holy month of Ramadan.
“Twenty years ago, these narrow streets would be empty and dark as nobody would be awake at this hour,” the 42-year-old recalled, as he spoke to Al Jazeera about how his profession has evolved. “I would not leave a street until I saw all homes lit and people are up,” he added.
The tradition of waking up other community members for Suhoor has existed since the early days of Islam. The importance of the meal is said to have been laid out by the Prophet Muhammad, who encouraged Muslims to eat the meal. In one Prophetic tradition (hadeeth), he is reported to have said: “Eat Suhoor as it has blessings.“
“During the Prophet Muhammad’s time, a call for prayer or adhan was used to alert people to eat Suhoor before the actual adhan for Fajr (dawn) prayers, after which people would abstain from eating,” explained Abdul Rahman Ibdah, an expert of Islamic history at Jordan’s ministry of Islamic affairs.
“Misaharati is not a part of Islamic teaching but it is not against it either. It evolved as the need for it increased,” he told Al Jazeera.
Some historians believe that the first Misaharati appeared in Egypt in the year 853. Egypt’s governor at the time, Otbah Ben Issac, started the tradition while walking through Cairo’s street on his way to eat Suhoor. The Misaharati’s traditional chant is a wakeup call for people to remember God: “Please wake up to worship the creator.”
I used to hold a lantern and walk with my father as a little child. I feel a strong spiritual connection to these streets.
More than 11 centuries later, the few Misaharatis who are still strolling through Amman’s streets are struggling to keep the tradition alive in light of most Jordanians’ dependence on technology. Before people had access to alarm clocks and mobile phones, the profession of Misaharati was a necessity.
“It is sad how this valuable form of art is dying,” said one Misaharati, Abu Saad Moghrabi, who inherited the practice from his father, a follower of Sufism or spiritual Islam.
The 50-year-old, who works at a juice bar in downtown Amman during the day, said he feels a responsibility to stroll the streets of the Jabal al-Hussein neighbourhood, the same place he began calling for Suhoor more than 30 years ago.
“I used to hold a lantern and walk with my father as a little child. I feel a strong spiritual connection to these streets,” he told Al Jazeera.
Sitting on the benches outside her house, Jameela Yusuf recalls how she relied on the drum beats and chants of Misaharati to wake her up to prepare Suhoor for her children. “Back in the day, there was only one family in the entire camp that could afford to buy a three-dinar ($5) alarm clock,” the 60-year-old said.
“Nowadays, each person in the family has at least one mobile phone on them and they wake up with no problem.”
In the absence of official research and statistics about how many Misaharatis still operate in Jordan, merchants selling drums have seen a massive decline in numbers. “In the past, I used to sell drums, and nowadays I just rent them or lend them to the Misaharatis for free,” said Hamada Saeedi, a drum seller in east Amman.
As the need for Misaharatis has declined, the role has evolved to become a source of entertainment for children. For that reason, the Misaharati chants heard today are different from the traditional chants they sang 20 years ago. “I sing with these children to engage them as they want to have fun,” Abu Bashar said.
Our father was a dervish, so he taught us that the profession is just more than just beating a drum.
Many Misaharatis have adapted to that change by singing a mix of Sufi and other Islamic songs and chants. “Our father was a dervish, so he taught us that the profession is just more than just beating a drum,” Abu Assad said.
In wealthier neighbourhoods in western and northern Amman, residents say Misaharatis have almost vanished.
“Some come occasionally, and sometimes we only hear the sound echoes from neighbouring places,” said Akram Khuraisat, an engineer residing in the Jubaiha neighbourhood in north Amman.
“When Ramadan falls in the summer, many families stay up late almost until when it is time for the Misaharati to start beating his drums,” Khuraisat said.
Ultimately, for Misaharatis like Abu Assad and Abu Bashar, the profession has become a lifestyle that they cannot abandon.
“Each year, I say I am getting older and tired and this year might be the last year,” said Abu Assad. “But on the first eve of Ramadan each year, I find myself grabbing the drums and leaving the house at 2am.”