One man's quest to carry on an old and vital tradition
Daily Star staff
Courtesy of The Daily Star, Bierut, Jan. 1 , 1999
As the neighborhood's musahharati,
Mustafa Abu Ahmad, 55, is fiercely territorial.
Charged with the duty of waking Muslims before
sunrise during Ramadan, he has been walking the
streets of an area extending from the Union
building on Spears Street to Dar al-Fatwa in
Aisha Bakkar in the wee hours of Ramadan mornings
for 38 years. He pounds on his drum and greets
the excited children who wake up just to see him.
Mr. Abu Ahmad never ventures into another
musahharati's neighborhood and he does not
take kindly to other musahharaties strolling into
"If you are from this area, you drum this
area. If you're from that area, you drum in
that area. That's how it has been for many
years," he said.
But lately he has been facing competition from a
handful of unwanted intruders.
"Yesterday, I ran into, not one, but five or
six walking together in my area and pounding on
drums at around 2:45 A.M. As soon as I heard
them, I approached them and thumped my drum
once," he said, explaining that the move was
a sort of warning.
"If more than one person walks through the
neighborhood waking people up, it becomes an
annoyance for the neighbors," he explained.
In the southern suburbs, residents are often
woken up three times: first by the neighborhood
musahharati, next by a group of Hizbullah
musahharatis beating their drums and carrying a
donation box and lastly by an Amal car blaring
patriotic songs from a loudspeaker.
When Mr. Abu Ahmad started out, he could rely on
the zakat, an Islamic tax given out by Dar
al-Fatwa the highest Sunni Muslim religious
authority, for his livelihood. He no longer
receives this income. Now, only donations from
people in the neighborhood sustain him, so
competition from outsiders naturally cuts into
But that is not why he objects to the intruders.
"It is not a business issue," he
explained. Rather, he sees the seasoned
musahharatis, such as himself, as those most
qualified to carry on an old and important
When he first became a musahharati in 1960 it
took Mr. Abu Ahmad no more than half an hour to
wake-up his entire neighborhood of Sanayeh.
"There weren't as many buildings back
then," he said. He has been beating his drum
ever since. Not even the shell fire of the civil
war could stop him.
Over the year, Mr. Abu Ahmad has slowly expanded
his turf. He took over the duty of waking-up
residents in two neighboring areas, after one of
the masahharatis died and another left his area.
He now spends nearly two and a half hours, from
1:30 A.M. to 3:45 A.M., walking his lengthy
He has more than five drums which he uses to wake
the neighbors. Each is custom-made from clay with
a leather membrane and "each one is for
different kinds of weather conditions," he
said, as he tapped gently on the top of his
"This is our heritage. Our heritage does not
come to life with just any old drum or with
blaring music. It comes to life with the drum
that belongs to me."
(Ed's note: Ramadan started December 19, 1998)