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Traditional wake-up calls for sehri fast disappearing.

Byline: Kashif Hussain

KARACHI -- Due to the use of advanced technology and changing patterns of peoples' lives, the tradition of waking people up at sehri has changed. Majority of Karachiites now use mobile phone alarms and digital clocks to wake up for sehri.

In fact, as a result of long hours of load-shedding, a tradition to stay up till sehri is also fast becoming common.

Majority of the youth remains awake all night, spending time at chai dhabbas, due to which the importance of those who wake people up for sehri is declining.

A short time ago, the tradition of waking people up for sehri had a great importance. Those who wanted to earn virtues used to wake citizens up for sehri. Some used to perform this duty for additional earnings. However, with time, this profession is fast declining.

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In some areas of Karachi, however, the tradition of waking people up with the drum is present. In some areas, people can be seen raising their voices to wake people up. However, the numbers of such people is fast declining with each passing year.

Those who beat the drums at marriage ceremonies also do it during sehri to earn additional income. In some areas, professional qawwali performers are also seen in action. Many drumbeaters cover long distances and in some areas they can be seen waking up people on motorcycles and cycles.

Those who perform this duty all Ramazan, go from house to house to receive their award at the end of the holy month. The locals give cash, clothes and rations of their freewill, which helps them celebrate Eidul Fitr better.

According to drumbeaters, a lot of lively activities take place in the city till sehri which makes them head towards areas where the streets are isolated.

In many areas of Karachi, the tradition of waking up people for sehri with the help of drumbeaters or flute players is over. Such artists have become a part of the past.

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Many citizens say that due to the prevalence of tall buildings and the apartment culture in place of open houses, the need for people to wake people up for sehri is no longer felt.

Mostly, the alarm system is used in homes. In certain families, relatives wake each other up, while in some, the guards at home are deputed to wake people up.


The ritual of waking up people for sehri exists in the Muslim world since centuries. According to a tradition, the first ever proclaimed drummer was Hazrat Bilal Habshi (RA) who was also the first muezzin of Islam. Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) made Hazrat Bilal (RA) responsible for waking up the Muslims in Madina for sehri. This ritual still continues in various Islamic countries.

Since the era of the Nawabs in the Indo-Pak subcontinent, the official public announcement of sehri was made by shooting cannon. This trend still exists in the Indian state of Bhopal and had been relinquished in Hyderabad Deccan a few years back. A cannon was shot from the wall of a fort situated at 40 kilometers distance from Bhopal, however, due to deterioration of the wall from shocks; shots are now fired from a smaller cannon.

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With the start of Ramazan, young men of the festive Muslim community begin their duties in this regard. According to the Muslims of Bhopal, this is a 250-year-old ritual. Less gunpowder than usual is filled in the cannon, however, the explosion is heard within more than 50 nearby villages. Shots are fired at iftar as well.

In Dubai, the trend of cannon firing at iftaar still exists. This year, cannons were projected on six spots in Dubai fired shots to announce the time of iftar. The responsibility of firing shots has been given to the Dubai police's department of community happiness.

British-customised 1945 cannons are used to fire shots in which ammunition of 25ml is used. The sound of the cannon shot is heard till 10 kilometers. Cannons can be seen in the Dera Pray Ground, Zaid Bin Muhammad Center, Manaul Islam Jameer, Burj Khalifa and City Walk areas. These cannons have acquired a special status among tourists, many of whom flock to Dubai to take snaps of the sight.

The trend of waking up fasters for sehri by drumbeaters is ongoing in Turkey and has become a part of the Islamic culture. As the Ramazan moon appears, drumbeater volunteers gather in the compound of mosques in their traditional clothes. This trend has existed since the Ottoman era. The drumbeater volunteers earn wages by playing at weddings in the rest of the months of the year.

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Due to governmental supervision of ancient customs in Turkey, the number of volunteers is increasing annually. The volunteers are not hired on an official salary and instead, people give them bakhshish [tip] money.

Those who wake people up for sehri are called masaharati in Ramazan and certain cultural norms of these people are still alive. The tradition of drumbeating is around 400 years old and started during the Ottoman rule in Egypt.

The ruler of Egypt, Utba bin Ishaq was the first person to tour the streets of Qahira during Ramazan and would wake up the people with poetry. He used to say, 'Those of you who are sleeping, wake up and pray to Allah.'

Some time back, these masaharati people were famous among children. In Turkey, when Ramazan started, the drumbeaters, wearing the Ottoman dress, promoted brotherhood. More than 2,000 drumbeaters play their role to wake up Muslims during sehri.

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In Egypt, people move from streets to streets with lanterns. This tradition is 1,000-year-old tradition. It is said that during 969, the people of Egypt had welcomed the caliph Maad alMuizz li-Dinillah by lighting a lantern after which this tradition came into being.

According to another source, the Fatimid caliph alHakim Bamrullah wanted candles to be lit after iftar, which is why he gave the order of lanterns to be lit at all masajids.

It is also said that when the Fatimid caliph used to go to sight the Ramazan moon, children would raise candles and recite naats.

According to another source of history, the alHakim had made it mandatory for women to be accompanied with the children carrying candles at night if they were to walk out of their homes.
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Publication:The Express Tribune (Karachi, Pakistan)
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Jun 11, 2018
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