Abu Tabila: A Waste of Time or a Timeless Tradition?
By: Katie Teague/Arab America Contributing Writer
As the holy month of Ramadan has just ended, people in the Arab World still remember the distinct beats of a drum echo loudly through the streets as dawn approaches. What could confuse those unaccustomed to the sound so early in the morning is actually a wonderful tradition for Muslims in the Arab World. The Musaharati, also known as Abu Tabila, is tasked with waking fellow worshipers for their last meal before the day begins, called the suhoor. With the presence of technology in today’s day and age, is the end of Abu Tabila near? Or will an ancient tradition prevail over the ease and accessibility our smartphones deliver?
In the Eastern province of Saudi Arabia, the Musaharati continues to play a vital role during the holy month. As he walks the streets dressed in traditional garb with a drum strapped around his torso, families peer through the windows at the sound of his instrument and beautiful spoken prayers. Sometimes they pass him sweets and money to give thanks for his hard work. Each neighborhood has an Abu Tabila; a job which is passed down from generation to generation since it cannot be taken on by non-Musaharati families. Such a tradition holds dear to the hearts of Saudis, who feel a sense of endearment that an iPhone app could never capture.
Elsewhere, in Lebanon, the Abu Tabila is out and about before 4 a.m. This may seem early to those unfamiliar with Ramadan, however, the Abu Tabila must be up to wake worshipers for their suhoor before a long day of fasting. Like Saudi Arabia, Lebanon does not see Musaharatis disappearing anytime soon. What’s more, many Lebanese feel that the work of Abu Tabilas is underappreciated by local leadership. Such an early start to each day deserves support from the community, especially, when these men are forced to compete with technology.
Unfortunately, the job of an Abu Tabila is being replaced by cellphone apps and alarms. Some communities have witnessed the disappearance of their early-morning drummers, whether it is due to an increased reliance on devices or other contributing factors. There has even been a modernization of the Musaharatis themselves; several have been caught using a car to get around in the morning or speaking out of a megaphone. Ultimately, aside for Beirut, Cairo, Gaza, and parts of Saudi Arabia, the tradition has just about died out.
It is unlikely that the Musaharati profession will last for a long time, especially as technology continues to advance at lightning speed. Some may not view the role of Abu Tabila as realistic or worthwhile when an alarm can be set with the tap of a button. Those who still see value in the tradition must speak out and provide support to these men, both young and old alike, who seek to maintain the unique custom. Otherwise, we could see the extinction of a historic practice and profession.
Despite the use of smartphones in every aspect of our daily lives, there are some jobs technology will never do with the same level of care and passion observed in people. Regarding the Musaharati, many Muslims are making an effort to keep the tradition alive for the sake of Islamic heritage and the essence of Ramadan. The holy month of Ramadan just ended but as of right now, Musaharatis around the Middle East are not planning on going anywhere. However, should some Muslim nations continue to let go of this core practice, we can be sure that the spirit of Ramadan brought about by the Abu Tabila will never fully disappear.