Amman’s Ramadan drummer balances spirit and livelihood

Kept indoors by Jordan's Covid-19 curfew, fewer children are around to ask musaharati Zeid Abu Mushref if they can beat his drum

Late at night in a low-income district of Amman, Zeid Abu Mushref walks with an assured step as he pounds his drum, masking his status as a novice musaharati.

“Hey, you who are asleep, recite a prayer to Allah,” he chants, his voice ringing out slowly between beats.

But the steps of the 19-year-old are swift, as is his drumming.

Mr Abu Mushref operates in Nuzha, a hilly district of the Jordanian capital that he needs to cover on foot before the crack of dawn. This is so people wake up in time to have suhoor before the day-long Ramadan fast.

He grew up in the busy Jabal Hussein neighbourhood of Amman, which has a large Palestinian refugee camp. His father died when he was a child.

Mr Abu Mushref learnt how to be a musaharati from a friend who showed him how during the holy month last year.

“He was popular in Nuzha. He died after last Ramadan, and I took over,” Mr Abu Mushref says.

Mr Abu Mushref gives part of his earnings to the family of his late friend, who worked for almost a decade as a musaharati.

The job is spiritual and material. It date back to times when there were no alarm clocks or technology to keep track of the hours.

“We do this to gain reward from God, and for our livelihoods,” Mr Abu Mushref says.

Although most people wake up on their own, many still like to have a musaharati in their neighbourhood. It is a boon for children, who love to ask the musaharati for a go on his drum.

Jordan has been in recession since last year and unemployment is officially at a high of 24 per cent. The authorities relaxed Covid-19 rules last month but a curfew remains in place from 7pm to 6am.

Many people do not obey the rules, but there is still less traffic on the streets.

Mr Abu Mushref said that with the coronavirus restrictions, fewer children have been taking to the streets this Ramadan to intercept the musaharati.

Kids take turns to pound on Musaharti Zeid Abu Mushref’s drum during his nightly rounds in Amman’s Nuzha district to wake people up for their pre-dawn meal during the month of Ramadan.  
Courtesy of Amy McConaghy/ The National

“Before it was difficult to get back home because of so many kids. Now people are afraid to let their children out,” he said.

“Still, I give the drum to any child who wants to beat it,” he added. “Whoever puts a smile on someone’s face, God will put happiness in his heart.”