Meet Beirut's musaharati keeping the ritual alive

Ahmad Sadaka continues his father's work as Beirut's musaharati, touring the streets and waking people up for suhoor

For the past 20 years, Ahmad Sadaka toured Beirut's neighbourhoods during Ramadan, beating his drum to wake people up for suhoor, the predawn meal that brings families together every day to celebrate the holy month.

But this year is different for Mr Sadaka, 50. For the first time, the musaharati (the name given to drummers who wake residents for suhoor) is touring the capital's streets on his own, carrying the mantle that his father held for decades until his recent death.

"This is the will of my father who assumed the role of musaharati for 50 years. Now, I'm following in his footsteps," Mr Sadaka said.

His daily two-to-three-hour tour, which kicks off at half past midnight, takes him from Verdun through Mar Elias neighbourhood and then Sanayeh before circling back to his starting point.

Mr Sadaka, who recalls his first journey with his father about 43 years ago, said he is now sometimes joined by his brother.

People in the community eating suhoor at 2 am at El Walid restaurant in Basta Beirut. Mahmoud Rida / The National

Mr Sadaka said he used to be greeted by strangers who gathered in food outlets across the city before suhoor.

But the economic crisis that has gripped Lebanon since late 2019 and the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic prompted many residents this year to celebrate Ramadan at home.

“We used to meet people in the streets and to interact with them in bakeries and restaurants, but most have been staying home this year given the crisis and the Covid-19 outbreak,” Mr Sadaka says.

The crisis caused a sharp drop in Lebanon's national currency with the Lebanese pound plummeting more than 85 per cent in value against the dollar since the crisis began in late 2019.

Ahmad Sadaka, Beirut's musaharati wakes up people at 2 am to eat before sunrise. Mahmoud Rida / The National

The currency crisis eroded the purchasing power of residents and fuelled hyperinflation, putting the average cumulative monthly cost of iftar for a family of five at two and a half times the minimum monthly wage, according to a study by the American University of Beirut.

The monthly minimum wage has dropped from about $400 in 2019 at the official exchange rate of 1,515 pounds to the dollar to less than $50 at today's market rate of 12,500, plunging more than half the population into poverty, according to the World Bank.