In the neighborhoods and alleys of al-Jumhouriya, one of oldest, populous and closest areas to city of Basra, the people who fast in the holy Muslim month of Ramadan used to wake up to the loud and unique beating of a drum that sounds so familiar
Iraqis call the drummer Abu Tbeila, or literally a man with a little drum, who calls Muslims to get ready for a new day of fasting and to perform the dawn prayers
Hajj Shakir Massoud kept beating his little Ramadan drum and chanting sublime religious songs to some tempos he learned by heart since the 1980s.
“Practicing that old folk tradition would win me a great favor of heavens during this holy month. Many people wait for me to pass by their homes in order to waken them to get prepared for a new Ramadan day,” the 62-year-old Massoud told Aswat al-Iraq news agency.
He said he starts his Ramadan tour after 02:00 a.m. in the narrow alleys and streets, where the drum beating and solemn supplications are music familiar to the ears of the sleeping local residents and remind them that they have to get a little food and water before the fajr (dawn) prayers that announces the beginning of a new fasting day.
“The first time I started that tradition was when I was a soldier during the war with Iran (1980-1988). I was with my brothers in arms on the front in the province of Diala. There were no azan (Muslim call for prayers) or the invocations that precede it,” he said.
“Since we did not have any alarm clocks, I accurately calculated the time for the fajr prayers and so I used to waken the sleeping soldiers for the suhoor (a supper meal for Muslims during Ramadan) and prayers. I kept this tradition alive in Ramadan every year so I may win God’s favor,” said the sexagenarian Abu Tbeila
Anwar Jasseb al-Tareef, a folk heritage researcher and academician in the University of Basra, said most Muslims during the early Islamic era used to know the suhoor time through the azan performed by the Prophet’s favorite muezzin Bilal Ibn Rabah
“The Muslims then knew they have to refrain from consuming any food or water just before the azan performed by Abdullah Ibn Umm Maktoum,” Tareef told Aswat al-Iraq news agency
He said the practice (of Abu Tbeila) is a folk one that began during the Abbasid era and now it is considered part of the heritage of Iraq and most Arab countries
“Unfortunately, the practice is dwindling as a result of the curfew and security conditions after the occupation,” he added.
He said this annual profession used to be practiced in return for some gifts and money at the end of Ramadan from the local residents in neighborhoods Abu Tbeila is serving.
However, the practice was not exclusive to the men as Hidiya Oki, 58, has been beating the suhoor drums in al-Hussein neighborhood in Basra for more than 25 years now
“I am doing this just to win the favor of God and also because I think this should help many fasting Muslims to know about their suhoor times,” Oki told Aswat al-Iraq news agency
Khazaal Majeed, a local resident of Basra, believes these customs and traditions “have started to shrink due to the technological developments as many now possess TVs, communications devices and digital clocks they use to adjust their wakeup time
“I think Abu Tbeila is no longer important because I can wake up and sleep any time I want or get prepared for the fajr prayers,” he told Aswat al-Iraq