Acre’s Tambourine man revives the sound of Suhoor - Saudi Gazette

Acre’s Tambourine man revives the sound of Suhoor

Acre’s Tambourine man revives the sound of Suhoor

Michel Ayoub

Michel Ayoub begins each day at 2am, stepping on to the cobbled streets of Acre’s old city with tambourine in hand, awakening Muslims for Ramadan.Michel Ayoub

His role as the city’s "mosaharaty" is a traditional one during the holy month, but Mr Ayoub is by no means a traditional holder of the position. He is Christian.

The 39 year old sees no contradiction in that, and neither do the Muslim residents of this ancient city in north-western Israel, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

"We are the same family," says Mr Ayoub, who wears traditional Levantine dress as he meanders the alleyways, a kaffiyeh draped over his shoulders, baggy sirwal trousers held around his waist with an embroidered belt, a black-and-white turban tied around his head.

"There is only one God and there is no difference between Christians and Muslims."

His voice rings out as he chants, piercing the silence of the empty streets decorated with traditional colourful lamps for Ramadan.

"You, sleeping ones, there is one eternal God," he chants.

Houses begin to light up one by one. Some stick their heads out of their windows to greet him and tell him they have heard the call, awakening them for the suhoor.

Acre’s population of more than 50,000 includes Jews, Muslims, Christians and Baha’is.

It has been continuously inhabited since the Phoenician period, which began around 1500BC.

It was the main port of the medieval Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem and a major Ottoman walled city.

Napoleon tried to conquer the heavily fortified town in 1799 but was repelled by the Ottomans and a small British Royal Navy force.

The walled old city, complete with a well-preserved citadel, mosques and baths, is listed by Unesco as a World Heritage site.

Today it is part of Israel, which captured it in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war surrounding the state’s creation.

About 28 per cent of its population are Palestinians and their descendants who remained after the 1948 creation of Israel.

Most of the city’s Arabs are Muslims, but a minority, like Mr Ayoub, are Christians.

The mosaharaty tradition had disappeared from Acre until Mr Ayoub, who usually works in construction, revived it 13 years ago. He says it was his way to preserve his grandfather’s heritage.

He says his grandfather, a fervent Catholic, listened to readings of the Quran every Friday during the main weekly Muslim prayers.

Partly for that reason, Mr Ayoub says he grew up with the idea of coexistence, respect and knowledge of other religions.

By carrying on the mosaharaty tradition, he says he was "only doing my duty by helping our Muslim brothers who endure hunger and thirst".

Sabra Aker, 19, says she "grew up with Michel Ayoub’s wake-up calls during Ramadan."

"If he didn’t come one day, we would be lost," she says through the window of her home.

Safia Sawaid, 36, exits her home to ask if she can take a photo with Mr Ayoub and her children.

"It’s great to see someone so attached to our culture and our traditions," she says. "I hope that he will continue every year."

Mr Ayoub may even be grooming a successor to ensure the tradition does not end with him.

Ahmed Al Rihawi, 12, accompanies him on his night-time mission, wearing sirwal trousers, a black vest and a turban.

"He is a promising mosaharaty," Mr Ayoub says. "He is very talented." — AFP