BAGHDAD Falling victim to tough security measures implemented in Iraqi streets following the 2003 US-led invasion, Ramadan criers and drummers have been on the decline over the past decade, leaving only a handful of men who ply the dying Mousaherati craft.
"Mousaheratis have disappeared almost completely," Luay Sabbah told Agence France Presse (AFP) on Sunday, August 12, as he walked through the streets of the city of Samarra, 110 kilometres (70 miles) north of Baghdad.
"There are only some left now, and even they only work sporadically, not every day," adds Sabah, who inherited the position from his father, who did the job for 18 years until his death in 2008.
Clad in traditional dishdashas, Sabbah walks the streets of neighborhoods, waking Muslims so they can eat before the sun rises.
Shouting "Suhoor! Suhoor!", the 20-something spends his pre-dawn hours, like his counterparts nationwide, waking neighborhood residents for suhoor; the meal that precedes a Muslim's daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan.
The tradition of Ramadan human alarm clocks goes back centuries in Muslim countries around the world.
Yet, it has been declining in Iraq since 2003 US-led invasion due to security measures and curfews imposed by the authorities in Samarra and other major cities between midnight and 4:00 am.
When Ramadan finishes and local residents mark the `Eid al-Fitr festival, mousaheratis visit homes in the neighborhoods they walked and accept small donations for their work.
Mousaheratis maintain jobs throughout the year including Sabbah who sells cooking oil.
In Ramadan, adult Muslims abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.
The sick and those traveling are exempt from fasting especially if it poses health risks.
During Ramadan, Muslims dedicate their time during the holy month to become closer to Allah through prayer, self-restraint and good deeds.
A combination of the poor security in the city along with the restrictions on movement has led to a sharp decline in the number of Iraqi mousaheratis.
"In the old days, each alleyway would have its own mousaherati, beating his own drum for suhoor," recalls Abu Jassim, or father of Jassim, a retiree who was sitting in a greengrocer in Baghdad's main commercial Karrada neighborhood.
"Sometimes, their voices would cross over, because there were so many of them. Children would greet them with screams of happiness when they were on our streets, but now, the fear and insecurity have made them stay away."
Restrictions on mousaherati movements were not limited to volatile streets in the Iraqi capital.
In Baquba, capital of one of Iraq's most violent provinces, Ahmed Abbas had to seek the approval of local security officials, who told the 27-year-old mousaherati "to only move in stable areas."
The case was even worse in Mosul and the surrounding province of Nineveh which no longer sees mousaheratis at all, according to religious officials.
"Mousaheratis have vanished completely in recent years in Mosul because of the security situation, and the absence of support from local officials," complained Mohammed Khaled al-Araibi, an official working with the national Sunni religious foundation's Nineveh offices.
One Mosul resident, construction worker Mukhlis Jarallah, noted that in previous years "large neighborhoods would wake up to the sounds of an old grandfather."
But, he continued, "the invasion swept away the mousaherati."
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net