Ramadan drummers are a centuries old tradition still alive and well in some parts of the world even today.
As part of Ramadan, the observing Muslim rises about an hour to 30 minutes before dawn to eat before beginning a day of fasting. The mosques have a call to prayer announcing the start of dawn but they don’t have a mechanism of waking people for their pre-dawn meal. That’s where Ramadan drummers come in.
Ramadan drummers are a tradition in several Muslim cultures – from as West as Africa to as East as Indonesia – with each culture’s beats having its own distinct flavour. The drummers go from neighbourhood to neighbourhood literally playing drums as early as around 3 a.m if Ramadan occurs in the summer months as it currently does. In some cities, Ramadan drummers might earn their living with payments from the houses they serve. Or, in some cases, the municipality will take it upon themselves to pay the drummers.
This profession is something that’s usually passed down from generation to generation and the drummers take a great deal of pride in their work. Not only are they upholding their family name but they also see their work as a good deed that helps people perform their religious rituals.
Each night of Ramadan, the drummer might play a different beat, or depending on his/ her style, stick to only one classic beat for each night. He/ she might even sing a Ramadan song to go with his beat. Ramadan drummers kind of remind us a bit of Christmas Carolers. Of course not all Muslims will want Ramadan drummers playing outside their home, some may perceive the drums as a ruckus. There may be young children or someone elderly in the home who’s sleep is disturbed by the drums in the late hours of the night. For whatever the reason, the individual home owner can let the Ramadan drummers know not to play near their house. (We’re reminded of those scenes from Christmas movies where well-intending carolers are shooed away from homes, usually with some profanity.)
It’s a charming tradition but digital alarm clocks – especially ones on cellphones – have really simplified the process of waking up for a pre-dawn meal. Still, some wish to see this tradition carried on – even in North America. Check out this amusing article from the New York Times about a man who tries to wake up Brooklyn, NY for Ramadan. (We can certainly see why the neighbours would file noise complaints to the police.)
Have you ever heard Ramadan drummers play before? If you haven’t, here’s a video of a Ramadan drummer playing in the afternoon on the last day of Ramadan to remind the neighbourhood about donations for his service. Are Ramadan drummers a part of your Muslim culture?
For a fun Ramadan activity, make our Ramadan Drummer puppets.