Ayoub's holy racket begins each day at 2am, when he steps into the cobbled
streets of Acre's old city with tambourine in hand, awakening Muslims for Ramadan.
His role as
the city's "Mesaharati" is a traditional one during the sacred
fasting month, but Ayoub is by no means a traditional holder of the position:
He is Christian.
39-year-old Arab Israeli sees no contradiction in that, and neither do the
Muslim residents of this ancient city in north-western Israel, overlooking the
are the same family," says Ayoub, who wears traditional Levantine dress as
he meanders the alleyways, a keffiyeh draped over his shoulders, and baggy Sirwal
pants held around his waist with an embroidered belt, a black-and-white turban
tied around his head.
is only one God and there is no difference between Christians and
rings out as he chants, piercing the silence of the empty streets decorated
with traditional colourful lamps for Ramadan.
sleeping ones, there is one eternal God," he chants.
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 "Suhur",
the traditional Ramadan pre-dawn meal.
holy month, which began on 5 June, Muslims abstain from food and drink from
sunrise to sundown, making the Suhur an important meal before the long
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 1500 BC.
It was the
main port of the medieval Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem and a major Ottoman
tried to conquer the heavily fortified town in 1799 but was repelled by the
Ottomans and a small British Royal Navy force.
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
percent of its population are Arab Israelis, who 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 Ayoub, are Christians.
tradition had disappeared from Acre until Ayoub, who usually works in
construction, revived it 13 years ago. He says it was his way to preserve his
He says his
grandfather, a fervent Catholic, listened to readings of the Quran every Friday
during the main weekly Muslim prayers.
that reason, Ayoub says he grew up with the idea of coexistence, respect and
knowledge of other religions.
on the mesaharati tradition, he says he was "only doing my duty by helping
our Muslim brothers who endure hunger and thirst" during the fasting
19, says she "grew up with Michel Ayoub's wake-up calls during
didn't come one day, we would be lost," she says through the window of her
Sawaid, 36, exits her home to ask if she can take a photo with Ayoub and her
great to see someone so attached to our culture and our traditions," she
says. "I hope that he will continue every year."
even be grooming a successor to ensure the tradition does not end with him.
al-Rihawi, 12, accompanies him on his night-time mission, wearing Sirwal
pants, a black vest and a turban.
a promising Mesaharati," Ayoub says. "He is very