For 20 years, Mohammad Farooq Qureshi has been waking people up in Dongri area on time for their first meal before dawn, as members of the Muslim community observe fast during the holy month of Ramzan. When he started out, Qureshi would go to every house on Mohammed Ali Road in Bhendi Bazaar area and knock on each door, along with a staff. While walking around, he would say: “Utho Allah ke bando… sehri kar lo… tahajjud pad lo… neend se jaago… parvardigar ko yaad karo” (wake up Allah’s people….do your sehri and night prayers…wake up and remember the creator).
“I am 50 years old now and find it difficult to climb up the stairs of so many buildings. A few years back, I got a mic connected to a speaker with which I started making announcements asking people to get up. I no longer go door-to-door but just walk around the lanes making these announcements,” Qureshi told The Indian Express.
Alarms on mobile phones do play their part but many in the community continue to hold the tradition dear, waking up to the voice of men doing rounds of their areas.
After waking up people for sehri – the meal before the morning prayers – the men go around localities exhorting the faithful. While some go individually, others move around in groups.
The way they wake people up during the holy month varies from reciting religious verses on speakers, playing dafli to knocking on doors. In areas like Mumbra, residents who wake up early knock on the doors of their neighbours to wake them up for sehri.
Although it is the digital age, Qureshi has no doubts about his relevance. “There have been a few times when the battery of the speaker drained out or there was some problem with the speaker and I did not go out. Every time people ask me the next day why I did not come to wake them up. It must be meaningful to them, after all,” he said. “I see what I do as more than waking people up. I ask them to pray for people. If there is a calamity, or if it has not rained for a while, I ask them to pray for it. I ask them to pray for the safety of the country,” Qureshi said. He added that before waking people up, he roams the Mohammad Ali Road area making announcements, asking people to ensure that their wallets and mobile phones are safe. Around 3 am, he starts making the rounds that go on till 4.15 am. Then he observes his sehri and goes for the morning prayers.
Rehman Asad, a Mumbra resident, said in their building, whoever wakes up first, knocks on the doors of the others. “It has been a tradition for years. People knock on the doors of their neighbours. However, even before that, there is a group that goes around in the area blowing horns to wake us up. The alarm is only a safety measure, in case none of these things wake us up, which usually does not happen,” Asad said.
The people Asad spoke about is a group of 10 people from Hyderabad that comes to Mumbra during Ramzan. Asad says, they have been coming to Mumbra for at least a few decades now.
Usually, those who wake up people for sehri go around meeting people on Eid and are often paid then. “Normally, people pay them whatever they feel like. There is no specific amount,” Asad said. Qureshi, however, said: “I do this for a sense of duty. It gives me happiness. I do not go and meet people during Eid for this. If they feel like giving me something, they approach me on Eid. For me, it is the labour of love. Whatever monetary benefit it may bring, is just an additional perk.”