Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Call to Prayer

                I’m going to try to make this blog post a poetic representation of the adhan. (Admittedly, it will only be poetic prose, if that, because my poetry never really matured past rhyming cat with spat with yowl. Also, as a disclaimer, if you, my reader, ever feel that it’s a vaguely angry-sounding post, then that is likely due to the large street-cat-fight taking place directly below my window.) The adhan is the Muslim call to prayer. Every day, five times per day, it echoes from every masjid in the world.

                The first time I heard the call to prayer (in my memory) was last summer. The Oman, Mali and Morocco YES Abroad students were on a trip to a mosque in Washington, DC. We had dinner there and then were going to observe prayer. So, of course, before the prayer, someone had to inform the Muslim community of the prayer time. For those of you who don’t know, the prayer times change every day.
Anyways, the adhan from that day is one of the things I remember most about that trip. Being in the actual basement of a mosque, we were able to hear the call with absolute clarity.

                It was a surreal experience for me. The call to prayer is almost like a chant, but somehow more fluid and musical. Yet it isn’t quite singing either. I remember that all of us sat transfixed in that basement, listening to a sound like nothing we had ever heard before. The adhan, on its own, is eerily enchanting. It’s the kind of sound that stops people when they walk down the street and hear it—literally, so we were told by the Imam in that DC mosque.

                Upon arrival in Oman, it was instantly clear to me how entwined the call to prayer was with daily life of Omanis. Since their childhood, they have heard the call to prayer five times a day, every day. To use an interesting analogy, my Omani friends and family have heard the call to prayer more times than they have eaten a full meal, assuming they eat three times a day. After a brief calculation, I have established that a 16- year old in Oman has heard the call to prayer 11,680 times more than she has eaten a meal. Whenever the adhan begins, it is almost required to listen. People switch off their music and mute the TV, conversations quiet down or pause, and teachers lower their voices.

                Because Muscat is home to so many mosques within a small proximity to one another, and each mosque begins within a few seconds of the last one, there is a strange and haunting harmony formed by the overlapping strands of music. One finishes the first words (allahu akbar, or God is great) and the next begins the same words, almost in a choral-like round.

                Hearing the adhan is actually one of my favorite times of the day here. I like hearing the different, slightly unsynchronized voices echoing throughout the city and region and country and continent.
I’m afraid that was not particularly poetic as I had anticipated, but I hope that it was informative!


  1. Hi,
    Just found your blog through Top 100 Intl exchange &experience blogs 2012 and I love Oman.
    I used to live in Salalah and that's were I found my american husband.
    Have fun and enjoy.

  2. Nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people.