Saturday, November 21, 2009

To be first

I imagine it takes a lot of courage to be the first muezzin to start calling the adhan—a lone voice piercing the nighttime silence, setting off a domino-effect in the surrounding mosques until all that is heard for miles around is a droning jumble of voices asserting to everyone listening that God is the greatest. Allahu akbar.

A ghostly whisper growing steadily as each voice is added in an uneven round—a rhythmic, pulsing, unintelligible chorus until the mosque down the street steps up for its solo and drowns out the background singers. Then we hear it loud and clear: Allahu akbar, allahu akbar!

Our mosque is never the first mosque to start the call to prayer and frankly I can’t blame the muezzin for waiting until he hears dozens…or hundreds…of other muezzins wailing into the night before he starts his own rendition of the call to prayer. This morning at 4:27 I heard one lone, and rather far away, muezzin chanting the adhan.

The poor guy.

To his credit he finished the whole call to prayer even though no one else joined in. He had started the call to prayer a half hour early. I almost started laughing I saw what time it was. This guy was way off!

About a half hour later the city’s minarets erupted once more and I’m sure the early-bird muezzin threw his voice back into the mix, ignoring his previous mishap. He’d have to because as far as mishaps go, starting the call to prayer too early isn’t bad.

As the BBC noted earlier this week, muezzins aren’t always the most mellifluous of singers:

All too often, the call to prayer is broadcast to a less-than-divine accompaniment of crackle, hiss and feedback.

A preparatory clearing of the throat, swilling of saliva or clicking of the jaw can be unblushingly transmitted at top volume.

The government here has thus decided to broadcast the adhan to the mosques via a radio broadcast. Some four thousand minarets all blaring the same muezzin’s voice at the same time.

Does anyone else see a problem with this? First of all, what are the four thousand muezzins going to do* now that their role is becoming superfluous? Second, I realize that the call the prayer is noisy and chaotic now, but won’t it seem louder with every mosque broadcasting a synchronized prayer call?** Third, doesn’t this destroy part of Cairo’s identity as the “city of a thousand minarets?”

I’m hoping this transition gets put into action as fast as they’re building that new metro line, which means it will happen never, if ever. It looks like that just might be the case since they have been talking about doing this for several years now.

* Zaqzouq, the religious affairs minister, suggests here that they could all be trained to be imams
**Apparently Turkey has synchronized their adhan, but I remember hearing more than one going on at a time…

1 comment:

  1. hat is one of the things that I thought I would never miss when I lived in Libya, but now is sad that I do not hear it. I guess the closest mosque is very far away. I remember one of the first weeks in Libya(which was the first time I was in the Middle East) it was so loud and it used to scared Tyler and he would ask why they were singing so late ... See Moreat night :) but that was what made it all feel that I was really somewhere foreign.(not that just by stepping out of my house I would not notice the difference) but when you are at home and in the routine the only thing that made me remember where I was, was the call to prayer.:)!
    22 November 2009 at 15:42