Sunday, January 16, 2011

The daily call

Several times a day it happens. The first is before the sun comes up. Then a few more times throughout the day, the sound breaks the constant clamor of the traffic and other sounds on the street. Eerie. Haunting. Beautiful.

Traveling in Islamic countries for almost two weeks, I have come to not only enjoy, but also expect the call to prayer, (adhan). Five times a day (more sometimes.... not quite sure why the extra ones happen) the call goes out from the minaret for prayer time. The call is heard most clearly from the closest mosque, but with every mosque in the town or city sending out its own adhan, the sound echoes in layers across the space. Right now I am in Luxor (with James and Katherine), a town in the Nile River Valley. The hostel we are staying in has an open roof-top cafe and lounge area. From there the minarets all across town are audible. The layers of voices overlap in harmony and discord all at the same time. Everyone is singing the same thing, but they don't all sing it the same way. Some muezzins have great voices, others not so good, so we focus on the ones that we like. In Istanbul, the call from the Blue Mosque was my favorite - it was the one we could hear the most clearly, too. We heard from someone that the muezzins in Istanbul had to take singing lessons not too long ago because they weren't very good. With so many tourists in Istanbul and the adhan broadcast from loudspeakers at the top of the minarets, the city felt that the adhan should be nice to listen to! The lessons worked! The callers in Istanbul sing with haunting lilts and beautiful tones.

Hearing multiple adhans is an experience that touches the soul and stays in the mind. In Cairo, the evening that we were aboard the felucca, prayer time came and the call went out from a thousand minarets. As we floated on the river, the cacophony of voices reverberated off the buildings and water, back and forth across the river, all around us, echoing and replying in what seemed an endless wave of sounds. Near, far, faint, loud, bold, quivering -- in every possible tone, the call sounded. The sound was so spectacular, we stopped mid-conversation and had to listen. We were spellbound. It is an experience I will not forget.

I've been thinking a lot about this adhan - this call to prayer -- being in this part of the world, it's hard to ignore. I'm not converting to Islam anytime soon, but I like the public call to prayer. My own faith does not have this prevalent a reminder to turn my thoughts to God. The closest we get is a church that may ring its bells on Sunday morning. Other than that uncommon occurrence, there is no obvious admonition broadcast publicly. Even though the adhan is not calling from my religion, it reminds me to thank God for the things He has done for me - every day, many times a day.

I'm leaving the predominantly Islamic world, so I won't be hearing the call to prayer anymore. I'll have to find something new and tangible that will remind me to talk to God. I always mean to pray, but I forget. Maybe I should pick up some prayer beads before I leave....

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