Thursday, April 28, 2016

Islamic Call to Prayer

Prayer is the second of the Five Pillars of Islam. Five times each day a muezzen, through a speaker on a mosque minaret, calls Muslims to prayer (the adhan). Following is an English translation of the call to prayer, which must be spoken in Arabic:

          God is most great  (Allah Akbar) - [said 4 times in succession] 
          I witness that there is no god but Allah - [said 2 times in succession]
          I witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God - [said 2 times in succession]
          Come to prayer - [said 2 times in succession]
          Come to prosperity - [said 2 times in succession]
          God is most great - [said 2 times in succession]
          There is no god but Allah. 

Here is the call to prayer with English sub-titles, although the translation is different than the above (I find the translations vary a lot). The dawn prayer also adds the line, "Prayer is better than sleep."

The first line and the sixth line of the adhan recite the Takbir (Allah Akbar), that God is greater than everything. Lines two and three recite the shahada, the profession of faith, the first of the Five Pillars of Islam ("There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of God"), and line 7 recites half of it. It affirms Islam's absolute monotheism and that Muhammad is the final prophet and model for Muslims.

The  adhan came about when Muhammad and his companions were discussing how to get people to gather for prayer. It was suggested that a bell be used, like the Christians, or a ram's horn, like the Jews. Then Umar (later the third caliph) suggested having one person call others to prayer. Muhammad agreed and called his ex-slave, Bilal, as the first muezzin, to recite the call to prayer.

The muezzin is the person appointed at the mosque to lead and recite the adhan. The recitation of the adhan is an art form. The muezzin is chosen for his ability to recite the adhan beautifully, melodiously and loudly. When reciting the adhan, the muezzin faces the direction of Mecca.  

Each of the five prayers must be said during the appropriate interval of the day. The intervals are determined by the position of the sun in the sky, so the beginning and end of each interval varies, depending on the geographic location of the individual and by certain astronomical measures. The first interval, fajr, begins at dawn (when the morning light appears across the full width of the sky) and ends at sunrise. The second interval, dhuhr, begins at midday (after the sun passes its zenith) and ends at mid-afternoon (when the shadow of an object is the same length as the object itself). The third interval, asr, begins at mid-afternoon and ends at sunset. The fourth interval, maghrib, begins at sunset and ends at early evening (when the red light has left the sky in the west). The fifth interval, isha, begins at early evening and ends at daybreak, although the preferred time is before midnight. The adhan starts at the beginning of each interval.
The intervals for the call to prayer are listed on this electronic board in the Abu Darwish Mosque in Amman, Jordan. 
This is an electronic board at the Mehmet Pasha Mosque in Prizren, Kosovo.
Ritual Purity:

Before a Muslim can pray, he or she must be ritually pure. If one has a major impurity, because of menstruation, childbirth, sexual intercourse or emission, the impurity is removed by ritual bathing. If one has a minor impurity, because of bleeding, vomiting, sleeping or going to the bathroom, the impurity is removed by ritual ablution, that is by washing the face, hands up to the elbows, lightly rubbing the head and washing the feet up to the ankles. The water used must be pure, free of all contamination. Clothing must be clean and shoes are removed before the prayer because of their tendency to retain impurities.
This water outside the Sinan Pasha Mosque in Prizren, Kosovo is used for ritual ablution. 
How Muslims Pray:

Muslims are encouraged to go to the mosque for prayers, but mosque attendance is only mandatory for the Friday noon prayer. Most of the time Muslims can pray wherever they are. 

While standing, they recite the first chapter of the Koran in Arabic:
In the name of God, the Merciful and Compassionate. Praise belongs to God, the Lord of all Being, the all-Merciful, the all-Compassionate, the master of the day of judgment. You alone we worship, you alone we ask for help. Guide us in the straight path, the path of those whom you have favored, those with whom you are not angry, who have not gone astray.
After reciting the first chapter, any other passage from the Koran may be recited. 
These men are bowing in prayer outside a mosque in Jemaa el-Fna in Marrakech, Morocco. It is during the Friday noon call to prayer and I assume there was not enough room in the mosque to fit them all.
Then they bow and say, "Glory be to my Lord, the Almighty." 

Then they prostrate and place their foreheads on the ground. This expresses complete submission and humility to God. They recite, "Glory be to my Lord, the most high." They might also ask God for forgiveness, mercy or blessings. Then they sit for a few seconds and prostrate one more time before standing up again. Depending on the time of prayer, this can be repeated multiple times (there are anywhere from two to four prostrations).  
Men prostrating in prayer in Marrakech.
At the end, and in the middle of some prayers, they sit on their legs, hands on their knees, and recite the following:
All service is for Allah and all acts of worship and good deeds are for him. Peace and mercy and blessings of Allah be upon you O prophet. Peace be upon us and all of Allah's righteous slaves. I bear witness that none has the right to be worshiped except Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is his slave and messenger. O Allah, exalt Muhammad and the followers of Muhammad, just as you exalted Abraham and the followers of Abraham. Verily you are full of praise and majesty. O Allah, send blessings on Muhammad and the family of Muhammad, just as you sent blessings on Abraham and upon the followers of Abraham. Verily, you are full of praise and majesty.
At the end, they turn their face to the right and the left, sending God's peace on those surrounding them, as follows: "Peace be upon all of you and the mercy and blessings of God" (repeated twice). This ends the obligatory prayer.

As indicated earlier, on Friday the noon [dhuhr] prayer is a congregational prayer and should be recited at the mosque designated for Friday prayer. Friday was not traditionally a day of rest in Muslim countries, like Saturday or Sunday is for Jews or Christians, but in many Muslim countries it now serves the same purpose. Friday noon prayer is usually just for men. Women, who can attend, either stand at the back, behind a curtain, or in a separate side room. The imam faces the mihrab and the congregation lines up in straight rows behind him, side by side. The imam then gives a sermon from the minbar (pulpit), beginning with a verse from the Koran, and finished by an exhortation.
This woman is in the womens' section of Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque in Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina.
This mihrab is found in Mustafa Pasha Mosque in Skopje, Macedonia.
This minbar (pulpit) is found in Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque in Sarajevo.
The first time we heard the call to prayer we were in a small hotel in Istanbul, Turkey, just down the street from the Blue Mosque. A wailing, surreal voice shattered the quiet outside our room window from a loudspeaker on a cliff across the street. Judy captured part of it on video.

The next video was taken by Judy in Luxor, Egypt. It was a call to prayer while we were out on a carriage ride.
This final video was my first, taken while we were on the roof of a madrasa in Meknes, Morocco. The adhan was being recited from three mosques. I turned the camera sideways twice (beginners mistake), so gird up with some motion sickness pills. It is nice because it gives the sense of hearing multiple adhans at once.  


  1. I think the idea of having a person call others to prayer, rather than a bell or ram's horn, is actually quite a beautiful idea. Nice compilation of a few of our experiences with the call to prayer. For me, nothing will ever top our first experience in Turkey.

    1. Yeah, that first time was a real shock, "we're not in Kansas anymore" experience. It was almost a little scary at first. The unknown can be scary and intimidating.

  2. I really came to like the call to prayer in our Israel trip. Thanks for the great explanation!

  3. great article :) please can I use one of your images on my amateur blog if I attribute it to you and link back to your blog?