Call to Prayer by Shelley Robinson

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Five Times a Day:  One of the things that moved me greatly when we were visiting Marrakech was the call to prayer known as the “Adhan” in Arabic.  The Muezzin (the religious official who calls people to prayer) announces the prayer five times a day from speakers in the top spires of the minarets through and around the city.  They start very early each day.  After doing a bit of research, we learned that the times for prayer were coordinated around the sunrises and sunsets set on an Islamic Saum-O-Salat Timetable indicating when the 1) morning; 2) noon; 3) afternoon; 4) evening; and 5) night prayers should occur:  http://www.islamicacademy.org/html/Times/Marrakech_MO.htm. For the modern age, these are even available on technology apps so that people are kept on time in their daily faith.

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The chanting was quite beautiful, and it always varied just a little bit.  Each call or chant was cast in a maqām (musical scale or modes) consisting of a collection of tones, characteristic motifs to which a singer consistently returns. What was exciting for me was to hear the echo of all of the various mosques sending out the same messages at the same time in this same haunting way.  Some singers had a beautiful vibrato and sang with great skill, and some were nasal and loud and perfunctory.  All styles of these call to prayer were intriguing to me, and I imagined that the different singers came from different schools of the same religion, or from different generations.  All of these prayers reverberated across the city, and reminded me that millions of people were making their way to either a mosque or a special room in their homes or businesses, or to find a shady corner in a park or corridor where they could roll out their rugs and pray.   It was a time to stop everything (although the street vendors never seemed to stop) and participate in their Islamic faith.

Other Countries:   My husband found the whole experience fairly surreal, and could not get over the strong devotion that people had to pray so often in this city.  I had experienced the Muslim culture for the first time when I had visited Egypt a few years ago.  It was a life changing experiences as I floated from town to town down the Nile from Luxor to Aswan while listening to all of the prayer that drifted between them.  It was a very emotional experience for me.  I felt connected to all of these people even though I had another faith.  How beautiful I found it to know that people would pray together on such a massive scale, and to share this experience down to the very minute so often in a day.  It must be a constant reminder to think of their relationship to God and each other.

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In Turkey, I stayed directly across from the Blue Mosque.  This mosque, also known as the Sultanahmet Mosque, has six minarets, unlike the four that are more traditional elsewhere.  Everyday, I was very aware of the ceremony of prayer as the men and women washed their hands and feet and made their way to different parts of this enormous mosque.  I remember entering this beautiful building with its ethereal blue tile and clean red rug, and feeling that I was a bit closer to their and my own Holy Spirit.  Unlike Turkey, in Morocco, they are very traditional, and do not let foreigners or people of other faith witness their services and so we were not able to see what happened behind closed doors, nor enter into Mosques even when they were not in session.

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In Italy, when I was staying up in the mountains of the Cinque Terra, I heard the bells of the churches ringing several times a day through the valley below me.  I instantly made a connection between the Muslim and Catholic faiths.  The Roman Catholic churches appear to ring to their people as a reminder to pray, or to come to mass (or to celebrate); the Islamic faith prefers to call out to its people through musical spiritual words.  Both religious calls to prayer, either through the bells or chanting, are very beautiful.

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The Words:   Although I find the Islamic music of the prayer extremely beautiful (two examples:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0_vnon5owE and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AX3U-BGDedc); the words of the prayer are of particular importance to those who pray:

Allahu Akbar
God is Great
(said four times)

Ashhadu an la ilaha illa Allah
I bear witness that there is no god except the One God.
(said two times)

Ashadu anna Muhammadan Rasool Allah
I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
(said two times)

Hayya ‘ala-s-Salah
Hurry to the prayer (Rise up for prayer)
(said two times)

Hayya ‘ala-l-Falah
Hurry to success (Rise up for Salvation)
(said two times)

Allahu Akbar
God is Great
[said two times]

La ilaha illa Allah
There is no god except the One God

For the pre-dawn (fajr) prayer, the following phrase is inserted after the fifth part above, towards the end:

As-salatu Khayrun Minan-nawm
Prayer is better than sleep
(said two times)

A Time to Stop:   I wish that our busy society had more reason to stop everything and everyone and say anything from “let’s pray”, to “let’s think”, or “let’s meditate”, or “let’s breathe together”–anything other than just our most common use of our collective time… “let’s work.”

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