Five times a day Muslims are called to prayer, or salaat. And in many parts of the Muslim world that still means hearkening to the sound of the azaan, the call to prayer, which is sung, whether on a recording or live, by a muezzin. Perhaps one of the ways to think of the azaan is as the song Muslims listen to as they turn their attention from this world to another.
From Song of Toledo:
“Allahu akbar, allahu akbar . . . “
From his perch atop the minaret at the corner of the mosque, the muezzin’s opening call cut through the morning quiet and echoed across the city rooftops as Faisal knelt by the fountain closest to the mosque’s doorway. He glanced briefly at the first few men entering the courtyard before beginning his ablutions by washing both his hands, first wiping his right hand with his left under the fountain’s steady flow and then reversing them. As he washed, he tried to focus his mind on the muezzin’s acclamation that “God is most great”
Four times at the beginning of the azaan, the call to prayer, the muezzin proclaimed the greatness of Allâh. The first two came in quick succession, crackling sharply across the surrounding rooftops as if to jolt the faithful out of sleep or away from their menial tasks and toward life’s ultimate source and meaning. Then there was a pause, a long moment’s breath during which the streets rapidly filled with men streaming toward the mosque as if following some mass, migratory impulse. Following the pause the muezzin proclaimed twice more the greatness of Allâh, only these were anything but the short, sharp bursts of the opening. Rather, the muezzin’s voice swelled and grew louder as he extended his call, his apparent goal being to carry the name of the Divine to the farthest corners of the earth.
By the time the muezzin had completed his fourth repetition of “Allahu akbar”, Faisal had washed both his hands, rinsed his mouth, and cleansed his nose, and he was washing his face in a backward wiping motion with his newly purified hands.
“I testify that there is no god but Allâh,” the muezzin continued, chanting this twice as Faisal finished washing his face and began washing his arms, again washing the right arm first, up to and including the elbow.
By now, the courtyard was full, and men were waiting patiently at the fountains for those in front of them to finish so that they might get inside before salaat began. With his hands still wet, Faisal wiped the hair of his head from front to back as the muezzin twice testified that “Muhammad is the messenger of Allâh.”
“Come to the prayer,” the muezzin continued as those who had arrived earliest began to proceed into the mosque.
There was still time, however, for the muezzin never hurried.
“Come to flourish,” he called twice after twice urging the faithful to come to prayer.
Between each phrase there was a pause, and it was during the pauses that Faisal endeavored to turn his heart and mind more fully to Allâh even as he completed his ablutions by wiping his ears and rinsing the dust from his feet.
“Come to the best work,” the muezzin urged as the boy stood and made his way slowly into the mosque.
It was cool and dark inside, and Faisal stood at the door as worshippers streamed past him and scattered themselves between the columns that lined the vast floor like a marble forest and were connected by red and white double arches. He was inside early enough that the space was still relatively empty, and while he never lingered long, he always enjoyed taking a moment to watch the floor become covered with line after line of his fellow Muslims.
Then, “Allâh is most great,” the muezzin repeated twice outside as Faisal picked up a loosely rolled prayer rug from a pile near the door and made his way slowly inside.
At a spot about halfway across the floor, he stopped and rolled out the rug. To his right, a young man, his beard full and black, was already standing at the end of a rug with his eyes closed, waiting for the muezzin to stop and the service to begin. As Faisal leaned over and straightened his rug, a boy close to his age appeared to his left and prepared his own rug, the tassles flipping outward at the end. Then, as if they had rehearsed, both stood and took a deep breath, and then, with the others who now stood in long lines to both sides of them, they closed their eyes and waited for the muezzin to finish.
“There is no god but Allâh,” the final call echoed outside, and after a moment, during which the echo faded to silence, the men in the mosque slowly knelt down together.
Listen to the call: