The Moroccan Adhan: A Shouting Contest?

The Adhan began when the Muslim community in Makkah grew too large to easily spread the voice that it was time for prayer. Prayer is very important in Islam, in fact one of the five pillars of Islam is the five daily prayers – The Salat. The Prophet thought that Islam needed a way to communicate to its followers that the time for prayer had come just like the Christians do with the bells and the Jews with the Shofar. One day, a companion of the Prophet shared a dream he had in which a man taught him the words of the Adhan and to use those words to call the Muslims to prayer. The Prophet liked the idea of calling the people by voice and commanded Bilal, a slave with a beautiful voice, to be freed from his chains and call the Muslims to prayer everyday. The calls depend on the position of the sun. This means that everyday they are at a slightly different time. Every morning you will hear the same call, which differs from the one given at noon.

salat-times
Time for September Salat. As you can see, the time moves back about a minute a day. Fajr is the early morning call and Isha is the last call at night.

The Adhan, the act of calling for prayer, is a centerpiece of Islam. Although nowadays it’s not really necessary because everyone can just keep track of the time with an app like “Prayer times: Qibla & Azan” or “Muslim Pro,” it is a cherished tradition. As I write this post it is 7:52pm, and I can hear a beautiful 5th call for prayer from La Tour Hassan.

hassan-tower31

 

La Tour Hassan (Hassan Tower) The massive praying room, of which only the pillars remain, collapsed before its completion during an earthquake.

Since I arrived in Morocco, 4 weeks ago, only a couple of Adhan have really impressed me. I understand and respect the tradition, but the way it is carried out in Morocco seems to take away from a tradition with a lot of potential to be absolutely beautiful.

Here in Morocco, each Mosque has a Muezzin who performs his own call to prayer. Given that humans are not perfect the calls from one Mosque are never aligned with those of the surrounding mosques. Combine this with the presence of several mosques within a kilometer radius and you find yourself in the middle of a central market every time the call is given. You hear one Muezzin shouting from behind you, the voice of another chanting a different verse from the left and yet another from the right.

I think that there might be some selfishness in the calls and the way they are performed. It seems to me that the Muezzins are trying to outdo each other’s calls as if they were trying to get more people to come to their Mosques. If such were the case then the whole idea that Allah is all that matters is lost because it should not matter where people pray as long as they pray. Competition between mosques seems wrong since they are all serving the same purpose. None should be better or worse than the other.

Regardless, I wish that the Moroccan Adhan was given like it is in Jordan or other Middle Eastern countries where one Muezzin is appointed and his voice is broadcasted around the country and played over speakers in Mosques, schools and restaurants. I think that feeling where the voice is present all around you must be the ideal to strive for. Not only because synchronization sounds more beautiful, but because the voice of this one Muezzin is beautiful as he was chosen for that reason. In Morocco whether the Muezzin’s voice is beautiful or not does not matter. I believe that it should because the Prophet chose Bilal just because of his beautiful voice and that tradition should be kept.

Some people will argue that all that matters are the words and not the voice of the Muezzin. I respect their opinion, but I politely disagree. Both are just as important. The unison of the voices coming from the speakers would have a much stronger effect of Awe than several Muezzin shouting over one another.

Finally, I talked to a couple of Moroccans, among them Souad from Dar Si Hmad and she confirmed my suspicions: The voice of the Muezzin is not nice. She described him as bored, trying to get the job done quickly and uninterested in his duty to call the Muslim to prayer. Another Muslim whom I asked described the voices on the Muezzin as resembling the voice of a general in the army who is commanding rather than inviting. The voice was coarse he said, rough and intimidating. 

Both of these opinions came from Sidi Ifni, where I found the voice of the Muezzin to sound the worst. The speakers might have been to blame, partially. In the end as the trip came to an end, I must say that I was glad that we were living next to the Tower Hassan because the Muezzin there has a much nice voice and I enjoyed hearing him throughout the day. Right at 8am he made the last call I heard in Morocco as I stepped out of the apartment to head down to the Rabat Train Station. It was memorable, what a way to end the trip.

I wish I could add audio to this blog, but it seems to be a premium option.

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