I had never heard of the Adhan until yesterday, when I had to go online to research whether I had accidentally arrived in Turkey during a religious holiday or something.
On Saturday evening, I jumped slightly as I walked past a local mosque and was suddenly deafened by a loud wailing noise proceeding from crackling loudspeakers at the top of its tall, narrow towers (“minarets”) for the second time in the few hours since I’d arrived in the country. I looked around interestedly to see if people were bowing their heads or rushing towards the mosque or something, but no one other than me appeared to even notice it. Life was just going on as normal.
As indeed was the case in the wee small hours of the morning, when I was jolted from a cosy sleep by the same wailing, which, I have since learned, is actually singing. I sat bolt upright, thinking the world was at war until I slowly remembered where I was and managed to get my heart rate back to normal.
The Adhan (“ezan” in Turkish) is the Islamic call to prayer, and it happens every day. Five times per day. I’ve heard it from a number of mosques in a couple of different areas now, and have discovered that it’s not some standard recording being blasted out for all to hear, but rather a different individual person performing the same call, live, from every single mosque in the country, at the same time. That is pretty cool! When you’re in an area within hearing distance of two or three mosques, you can hear the chants floating through the air and getting mixed up as they mingle with each other in an almost eerie yet beautiful chorus of echoes.
The message is the same in each mosque, and is intended to keep people aware of their spirituality, and prompt them to remember God throughout the day. It sums up the Islamic statement of faith, which is “There is no deity but God, and Muhammad is the messenger of God.” The same God, incidentally, as the one worshipped by Christians, with both religions having very similar ideologies of peace, love, worship, and thankfulness – which makes the typical Christian view of Islam as an “evil” religion seem all the more absurd.
I happened to be strolling past a mosque with a local person as one of the calls to prayer went out. We had to raise our voices to continue our conversation, but I asked him about it, and he told me that he was a Muslim who prayed “sometimes”, but that he was not especially devout. Could a Muslim respond to the prayer call alone at home, in private prayer?, I wanted to know, and he nodded. Of course! But it’s more holy, and more worshipful, to pray together at a mosque. He pointed out the people who were walking towards the mosque as the ezan echoed out. I noticed them stooping or sitting down at the outer walls, and squinted through the dusk to observe that they were washing their feet in fountains and water flowing from taps in the walls before the wailing died away and they entered the mosque to pray.
I’ve described it as “wailing”, but really it seems to vary greatly from one mosque to another, depending on the singing skills of the person they’ve got performing the call (the “müezzin”). Most sound rather pleasant, and one that I heard was actually quite beautiful.
It must really suck to live next door to a mosque with a tone deaf müezzin though – particularly since there are 5 calls per day, at dawn, mid-day, mid-afternoon, sunset and night. Quite an unusual factor to be taking into consideration as I investigate flats for rent in the city!