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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Muezzins


Being away from my kids sometimes makes me melancholy, and when I am
feeling melancholy, I torment myself by looking at the large world map
on my living room wall and imagine that I see myself standing on the desert coast of Yemen. I am looking westward across the Red Sea and Central Africa, across the Atlantic Ocean and the East Coast of America, and finally I see Kansas—my children and my green home. At some point in this vain imagining, I must tilt my eyes northward because here in Aden, I am at 13 degrees north latitude. That is why when many of you are digging out the wool sweaters, I am still sweating in the almost 90 degree heat…and sunbathing and swimming in the Indian Ocean. Somalia, Djibouti and Eritrea are just a few millimeters away on the map.

Each time I sit down to write, I think of the athan—the eerie call to
prayer that I hear five times a day here in Yemen. In Azerbaijan I often wrote about the call to prayer, azan as it is called there, and the other worldliness of the recorded voice echoing through the alleyways of Lenkoran. There were two mosques there; here, there are at least four mosques in my neighborhood alone—probably twenty or more in Aden. The muezzin here are real people and four loud speakers on the corners of the minarets magnify their call. Again I am in a city where the buildings are low, and the calls to prayer drift and collide and slowly rebound from the stone and concrete of the shops and houses. The athan sounds five times each day. On Fridays, the Sabbath day in Islam, the evening athan is followed by about a half hour of prayer, exhortation and praise—all over the loud speakers of the mosques. I irreverently call them dueling mosques.

The truth is I love the call to prayer. I love the sound of the throaty Al….lah—the word that begins the call and winds in and out of the prayers. I wish I could recreate the sounds of four muezzins calling the faithful. The locations are not synchronized. Each has its own muezzin and I suppose the prayers are varied. I don’t know. I just know that the words move slowly through the humid air and they bound from the rocky landscape. They rumble, and roll and blend. One fades, another takes prominence. Al……lah……..

“It is all Inshallah.” God willing—a familiar and comfortable rejoinder from my past but an expression seldom heard in our modern world. Not here. It is all Inshallah. I say to someone, “I will phone you tomorrow.” She says, “Inshallah.” I say, “See you next week.” And she says, “Inshallah.” I want to say, “What do you mean!? Do you know something I don’t know?! What’s going to happen??” Then I remember again, it is all just “Inshallah.” I was visiting my friend Lynne and telling her how much I love Yemen and she said, “I can imagine that you do because it is so openly spiritual.” And it is true, that is one of the reasons I love Yemen.

It is also true that Muslims and Christians are alike in that only a few are devout and regularly answer the call to prayer—at least here in Yemen. All are supposed to answer the call to prayer and to reach my 4 o’clock class, I have to tiptoe around the back of the group of students who pray in a small space in the school. Our school also has prayers rooms outside for both the men and the women.

7 Comments:

Blogger VisualMind said...

Many of my Non-Muslim friends feels the same as you do, they all like the sound of the prayer calls (Athan) and they feel it's like a call for serenity.

I want to clarify about the prayers they don't vary.. it's the same prayer but the timing may vary (few seconds).

Regarding "inshallah" it also means: Asking God to make it happen because everything is being done by God's willing.

Finally I thank you for what you blog; and I hope you enjoy your stay in Yemen if you're still there.

4:05 AM  
Blogger Henry Thompson said...

mmm you got it.
it is nice. but depends on the muezzin - some are awful, some are wonderful. best is unamplified pure and out of some village in the hills
you coming back to yemen?

10:25 AM  
Blogger janet adams said...

Hi Henry. Yes, I have learned a bit more since I wrote that...that the prayers are the same and only a second or so separates their beginnings. I have been in Saudi Arabia where the call to prayer reaches new heights.

1:26 PM  
Blogger Nafeesa said...

I love this post so much, would you mind if I pasted it into my blog and link it to yours?

2:36 PM  
Blogger janet adams said...

Hi, Nafeesa, Yes, feel free to link to my blog.

glad you enjoy it.

5:05 AM  
Blogger Sahm Darius Fatemi said...

Love your description of it, very evocative. Just to add, in Indonesia, there are plenty of muezzins that leave something to be desired in the skill department. Nothing like waking up to a very old man warbling his way through the azan, the tinny quality of the speakers not doing anything for his tone-deafness. However, you always have to admire their sincerity and piety.

7:42 PM  
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