Adding Spice To Your Life: Introduction to the Athaan

May 16, 2009  |  Articles

call_to_prayer

Good Morning Folks,

Yesterday was an interesting day for me…. I took my wife and baby girl (she’s 16 months old) to the park.  There aren’t that many parks here… Not like Canada… My wife grew up in Vancouver so Cairo is practically a desert in comparison.

So the Park we went to is called Azhar park  (here is their website) We went there initially to have late lunch early dinner at the Lakeside Cafe Its an artificial lake…. actually more like an oversized pond compared to Lake Ontario. Anyway I was looking around and I saw a bunch of tourists who were sitting there kinda of taking it all in.

I’ve lived in Egypt for many years so other than Luxor and Aswan … I’ve pretty much seen most of the sites and cultural elements that are popular to tourists.

But something did strike me. I know alot more about those tourists culture than they can possibly know about mine… if they did they would be called orientalists… I’m a dual culture kid… I grew up knowing both… I am an arab but I can think using two mentalities.

And then as I was laying on the grass (as much as I wanted to run around with my daughter… I couldn’t due to a back related injury that I thought was due  to a 6 hour audio editing session that I had a few days back) I heard something that is a staple of my culture and thought… I think this would be an excellent introduction to my friends and readers of my blog to introduce them to my culture.

My friend Paul Strikwerda commented in his own blog after hearing my first podcast (you can find it here For Want of a nail the kingdom was lost.) saying that it would increase the richness of my presentation if I added street sounds of cairo as an initial audio tapestry to build me podcast on.

I answered that… I live next to one of the biggest malls in cairo… which makes the area I live in somewhat less traditional than the cairo he was thinking of… This is modern cairo … you won’t hear as many hawkers and peddlers… just the incessant honking of cars in the street. And nightlife that lasts until 2:30 am … and 4:30 am during some seaons.

But there is one piece of Audio Tapestry that you will hear no matter where you are in cairo: The Call to Prayer which we call Athaan (the th in it is pronounced like the th in Then)

For those who have been to the Middle East… you have probably heard this 5 times a day … everyday.

It marks the times of prayer for the muslim… to tell them that the time for that particular prayer is at hand.

The Five times of prayer are:

  • Fajr (Dawn)
  • Duhr (Noon)
  • Asr (Afternoon)
  • Maghrib (Sunset)
  • Ishaa’ (Night)

And each time you hear the call to prayer you will know that the congregational prayer of muslims is about to happen. That usually happens around 10 to 15 minutes after the beginning of the prayer time.

Why am I writing about this? Well we have taken a look around at other world cultures… it is only fitting that we look at the Voice related aspects of this Blogger’s (Taji’s) culture. As the image in the beginning of this post shows before the invention of speakers and voice amplification systems it was necessary for the caller of prayer (or Mu’athin) to climb all the way up to the highest point of the minaret and call. That person had to have several characteristics… the first of which a beautiful voice (as was stipulated by the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him) as well as the stamina to climb all the way up those minaret stairs. The reason for having minarets as part of Masajid (Mosques) is the practicle aspect of having someone go up there and call the people to prayer. Initially there was only 1 minaret but as the islamic culture grew and diversified the people experimented with different layouts which is why you will find that some mosques have 1 2 or sometimes upwards of 10 minarets. They don’t actually surve any practicle function these days .. it is simply aesthetic. But you will find that their are loud speakers (the ones that look like bull horns) on top of the minarets.

The Caller to prayer has to adhere to a strict time schedule so cannot be a forgetful person. And last the caller for prayer had to have a powerful voice. One that can be heard many city blocks away from the mosque. And he has to have the ability to do this 5 times a day without hurting his larynx. Since the invention of amplification systems there is no need for the powerful voice but it is always preferred that the person calling to prayer has a beautiful voice.

So without further ado I will try to introduce you to the Islamic Call to prayer … which is  a big part of my life. I will try to post Athaans from around the Globe so you can hear the diversity … and how the cultural melodies and linguistic inflections reflect on how the call is said. I will start with the one in Mecca… it is very distinct and you will notice how unique it is compared to the other presented recordings. It is important to note that this call to prayer has not changed in the 1400 years since it was introduced.

Mecca

Medina

Medina is the City of the Prophet Muhammed (Peace be upon him) and is somewhat similar to Mecca… but still slightly different

Egypt

as we move away from the arabian peninsula you will notice how the cultural differences affect the way the Call is performed…

Kuwait

I chose this country because at least some of you can point it out on the map. I was born in Kuwait City so I figured I should add it to the showcase:

Turkey

This is the first none arab country that is in this Athaan tour. You will notice that because Turks do not speak arabic their prononciation of some of the words tend more toward vowels:

Malaysia

Again a none Arab country. Notice how the melody and cadences change.  Of this whole list… Malaysia is the only country I have not visited.

And that concludes our trip around the globe … a brief study of the Islamic call to prayer… something that is a big part of my life… I hope this brief introduction has got your ears a little more familiar with this culturally iconic occurance.

I hope you enjoyed our little trip. To many this might have been a first… to me… It is part of who I am.

If you have any comments or questions… please feel free to either leave a comment or email me.

Taji


3 Comments


  1. What a wonderous beauty you have shown us all Taji.
    Thank you for sharing.
    I’m in awe.

  2. Great article bro. Since this is a voice emporium, I think you should post the Athan a la Taji!

  3. This is truly beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing dear friend. Peace be unto you & yours always!