Ever heard the adhān (أَذَان) before? The Islamic call to prayer that is broadcasted over loudspeakers from mosques just before prayer time. By that point, most of the devout are already in their mosques, ready for prayer.
I first heard it over the airport PA systems. Grainy, shrill, and wailing, it was disconcerting to one who has never heard it before and wasn’t expecting it.
As we sat at Al Azhar Park in Cairo, with 360 panoramic view of the city skyline at sunset, hearing the adhan brought on a completely different reaction. It sounded like the first call started from the Citadel and had a cascade effect as the neighboring mosques sounded off their calls. I could literally follow the call start from one side of the city to the other.
Whether the meuzzins are actually calling it out live or it’s a recording, I don’t know. Probably a combination of both. The chant reverberated off the narrow street alleys and up into the sky. I was struck, then, staring at the blazing sunset how beautiful and melodious the call was. The off-timed calls merely made it sound like a chorus.
To hear the chant sung and realize it is pretty close to its original form from 1400 years ago is awe-inspiring. And goose bump raising. It is, quite simply, beautiful.
Ashhadu anna la ilah ill’-Allah2
Ashhadu anna la ilah ill’-Allah
Ashhadu anna Muhammadan rasul Allah3
Ashhadu anna Muhammadan rasul Allah
Hayyah ála ‘l-salah4
Hayyah ála ‘l-salah
La ilah illÁllah6
1(Allah is the most great)
2(I testify there is no god besides Allah)
3 (I testify Mohammed is the apostle of Allah)
4(Come to prayer)
5(Come to salvation)
6(There is no god besides Allah)
Author’s postscript: I belatedly source the translation to the Footprint guidebook to Egypt. Thank you, Footprint, for providing a wonderful source of information for what ended up being a phenomenal vacation.