BBC ran a short video yesterday about the call to prayer in Egypt. I can’t figure out how to embed it, but the link is here. They report that the government plans to sync the call to prayer in every Cairo mosque to a radio broadcast.
They do this in Amman, Jordan, where I lived and studied for a semester. This means that throughout the whole city the call is more or less uniform, with the same start time, the same accent, etc.
In Cairo, by contrast, the call to prayer is as chaotic as everything else. Each mosque, from Al Azhar to the one room storefront down the block from my apartment, does the call to prayer on its own. Naturally, this leads to cacophony as each mosque tries to drown out the other in enthusiasm and volume. Some mosques have a muezzin with a beautiful voice and clear diction; the aforementioned mosque on my block has a muezzin who sounds like he has emphysema.
I know that it’s cliched and it’s probably Orientalist, but I love the call to prayer. It’s one of my favorite things about being in Arab countries. The sound is haunting and it’s beautiful. I often tune it out completely, but sometimes it grabs my attention and I stand at the window and–man, this is getting corny–feel a little spiritual. Incidentally, the call for the fajr, or dawn, prayer is a good indication that you’ve stayed up way too late.
I like the way the sound bounces off the buildings and, in certain parts of Cairo, builds toward a crescendo that resembles thunder as each mosque joins in, one by one. It’s pretty cool.
So I guess I’d vote against syncing the whole city’s calls to prayer up to someone’s iPod at the Ministry of Awqaf offices.
But I obviously don’t have a vote.