Baby's First Call to Prayer
or: "You say, 'Günaydin.' I say, 'Not so much.'"
I spent the first six months of 2011 living in Eskisehir, Turkey. Two years ago today, on January 20, 2011, I had my first experience with the deafening, pre-dawn azan of the mosque next door. My use of the word “deafening” is not hyperbolic. It’s my policy that the only things worth telling are those which require no exaggeration. But it’s not enough for me to tell you that this was awful sounding and loud. I’d like you to hear it for yourself. But first, a little background.
I can’t recall how much I knew about Islam before moving to Turkey to teach English. I knew about the pillars of Islam and facing Mecca and all of that, but I don’t think I knew about azan. Azan/adhan is the word for the Islamic call to prayer which occurs five times throughout the day. It alerts people that it is time to pray.
Wikipedia also says: “The main purpose behind the multiple loud pronouncements of adhan in every mosque is to make available to everyone an easily intelligible summary of Islamic belief. It is intended to bring to the mind of every believer and non-believer the substance of Islamic beliefs, or its spiritual ideology.”
In the olden days, it was sung from the top of a minaret but since the advent of modern sound systems it is typically broadcast through speakers. The mosque next door – Yalaman Camii – used something which reminded me of a high school football stadium. Not exactly the best quality sound. And not exactly the best singers either.
While in Turkey, I often met other foreigners in the midst of a delirious honeymoon phase with the country and culture. Many of whom found the call to prayer moving and beautiful. I couldn’t exactly agree with them. For the most part, I bit my tongue and kept my feelings to myself but when prompted it was impossible to be anything other than honest.
Besides the politics and matters of actual importance, azan was a big one for me. This wasn’t my opinion due to its relation to Islam. It’s not exactly my cup of çay but religion in general isn’t my cup of (Manischewitz) wine. That said, the peaceful practice of religion by those around me is cool with me as long folks don’t act like jerks. I just couldn’t stand it because… you’ll hear why in a minute.
I experienced something similar while in Peru which I’d prefer to cite because it is a secular topic. I was on an overnight, guided trip of Colca Canyon and we were listening to some pan flute jams in the van. Someone else in the group was really into it. Here is the gist of our conversation:
DUDE: [Enthusiastically] “You’re so lucky! You’ve been in Peru for a few weeks and you get to listen to this music all of the time. Don’t you just find it so soothing?”
ME: [Flatly] “Um… actually… I’d be pretty happy if I could go the rest of my life without ever having to hear the pan flute again.”
I didn’t want to be a Debbie Downer but I couldn’t pretend to feel the same way. I am lucky because Peru is awesome but the pan pipe soundtrack got old. Turkey is also super duper awesome but it has its flaws. Azan came up in these conversations more than I’d care to admit.
I’d hate to give you the impression that I think azan is devoid of beauty. It’s an art form and simply put, not all muezzin (singers) are created equal. I lived and worked a little too close to enjoy it. Anything less than a half mile radius is too close. From time to time, I’d party all night at a friend’s place which was a ten-minute walk from the closest mosque. On those nights/mornings, the first azan of the day was a beautiful call to sobriety, encouraging me to get some sleep.
For the most part, I simply found my neighborhood azan astonishingly loud. And unbelievably discordant. Worst of all, the guys with the other “shifts” were better singers. So it wasn’t simply the time of day and the poor quality of the sound system making it torturous.
After about a month and a half of living there, I decided to leave my recorder on all night because I wanted to document it and listen to it objectively. Not every day, five times a day. Not at 4:40 in the morning. It’s been two years since my first experience. Listening to it again I feel as strongly as the day we first met.
For the full effect, I challenge you to listen to the entire thing on full volume. (Wait for the beeps.) And I’d be happy to transfer the file to you if you’d like it for an alarm. [Pay attention and you'll notice the other mosques in town as well as an echo.]
Please note: Although I have hated azan and the pan flute in the past, they both make me nostalgic and happy now. Allahu akbar!
[SEE ALSO: South Park S12E10 Pandemic for my pan flute redemption.]