Monday, February 19, 2007

The call to prayer

The Vespers bells tolled on Friday evening calling faithful Catholics to prayer, I was half a mile away picking up Hawaiian food when I heard the bells. Even inside the restaurant I could hear the beautiful notes from the belfry at Saint Pius V. The bells have a wonderful tone. The notes carry for miles. On a clear night, I can even hear them from my home a couple of miles away. The sound brings to mind dark sanctuaries filled with incense and chanting.

Deus, in adiutorium meum intende. Domine, ad adiuvandum me festina. Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen. Alleluia.

The call to pray is a background part of my community. It enrich's the fabric and is as natural as the sounds of the birds chirping each morning. As an atheist, I am not offended by the sound, nor would I complain about the noise, it is more like music anyway. Would I feel the same if it were a Muslim call to prayer? I would have to say, I don't know. I've never actually experienced it myself.

As Islam grows in America, cities are dealing with the traditional Muslim call to prayer. Controversies arise frequently, some make it into the press. The most common complaint is that the loudspeaker broadcast is a nuisance that disturbs the peace and quite of the neighborhood.

Listen to the call to prayer for yourself. In my opinion, the Muslim call to prayer is every bit as beautiful as the the sound of church bells. Beauty is not the issue though, the community must ask, is the broadcast too loud to bear? In most cases I've read about, it appears that volume is the issue. When residents hear it through the walls of their homes five times a day, the call becomes a nuisance.

I do not see the difference between the two. One call uses bells, the other call uses an amplified loudspeaker. Both must observe community and heath standards or loose the privilege of broadcasting. For my part, I have to ask - is this tradition even necessary any longer? We have ample means to remind ourselves of time based obligations. Alarm clocks, cell phones, and all manner of electronic gear can service the need. Why bother the neighbors?

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5 comments:

RG said...

I don't think sound nuisance is the only issue. Even if church bells *symobolize* something, the call to prayer is a direct commandment to all within earshot, if your local church was broadcasting:

God is most great. God is most great.
God is most great. God is most great.
I testify that there is no God except God.
I testify that there is no God except God.
I testify that Jesus is the son of God.
I testify that Jesus is the son of God.
Come to prayer! Come to prayer!
Come to success! Come to success!
God is most great. God is most great.
There is none worthy of worship except God.

(source: http://www.toursaudiarabia.com/prayer.html )

I suspect you would find it pretty intrusive. I grew up listening to the call to prayer every evening. I too think it is beautiful, even haunting. But I don't think freedom of religion or freedom of speech extend to broadcasting religious demands unbidden into my home.

Now I can see arguing to eliminate church bells as well, but I don't think you can argue they are equivalent.

aidan said...

Good point rg. There is indeed a haunting beauty to the Islamic call, but it's a beauty I find sinister. Behind the call lurks dogmatism and control - an implacable and non-negotiable vision that views itself as immutable. Number one, whether you credit it or not.

Mosque building and public praying has been used deliberately by radical western Muslims, to force their agenda to the limits of our democratic tolerances. Recently in the UK the British government decided to oppose a huge mosque complex that was going to be built next to the site of the upcoming Olympics. Absolutely right. They use the trappings of their religion as part of a power play, and it has to be strenuously resisted.

It's not enough to take philosophical issue with the God pushers. They have to be confronted politically or we risk losing rights and freedoms. I'm referring also to the Christian right.

Mojoey said...

rg - I was going to ask you what it was like the next time we talked. At this point, I need to experience the love before I make up my mind. However - I really don't see the need for the tradition. bells and calls predate technology. They are no longer needed.

As to a different symbolic intent - Islam is the aggressor religion at this time in History. Times change. If we survive the current Islam expansion, the next round of killer Buddhism will get us. It is best just to treat them all the same.

King Aardvark said...

I was in Jakarta a few years back and we had a call to prayer broadcast in the neighbourhood. Holy crap that's annoying early in the morning when you're trying to sleep. During the day it's not so bad and you can appreciate it a little more.

I really don't mind it because I know it's not directed at me. I do wish they would keep the noise down, though. I can accept a little volume, hell, I live next to a train, which is much worse.

aidan said...

I can relate King. My folks worked in Nigeria and when they took me out there after boarding school in the UK, I was the only white Christian kid in all black Muslim school in Kano. There were a few Ibo and Yoruba kids - but 80% were Hausa Muslims.

I used to ride my bike to and from school, and each day passed the huge mosque in the old city with its soaring minarets, gleaming white against the African sky. When the calls went out you could hear them in every part of the city.

As Joey said, there is a strange beauty to it. I can remember feeling moved by the tempo of the Islamic day. Men would stop their tasks and start the ablutions prior to prayer, washing feet and hands - then devotions on a simple mat facing in the direction of Mecca.

Those were the days before global jihad and there was a sweetness to the Islam then. It seemed to be asleep, steeped in its own mysteries and traditions.

I was treated with decency by my school mates. Never targeted for being white and Christian. They had fun with me - that was about it.

The militant Islam we see today has little in common with those African
memories.