(1) Azan – the Islamic prayer call
“The azan is very unique, a fascinating prayer call, verbally inviting people to worship God and be successful,” uttered a non-Muslim man to me during the break-time of a basic Islamic class I was conducting as a volunteer at Darul Arqam Singapore (Muslim Converts’ Association of Singapore.) The 2.5-hour session, called Knowing Islam Session (KIS), is held every Saturday and Sunday morning from 10.00 am at the Association’s premises. Conducted by various volunteers, some converts themselves, KIS is attended by Muslims and *non-Muslims who want to know Islam, those who have converted to Islam and those who are going to convert. The average attendance has been 15; anyone can walk in without any prior registration.
Indeed the azan, the Muslim prayer call, is unique among the prayer calls of various religions. To announce the prayer time, Muslims do not use a drum, bell, gong or any other instrument; instead the human voice is used. The words of the azan are in Arabic and the same words are used universally, whether in the USA, Spain, India, Japan or Singapore. It is a marvellous medium – employing vocal words – to proclaim tawhid (Oneness of God).
The azan is unique in that, first of all, it invites people to prayer and success. The call of the azan goes thus: “Hasten to prayer” (called out twice) and “Hasten to success” (called out twice) in the 6- or 8-liner azan.
MESSAGE OF THE AZAN
In essence, the azan’s message is proclaiming the Oneness of God with the name of Allah being called out 11 times. In Islam, God is Allah. The complete azan is:
1. Allahu Akbar (Allah is Great) [4 times]
2. Ash-hadu alla ilaha illallah (I bear witness that there is no god except Allah) [2 times]
3. Ash-hadu anna Muhammadar Rasulullah (I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah) [2 times]
4. Haiya ‘alas-solah (Hasten to prayer) [2 times]
5. Haiya ‘alal-falah (Hasten to success) [2 times]
(6 As-solatu khairum minan-naum (Prayer is better than sleep) [2 times])*
6/7. Allahu Akbar (Allah is Great) [2 times]
7/8. La ilaha illallah (There is none worthy of worship except Allah) [1 time]
*(Note: Line 6, namely, “Prayer is better than sleep”, is called out only for the first prayer of the day – the Suboh or Fajar (dawn) prayer.)
As the earth rotates, this unique call, made from mosques in all countries on the globe, spreads in a continuous flow-motion from east to west, beginning with the azan for the first prayer of the day, the Suboh (dawn prayer) at about 5:45 am. The Suboh azan is followed by the azan for the other four prayers – Zohor (noon prayer), Asar (later afternoon prayer), Maghrib (dusk-time prayer) and Isha (night-time prayer).
The azan comprises the Shahadah (Proclamation of the Islamic faith, namely, “I bear witness that there is no god except Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah”, which a convert to Islam needs to pronounce before two witnesses). It sums up the teachings of Islam – that there is no god or deity but God (Allah) and that Muhammad is God’s final Messenger; and that salvation is found through obedience to the Will of God, of which the prayer is a vital deed in expressing surrender to God.
In essence, the azan is an invitation to come “to success”, a noble invitation with a deep meaning harmonising the well-being of a person both Here (physical world) and in the Hereafter (spiritual world).
The entry point of each of the prayer changes slightly in progressive paces in line with several scientific factors, notably the pace of the sun as in our solar calendar, which people seldom notice. For instance, in November and December of a recent year, the entry point for the afternoon prayer progressively advanced from 1250 hours from the first week of November to 1310 hours in the final week of December and then retreated along the same path.
A Muslim begins his prayer any time after the azan (entry point) for each of the five prayers of the day and not before it. God says: “O you who believe! When the call is made for prayer… hasten to the remembrance of God.” (Qur’an, 62:9)
In Muslim countries, the azan, apart from it being heard from loudspeakers placed at the minarets of mosques, is also made over the radio and television. Copies of the prayer timetable are also available, separately on cards or printed on the calendar. So, if one does not hear the azan, one can refer to the timetable to check the time for one’s prayer. The azan can also be downloaded on the hand-phone.
The azan is particularly essential if one wants to perform one’s prayer in the mosque in congregation with the imam (prayer leader) because the congregational prayer begins just a few minutes after the azan. (However, a Muslim who reaches the mosque late can still perform his prayer by joining the congregation at any point during the prayer, and then finishing whichever part he has missed. If the congregational prayer is over when he arrives, he can still perform his prayers individually or in a small group with one of them leading the prayer. The members of such a group, two or more persons, may or may not know each other but that is not important as brotherhood is the norm of Islamic congregational prayers.)
The azan, in a way, is Islam’s universal anthem. Anywhere in the world, whether in Britain, Canada, China, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Morocco or Singapore, the azan is made in exactly the same words as used and taught by Prophet Muhammad. This uniformity gives Muslims of any race, colour or culture the sense of belonging, brotherhood and unity in their belief and worship of the One God.
The azan is highly regarded and respected by Muslims. When a Muslim hears the azan, he responds to it silently with a “reply”, phrase by phrase. If he enters the mosque when the azan is being called out, he keeps standing as a mark of respect for the azan until it ends.
The person who calls out the azan is the muezzin. In Islamic history, the first person who was given the honour of calling out the azan was not a rich and renowned Arab but a poor black African named Bilal. The slave of a rich pagan household, he had secretly embraced Islam. As his masters horribly tortured him for becoming a Muslim, Abu Bakar, a Companion of the Prophet, bought the tortured slave and set him free. He became one of the staunchest followers of Islam, and the Prophet picked him to be the first muezzin in Islam. Any Muslim with a clear and strong voice can be the muezzin. Even a young boy can call out the azan if he has been trained to do it.
The azan’s varied rendering of intonation has captivated and kept many spellbound during the call and brought fascination to others. You may listen to the azan from a number of Youtube videos. Here are a few:
(1) A British travel host was in tears when she heard the azan in Morocco: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ONR7YcoQJvk
(2) The azan, with its translation in English, called out in a mosque in Medina: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DCd0oxTM02M
(3) The most beautiful azan in a church: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIzYbltaxMk
(4) Beautiful Azan Voice in Church ROME (boy): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IuxWrGRNkbc
(5) A very beautiful azan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ft9ijjSFloQ
(6) Beautiful athan (azan) from a child, Ahmet: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpZNYLz6o6c
In olden times, the muezzin projected his voice while standing from a high level or from the minaret of the mosque. In modern times, the muezzin calls the azan over the public address system of the mosque. In Muslim countries, the azan is also broadcast and telecast like in Malaysia. In Singapore, it can be heard over the Malay radio section of MediaCorp.
[Prayer (Part 2) – Wudhu or the abluion will be presented in the next article.]
* ** * ** *
By: Shaik Kadir
*One of the participants of my presentation, a German, is converting to Islam on 1 November 2014 at the Muslim Converts’ Association of Singapore. He has graciously invited me for the conversion ceremony. Here is his email note to me:
“Dear Brother Shaik Kadir
…here are the details of my conversion appointment:
Saturday, 1st November at 9:30am.
I will be there with my witnesses by about 9:15 am. If you are free, I would be very happy and honoured if you can attend. But please do not worry, if you cannot make it.
Either way, I am sure and I would look forward to seeing you again soon at Darul Arqam or elsewhere.