Call to prayer (adhan)

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The adhan is the call to prayer, established in the early Medinan community, and performed prior to each prayer - live (acoustic, or amplified), and mediated (radio, TV). The first performer was the Prophet’s Ethiopian muezzin Bilal ibn Rabah, spiritual ascendent of certain Muslim orders (e.g. Gnawa) and dynasties (the Keita, rulers of Mali). Maqamat are used effectively here - the call can be performed in nearly any maqam.

  • Islam's link to Aksumite kingdom in Ethiopia (Habasha) - site of the first hijra; and birthplace of the freed slave Bilal ibn Rabah al-Habashi, Islam's first mu'adhdhin - as well as spiritual progenitor of Keita dynasty (rulers of Mali 12th - 17th centuries) and various sub-saharan subcultures of North Africa (e.g. Gnawa, Stambeli)
  • Adhan text comes from Hadith not Qur'an. Two sources: (1) Prophet's companion Umar proposed it; (2) Prophet's companion Abdullah bin Zaid received it in a dream
  • The vocal, text-centric form appears to have developed in explicit contrast to the calls of the other two monotheistic faiths: Christianity (using a bell) and Judaism (using a horn).
  • Origin of adhan (see 1:20:00), from Syrian director Moustapha Akkad's film, al-Risala, a biopic about the Prophet Muhammad (Akkad was famous in Hollywood for the Halloween series of horror films; the script of al-Risala was carefully checked by al-Azhar but eventually banned for depicting the Prophet's companions. Akkad was killed in 2005 in a terrorist attack in Amman.)
  • Map of adhan and geocultural performance styles (Click on the balloons to hear each call). Note that textual variation is quite limited (except briefly in Turkey the text has always been Arabic), but melodic variation is wide. The style of the adhan -- stylistic and textual -- may index musical ability, geo-cultural region, and theological doctrine.
    • Melody
    • Group
    • Local musical sound
  • Here is a related research paper, including another sound map.

The text varies primarily between communities of Sunna and Shi`a Muslims. Listeners respond quietly by repeating phrases, and reciting "la hawla walla quwwata illa bi Allah". The principal call is made outside the mosque, originally via the minaret (ma'dhana) and these days via loudspeakers. A quicker less melodic call without the double repeats and heard mainly inside the mosque is called iqama and takes place just before prayer begins.


The Sunni call

The text:

Allahu akbar Allahu akbar (2x)
Ashhadu an la ilaha illa Allah (2x)
Ashhadu anna Muhammad rasul Allah (2x)
Hayya ‘ala al-salah (2x)
Hayya ‘ala al-falah (2x)
al-salatu khayrun min al-nawm+ (2x)
Allahu akbar Allahu akbar
la ilaha illa Allah

The meaning:

God is greater (4x)
I testify that there is no deity but God (2x)
I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God (2x)
Come to prayer! (2x)
Come to salvation! (2x)
Prayer is better than sleep. (2x) +
God is greater (2x)
There is no deity but God.

+performed at dawn prayer only


The Shiite call

The Shiites add three additional lines:

  • after "Ashhadu anna Muhammad rasul Allah": Ashhadu an `Ali wali Allahu (I testify that Ali is close to God), Ashhadu an `Ali hujjat Allah (I testify that Ali is proof of God)
  • after "Hayya ‘ala al-falah": Hayy `ala khayr al-`amal (2x) (come to the best of works)

More Adhan recordings

a very beautiful Iranian Adhan performed by Moazenzadeh Ardebili who was from Azarbayejan (a Turkish-speaking province in northwest of Iran

The widely-imitated call to prayer of Mecca, performed by Shaykh Ali Ahmed Mulla, imitated here: [1]

The call to prayer in Medina, performed by Muhammad Hakiim

Turkish call

The call to prayer, with Islamic images, performed by Kuwaiti Shaykh Mashari Rashid

Examples in various maqamat