Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

January 15, 2013

Forum: 'Call to Prayer' inspiring

The removal of the Muslim "Call to Prayer" segment from a larger piece of music recently performed during a community event held at a Traverse City church has resulted in a number of impassioned letters to the editor.

The community may profit from such an exchange of views, but only if letter writers first attempt to get the facts straight, make appropriate distinctions, and then speak with real respect for others' feelings and opinions.

My small contribution to that goal is this effort to throw some light on the possibly misunderstood "Call to Prayer," which I have heard at all hours in Cairo, Istanbul and Jerusalem. Of all the manifestations of Islam a westerner will encounter in the East, the most chilling and yet serenely beautiful is the call to prayer. The faithful are summoned five times a day by a muezzin, a prayer leader, chanting from the top of a tower called a minaret. The practice is universal in the Muslim world.

The chant of the muezzin is a lilting, passionate invitation to prayer, a haunting sound which may awaken you before dawn and signal the end of your day as night descends. The custom reminds Catholics of the Angelus prayer, the timing of which was, for centuries, signaled in villages across Europe by the tolling of church bells.

Today, in most places, the muezzin no longer has to climb up to the balcony of the minaret to issue the call to prayer. Four speakers, aimed in all directions, are mounted on the minaret. You may even be listening to a tape. If you are in your room you will probably open the window, look out over the city, and wonder at this mystical sound. After a recitation from the Qur'an the muezzin will intone the seven phrases of the invocation to prayer. In English it is as follows:

"God is great! God is great!

I attest that there is no god except God.

I attest that Mohammed is the chosen of God.

Arise! (Come) to pray, Arise! (Come) to salvation.

God is great! God is great!

There is no god but God."

The tones, melodies and length of the chant may vary. In his little book, The Song of the Muezzin, Sabino DeSandoli recalls hearing the daybreak call begun by one muezzin "using a grave, soft voice, and in a mode so delicate as if he wished to accompany the sleep of the faithful rather than to disturb them," followed after a few minutes of silence, by another "stupendous baritone voice," and, after a pause, by a third muezzin "singing in a sustained tenor voice."

Regardless of our particular faith, the "Call to Prayer" may be seen as a solemn invitation to turn our hearts and minds toward God, the source of all that is, who is acknowledged by Christians, Jews and Muslims alike.

About the author: Jim McCormick, a retired District Court judge, participates in the recently formed Traverse City Inter Faith Council. He discusses the Muslim community in Jerusalem and the "Call to Prayer" in his book "Jerusalem and the Holy Land: The First Ecumenical Pilgrim's Guide" (1997, 2000).

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of interest or expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by e-mailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.

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