Al-Ahram Weekly Online   29 July - 4 August 2010
Issue No. 1009
Egypt
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Azan in one voice

The unified call to prayer will be first activated in Greater Cairo during the holy month of Ramadan, Reem Leila reports

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Calling for prayer

For more than 13 decades, the call to prayer has begun five times a day via microphones attached to Egypt's mosques. Many of muezzins (the person who recites the azan or calls to prayer) have imperfect voices thus creating a citywide cacophony while reciting the azan. Although each of the five prayers has a certain time at which the call to prayer should start, the calls are not usually synchronised. All this will soon come to an end after Minister of Endowment Hamdi Zaqzouq's decision to unify the azan and end the general state of dissonance.

Zaqzouq declared few weeks ago that the call to prayer in Cairo's 4,500 mosques would be unified by the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, which will start on 11 August. Alexandria will be the first to apply the new system after Cairo, along with other governorates that will work with the new system soon after its success is proven. "We have finished testing the new system, which will put an end to the war of the microphones and the current chaos," Zaqzouq stated.

Once the unified call is introduced, the city is likely to have one person to recite the five daily calls to prayer, have it recorded, and then amplified simultaneously by all mosques. According to Salem Abdel-Galil, deputy to the minister of endowment for prayer affairs, the plan stemmed from people's growing complaints about the disharmony and noise created by loudspeakers in mosques. The standard call will now be transmitted from the Greater Cairo radio station, connecting to receivers in mosques at the same time. "The price of each [receiver] unit is LE170, with three years warranty," stated Abdel-Galil.

The call to prayer was instituted in the first years of Islam to call on Muslims to carry out their five daily prayers. The Prophet Mohamed commissioned an entrusted and freed black slave, Bilal, to recite the azan, for his strong and pleasant voice. Soon after it became a standard for a caller to be chosen to call the five daily prayers. Abdel-Galil, assures that "by unifying the call to prayer, the well-being of sick people, students and pupils, and those who need to concentrate on their studies, will be guaranteed." A group of professional muezzins have chosen the most suitable candidates for this mission to be distributed among different governorates, added Abdel-Galil.

Abdel-Galil pointed out that a highly qualified team of engineers has already installed a network linking different mosques in the same district to enable a single call to go out at the same time throughout the zone covered by the network. The new system has been tested in 17 mosques and all are working fine. "In a matter of a few weeks, the capital's mosques will implement the new system and all calls to prayer will be commenced at the same time since there is no difference in time zone," he said.

The project, whose cost is LE680,000, will only be applied to government-owned mosques in the Greater Cairo area. There are 70,000 official muezzins working at the Ministry of Endowments; of those who will not recite the call for prayer some will be deployed to other jobs within their mosques, others will be trained to be imams "which the ministry is short of," added Abdel-Galil.

A poll conducted by the Cabinet's Information and Decision Support Centre (IDSC) revealed that the majority of Cairo residents agree on applying the unified call to prayer instead of leaving the timing to thousands of individual mosques. Fifty-eight per cent of the 1,150 families polled by IDSC prefer the unified azan instead of the myriad competing voices. The remainder are opposed to the new system and believe it is against Islamic tradition and will decrease the azan 's spirituality.

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