I can still remember very clearly the first time I heard it. It was the 8th of February, 2004. We had landed in Jordan at about 2am, and it was after 4am before we had been paired off and settled into our rooms at the Ayola Hotel in Madaba. My roommate was Audrey, and our suite-mates were Katja and Laura, who would both become good friends over the following months. We had just crawled into our beds, under wool blankets and extra duvets from the closet against the surprisingly cold winter night.
I don’t know what was going through the other girls’ heads, but mine was certainly swimming. What had I done, leaving the comfort of the Western world to come to this land of terrorists? Of course, it was just the strain of 26 hours of travel and being in an unknown place where I didn’t know the language, and then a mini panic attack at the airport. Still, I wasn’t sure I could ever be happy in this place.
And then we heard it. There was a new mosque going up just around the corner from the Queen Ayola, and it started the call to prayer first. Immediately Audrey and I were at the window, with Katja and Laura not far behind, as mosque after mosque picked up the call across the city of Madaba. Here, then, was the flip side of our long-conditioned Orientalism: scary terrorists, yes, but also the romantic harmonies of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer.
“God is great. I affirm that there is no God but God, and Mohammad is the Messenger of God. It is better to pray than to sleep. Come to prayer. Come to prayer….”
I understood only bits of it then, but the melody of it, the beauty of it echoing across the Madaba skyline, has stayed with me. My experience of the call to prayer would change over time. It wasn’t long before I didn’t hear that pre-dawn call at all, or if I did, it was a sign that I’d had a very bad, sleepless night. The other four I’m more likely to notice, but they’re more a sign of the hour than of faith for me. In the village, time was told in this way:
“Come back after the afternoon call, and I’ll be ready to help you with your homework.”
“My mother says you should come over after the sunset call.”
“There’s the last call to prayer. I’d better be getting home!”
On weekends like this one, when I have the opportunity to sleep in, it’s often the noon prayer or the Friday khutba that wakes me at mid-day.
|From My Amman Home|
Recently, a new reaction has entered my repertoire. There’s a new mosque going up just behind my house, which makes the call to prayer much louder through my window than it ever was before. My newest reaction is frequently annoyance! But I suppose that sooner or later I’ll stop noticing it.