Friday, March 28, 2008

The Azaan is sooo 1999

The Muezzin bellows into the microphone calling the faithful to prayer; his voice transported across the galaxy by millions of large loud speakers placed on top of the minaret (or on top of the nearest multi-storey building, if located near by). I’m sitting at a friend’s house watching some TV when we hear the Azaan; out of respect we put the TV on mute. The Muezzin finishes the Azaan and peace is restored. But this is peace is a lie as another Muezzin at another mosque (not more than 200 yards away from the first one) begins the Azaan (I guess the first call to prayer is invalidated by the fact that the Muezzin belonged to a different sect). The sequence continues for a good while and we end up hearing 4 Azaan’s, one after the other. My friend has to bear through this lunacy every day; five times a day (thankfully I live in the middle of nowhere and even the Mullahs don't bother with that area.)

This isn’t the end of it either. On extremely religious days, the mosques carry all night God fests, transmitting Tilawat’s and Naat’s throughout these residential neighbourhoods. There is absolutely no need for this, anyone who wishes to a Naat or Tilawat can a) go to the mosque, b) turn on the TV , c) watch a DVD or d) listen to a CD. The entire exercise of night long Tilawat's and Naat's seems to me to be premised on the notion that it is essential to prove to the world how religious you are. And it pisses me off to no end; that, and the idea that you can persuade people to pray by shouting in their ears. It just ain’t gonna work!

The entire rationale for saying the Azaan no longer seems valid. The Azaan is a call to prayer; it is an exercise that reminds the faithful that it is time they devoted their energies to submitting themselves to Allah. It was an extremely important tool some 1400 years ago when telling the exact time was an art (for some odd reason wrist sun-dials never quite caught on). Things are a little different now. Wrist watches aren’t necessary an exclusive entity and a person can look at his watch and know when it is time to offer his prayers. Pure Magic!

Moreover there are now over 70 million cell phone users in Pakistan which means that almost half the country is capable of setting an alarm that tells them its time to pray; the other half can just ask those who have a phone. In fact, some cell phones even offer an Azaan option to better aid the faithful (And abject poverty and illiteracy has little affect on people’s ability to play with their phones; to think otherwise is a bit condescending.).

In light of these modern inventions; why the hell can’t we just scrap the Azaan? It’s not like Islam is anti-technology; in fact, it appears to freely embrace technology. If it’s ok for Mosques to sell DVDs and CDs, and if it’s ok for scholars to be ever-present on the half a dozen or so Islamic channels, and if it’s ok for a Muezzin to be using a loud speaker, doesn’t it just make sense to scrap this entire exercise?

28 comments:

Ahsan said...

aks, i suggest you brace yourself for some vitriol. i dont quite understand why you try to act so cool and non-conformist. you're really asking for it this time.

Anonymous said...

The azaan is not only a reminder to prayer it is also a call to come to the mosque. Islam is a very community centric religion and the idea of prayers in a mosque is supposed to achieve just that. That is why a personal azaan on your cell phone negates the community-centric vision of this idea. Not to mention that not everybody has cell phones (most people do, but not everybody).

I do agree with your second point about naats and things being blared over loud speakers.

I think you have missed the entire point of the azaan. It was not such a science telling the time 1400 years ago. If you ask anybody that prays, and lives in countries or areas where there is no azaan, they will tell you that you can quite easily figure out when its time for prayers. You might not get the exact time in minutes and seconds without the help of a guide or an azaan but you can come acceptably close in that you know when its time for what prayer. Hence the azaan is not just a public alarm clock it is also a part of the community building process.

I think its commendable that you are willing to take on established ideas and controversial topics (could even be life threatening ones depending on who you speak to) but I would advise you to learn the rationale, and the spirit behind the rituals, concepts, and ideologies of Islam before engaging in discussion about them.

Anonymous said...

p.s. I agree with the point about 15 azaans per prayer time being unnecessary. Unfortunately, our religious leaders have warped ideas about what makes religious. It's almost like they are trying to drown each other out so Allah can hear their azaan/naat/tilawat the best and hence make them the most deserving of reward.

Sadly, the worst thing you can do these days if you want to learn about Islam, is to follow its followers.

AKS said...

@ Ahsan

Thank you for summing up my intentions. You're bang on target. I've never really been able to shake off my wannabe high school hangover.

@ Anon

Look I understand what you're saying about prayers being a tool for social cohesion; and i respect that. As you can see I'm not asking for the closure of mosques, even when they're 200 yards away from each other.

I'm honestly trying to determine the rationale for the Azaan. The Jamaat for Asr prayers at the mosque nearest to my office is at 5:15. I know this, as does everyone in my office, and we don't even hear the Azaan. The people who want to go to the mosque are permitted to do so, and many do.

The point that I'm making is that the people who wish to go to the mosque, or those who wish to pray at home, would continue to do so, even in the absence of the Azaan. So I'm not sure if the rationale for the Azaan remains valid. This of course remains a personal point of view.

NB said...

I agree with anonymous above. Its not an alarm, its supposed to be about tradition and community.
I dont even think its primarily a religious issue.

That said, it is true that some mosques in karachi have forgotten that meaning, and for them it may just about being loud and asserting their local Masjid.

So rather than doing away with the Azan (baby with the bathwater), perhaps the question should be whether to eschew the use of the loudspeaker in favor of a more traditional approach wherein a Muezzen with a strong and sonorous voice actually utilizes the mosque minarets for their intended purpose. Right now they just plant a loudspeaker up there and the guy chills downstairs. Doing this would bring the Azaan in line with what its supposed to be about, as opposed to what its come to be about.

An additional proposal may be a standardized time for the start of the azaan but not a standardized length (so that theres room for individual style).

Combine both of the aforementioned, and you could have a more soulful, communal, traditional (and softer) azaan and avoid the situation whereby a series of monotone azaans are blasted across the same localities for a half hour across the city with each muezzen waiting for the other to finish just to have his own heard.

Anonymous said...

On a side note, you will not believe the number of people at my workplace (white, mostly catholic) that have been to the Middle East and loved listening to the Azaan (specially at Fajr) because it's so soothing/melodious to them. A few even bought Azaan/Quran recitation CD's for themselves.

Adeel

Anonymous said...

@nb

I think in this day and age it would be quite heard for a muezzin to make himself heard without using a loudspeaker. Having said that, if mosques were more of a community center rather than a place of worship (the mosque was intended as a place for prayer, a court, a venue for community gatherings, a wedding hall and so on) then we could have lesser mosques with higher capacities. Hence, people like aks would not be forced to listen to ten different azaans five times a day. To be honest though, its not just about aks. I am quite religious myself to the point where I'm actively trying to learn about Islam and the ten azaans can get a bit much for me too especially those by muezzins blessed with less than stellar vocal chords. Some of the ones around maghrib (an already depressing sort of time of the day for me) make me want to shoot myself in the head.

AKS said...

@ NB

I recognize the role of the mosque as a community center with a traditional foundation but its not fair to conflate that with the Azaan.

Furthermore, I don’t think its correct to state that it is not that much of a religious issue. The Azaan is very much a religious symbol that historically heralded the expansion of the Muslim empire. Conversely, the Azaan has also been used to promote ideologies. If a Muslim ruler took offense with a certain sect of Islam his first act would be to stop them from calling the Azaan.

In contemporary Pakistan, the Azaan is a symbol not of Muslim power and expansion but of sectarian power and expansion. The example of the 4 Azaans that I use in my post is a testament to that. In my friend’s neighborhood there had historically been one mosque and one Imambargah (Shia Mosque) but in recent years two mosques have opened shop. One is a converted house and really quite small but its significance lies in the fact that it lies 50 meters away from the Imambargah and blasts Azaan’s, Naats, etc in the direction of the god-less Shias. The second one is on the main road, and is a large shiny structure that has become notorious for its not so subtle support of Jehadis.

In Pakistan Mosques may very well build communities but they also create significant divides.

None of this though addresses the premise of my post; that the Azaan, in this modern world, is redundant? (A mosque, however, isn’t.)

Ahsan said...

i would just say that redundancy is hardly enough reason to do away with a concept or institution - there are many things we do not need but maintain for cultural reasons. this isn't an efficient allocation of resources, sure, but that's neither here nor there.

my two cents on the matter are basically similar to some of the points raised above:

1. you cannot do away with the Azaan. it is simply a marker of Pakistani culture. asking to do away with the azaan is like asking people to no longer spit paan or pee on the road or watch salman khan tear his shirt off and run in the rain in some nonsensical bollywood film. not going to happen.

2. the problem is not the Azaan per se but the fact that mosques literally line up for them, so for about half an hour it's all you hear, even though technically it should last no longer than a couple of minutes. if you were to standardize the time for them, and yes, forbid the use of loudspeakers and megaphones, i think we would achieve a happy medium.

3. i dispute the contention that islam is willing to adopt technology. i would say it adopts technology only when it does not interfere with sacred rituals (the sighting of the moon is another example here...it's always fun when people in the same country celebrate 3 different eids). so cell phones that tell you which way the kaaba is (i think my dad has one of these) or CDs and DVDs at mosques are acceptable, because they are not impinging on the ritualistic aspects of islam.

Anonymous said...

I think muezzins should have to go through some form of vocal ability test ... the only thing more annoying then 5 Azaans for one prayer time is that fact that the Aazans sounds like they are being sung by teenage boys at the height of puberty ... with a few extra toads in their throats. Muslims in Pakistan have imported so much of nonsense from Muslims in Saudia Arabia, maybe we could steal a couple of their Muezzins too huh?

AKS said...

@ Ahsan

I agree with what you're saying. I appreciate that you accept that it is on some levels a redundant exercise.

However, the blasting of the Azaan using loudspeakers is a much recent phenomenon; does it now for constitute part of our culture?

It makes so much sense to just standardise the time as you and NB point out; but then how will the sects inform the masses that they are different?

As for Islam embracing technology, I agree with you. I wasn't really being serious earlier; just highlighting the false logic employed by the mullahs - TV is bad but do buy our DVDs.

Anonymous said...

nb, just because you are a lawyer doesnt mean you have yo say aforementioned.

thats all.

PostMan said...

haha!

this reminds me of a mosque in my village. It is adjacent to our house. When it was time for Fajr.. it went like this.. Dead Silence.. full blast ALLAAAAH! I swear it could have resulted in cardiac arrest!

Now the problem.. yes its very irritating hearing the Azans. More so if its sermons and naats and the speaker is extended by wires to every nook and corner of your 'mohallah'.. horrible!

The solution.. The moazzan can give the azaan... whatever time, whatever length but WITHOUT the loud speakers..

And why not use cell phones as well? you can be intimated about the timing of namaz or 'called for' prayers as the idea is.. Trust me.. the ones who have to say their prayers.. will say their prayers in mosque. Those who wont - wont.

Ismat said...

not to trivialize this matter or anything, i think aks is simply envious of the muezzins' vocal abilities (those of them that have any). AKS, "don't jaalus!"

Asfandyar said...

I don't necessarily think that the azaan is outdated and redundant, but I do agree our mullahs have driven many of us to the point of violence with their notions of azaan.

Where I live, the fajr azaan(s) take about 40 odd minutes. There is NO need for a mosque every 300 yards, and there is no need for azaan's that display the delightful vibratos of the muezzins. And for some reason, when one azaan dies down, another one pipes up. They don't interfere with each others azaans, almost making it seem like a competition where they're trying to outdo each other.

I really hope someone manages to garner the gall to ban megaphones for these idiots, except maybe the really big mosques.

AKS said...

@ NB

Welcome to the aforesaid gang! Get ready for whereto, thereto and hereunder.

I've been thinking about the idea of the mosque as community centres. I think they work best in small cities in non-Muslim countries where all Muslims, regardless of their sects and naitonalities, gather at the mosque on Sunday (I'm thinking of suburban US).

In a city like Karachi, sadly, Islamic Community Centres end up alienating a lot of other Muslims. The Bohri and Ismaili communities present us with good examples of this phenomenon. The Jamaat Khaanas (JK) are a place for people from these communities to congregate and mingle but they arent open to the public. They are open to members of that sect. Moreover most of the neighbourhood is impliedly reserved for the members of this community. There are appartment buildings and town houses around the Ismaili KJ that in Clifton which can only be bought or rented by Ismailis. If you happen to be a non-Ismaili or non-Bohri living near a JK, you're not going to feel as part of that community.

How do you prevent this division?

However, considering that there is never going to be a homogenous community, is it really that important to prevent this division? (Having said that, Pakistan has seen it's share of sectarian violence and I am a little apprehensive about any thing that further entrenches sectarian identities.)

NB said...

Dude I didnt realise I had said aforementioned. Now that i think about it, I dont even know the normal word that your supposed to use instead of aforementioned. Thats how bad its gotten.

Aforementionedheretotheretohereunderwherein Zindabad!

@AKS

Dude dont get me wrong. I said that the azaan is about community, but I meant that as a generic sweeping statement about our undeniable umbrella identity as muslims, rather than specifically about mosques being Community centres.

Yours is a good point vaisay. All the mosques that ARE community centres often up alienating people (because theyre usually particular to one sect).

I dont think you can prevent that division. Like you said that would actually require homogenization of all the communities and sects, which would futher require a large group of flaming nutcase bigoted fundies to unleash their shit on everyone else (actually Pakistan has its fair share, and theyre working on it)

In a pluralistic Muslim society (Malaysia maybe?) you could embrace these differences and celebtrate our individual identities. That sounds nicer.

And even then, those differences in tradition and custom (and yes doctrine) are based on a common platform of values. I think standardizing a start time would be nice token gesture of those commonalities.

I reiterate, doing away with the loudspeakers would take away any Your-sect-sucks/Wake-the-Hell-Up/My-Azaan-brings-all-the-boys-to-the-yard-damnright-its-better-than-yours-I-could-teach-you-but-Id-have-to-charge abrasiveness of it all. It would make it quieter and more traditional, which should be the point.

And who cares if it isnt heard by everyone? The Azaan becomes redundant when this kind of strange rationale is used to justify it.

naqiya said...

@aks:

I don't know how much i agree with the connections you draw between sectarian problems and mosques as community centers for specific sects. With the two sects you named (and I'm Bohri, so I can talk more about that) don't really do the whole azan with loudspeaker thing anyway. Also, Bohri mosques at least are open to all, whether you choose to go or not go in is up to you. As for the neighbourhood being reserved for them, i dont know about Ismailies but thats definitely not how it works with Bohris, except in places where the mosques have been for a long time. This is mainly because the community came first, and the mosque was built later for them (take both the mosques in haideri and the really big one in saddar).

I also think its interesting that you picked those two sects in a larger conversation about sectarian divisions causing conflicts, since both those sects are notoriously apolitical and non-violent. Maybe it is the strong sense of community that these groups have which prevent them from engaging in sectarian conflicts? Or maybe its because both these groups welcome women as an active part of the mosque community?? (this can go many ways: desi men are horny so if there are attractive vaginas at the mosque why waste time trying to cause problems and fight, when you can instead do some patao-ing; women are in general far superior to men and their involvemnt with religious issues in a place of religious authority whips the men into passive little things (which we know all bohri men are!) etc. etc.)

Not to get all Bohri on you or anything

@nb:

Behurmatti!

I dont get what you are suggesting we should standardrize:
---->And even then, those differences in tradition and custom (and yes doctrine) are based on a common platform of values. I think standardizing a start time would be nice token gesture of those commonalities.
I mean I'm not hyper muslim or bohri, but I like speaking guju and eating in a thal and being able to be part of the mosque if/when i want to as a woman. How much of that would be lost in a "standardizing" of sectarian cultures? I feel like that idea in general can turn super problematic very quickly: everyone behaves/looks/eats/talks like us or you are wrong (like with the Ahmedis...and look how that turned out)

I'm probably misinterpreting what you said, so please explain....

NB said...

@nakko

haha just to standardize the time for starting the azaan dude. nothing else! Long live the thaal!

Ali said...

I don’t have any practical solutions the way NB did about ‘refining’ the azaan or whatever. I have other somewhat abstract reactions to this whole topic. By the way, doing away with the azaan is not a solution in my opinion. Sounds very draconian a measure, which is a reaction to ppl’s abuse/alteration of nice things, so the response should therefore tackle the causes of that abuse/alteration. The root issues are more important, i.e. social attitudes. And I’d probably agree with some imam or the other on the virtues of an azaan concept even in the modern day, beyond “community-based” reasons, because community ain’t shit.

My pressing concern about this debate, which i'm dying to find out about, is what are social attitudes/status of the azaan in other muslim countries? That would be a great comparator, wouldn’t it? I feel a lot of discussion about Islam by Pakistanis or in Pakistan (TV/news/print media etc) is very exclusive, in that Islam exists in Pakistan, no where else, without them(us) knowing they(we) imply this. For example, there is such great insight on the effect of Azaan to 'regular' Pakistani ears in the aforementionedwhenceforthwithinwhich comments. But what about Egyptian, Moroccan, Syrian, Irani, Lebanese, Indonesian, etc Muslims? How cool would it be to get there views on this? And by doing so, we might then have different views on such Islamic things like azaan or naats-tilawat-milads and other funky things which i only ever hear about when watching pakistani channels, visiting pakistan or talking to propa pakis ya get me.

This goes hand in hand with the sectarian issue; because if we look at all the sectarian differences within pakistan and ppl's attitudes to each other, imagine how the majority of pakistan's ppl will react to hearing how people pray or celebrate eid, for example, in Syria, which has been ruled by the minority Alawites for 30-40yrs. Within Karachi, one person from one neighbourhood will pick a fight with someone else and call them a kaafir because they prayed with their hands folded way too closely, they should’ve been held at this angle! My point is that the issue is not of religious authenticity, but affirmed recognition of islam’s and Islamic cultures’ plurality/diversity/non-homogeneity. I feel in pakistan there’s argument over such lame shit when it comes to religion that if we were to look at a Saudi practice on the same thing, they might dismiss it as something lame and unworthy of dispute as it is – and they even speak Arabic, thus probably know a little better than we do about islam/quran/etc! The issue then is not the religious ritual, but more a socio-cultural/traditional issue. Link that with the Ismailis in Karachi – they have every right to close their JK doors to non-ismailis, because look at how much they’ve been persecuted throughout history by ‘mainstream’ muslims. They’ve been persecuted to the point they completely shut themselves off to non-ismaili muslims (they’re way more open with non-muslims than with “sunnis” about their religious practices/beliefs). So it’s not an Ismaili-ism decree to stop interacting with non-ismailis and keep your neighbourhood free of non-ismailis, it’s a socio-cultural practice that has developed as a reaction to treatment meted out by mainstream muslims.

While on the topic of Ismailis, what’s interesting is that they’ve actually preserved a concept of “juma” way better than most “mainstream” muslim mosques. The juma prayers were indeed that community-based practice for cohesion and a place to do more than just pray in a ritual congregation then leave – they were meant to be like a ‘community center’ where ppl prayed, then chilled, discussed problems with the imaam or whatever, met others, etc etc. Nowadays juma (in Pakistan at least, again I’d like to see whats gwaning on in Tunisian mosques) is almost reduced to another redundant ritual, where you listen to boring sermon thinking “come on, tell me something new, tickle my spiritual juices”-it ain’t happening, and then pray, then peace out and bounce. What the Ismaili Jamat khanas do on Friday evenings is exactly what the juma was there for in the first place: people meet, socialise, eat, volunteer stalls, pray, congregate, learn, discuss, and ‘cohesionate’ (whats the verb for cohesion?). We can learn a thing or two from each other. But no, we are obviously hostile because the masses and the mullahs don’t accept this plurality concept in islam, maybe because those gates of ijtehad got closed in history or something.

Finally, about Muslims and technology: Mullahs and fundies LOVE them some high-technology! Just look at the international alqaeda cellular network. Wireless in caves? Yo that’s hot.

Ali said...

@naqiya:

hi, how are you? hope you good. yeah wanted to respond to your point about bohri women being allowed in mosques etc, keeping in line with my theme of socio-cultural practices rather than religious decree: bohri women in pakistan can go to bohri mosques (and that is mad cool, honestly) and so in other mosques like some 'mainstream' group or whatever, women can't go. and that sucks and what not, but as you know in the US/UK or such places, soo many types of mosques have women going, and possibly many don't allow women in such countries. Why not? again, it's not the religious sect. it's the stupid country and its people and the way they culturally develop/progress that form such traditions. We may disagree with these traditions, like not allowing women in mosques in pakistan, but then we should tackle issues of how/why that developed rather than come up with a solution like "let's do away with azan, even if it is mad redundant/pointless etc".

AKS said...

@ Naqiya

I used the Bohri example because I spent a great deal of my childhood in my grandparent's house in Hyderi, very near the Bohri mosque. They moved there in the 60's and fell in loe with Hyderi; in the 60's and the 70's the area was home to middle class people from various different sects. In the mid to late 70's the Bohri's gathered strength and soon became omni-present. My grandparent's didn't mind this, as they got along really well with the Bohris, so much so that there daughters (my mom and her sisters) had only Bohri friends and became fluent in Gujrati. They however remained good neighbours of the community and never a part of the community.

They were never disallowed from going to the Bohri mosque. In fact, they, and I, attended the occasion on more than one occasion. But they were well aware of the fact that the place wasn't for them. They just couldn't forego their own beliefs and practices; and so the Bohri mosque remained foreign for them. They were not Bohri's and couldn't reconcile with going to a Bohri mosque.

Around ten years ago my grandfather moved out of Hyderi after my grandmother's death as he was no longer capable of living alone. By that time, most of the non-Bohris in his neighbouhood had already shifted and the area (North Nazimabad Block C) became more or less the exclusive domain of Bohris.

I respect the sense of community that most Bohris identify with but that community is premised around the Bohri identity. If you're not Bohri, you're not going to want to be part of this community (even if there are no bars to your entry into the mosque).

naqiya said...

@aks:

I can see your perspective completely, but what you are saying now is in a different vein than what you were talking about before. With this too, the mosque came first and the community grew afterwards. In Karachi especially, where there is so much sectarian violence, i know a lot of bohris like living close together because it provides a sense of comfort/safety in numbers etc.

Also, as I said I can understand the feeling of isolation, but that has to do more with ethnic/ritual differences (and yes, arguably all sects are just ethnicly/ruitually different from others but still..) that caused a feeling of discomfort in your family rather than outright hostility. I'm not sure where I;m going with this, but as I said before, those differences are pretty important to those communities. I guess I still dont see what your problem is with communities like bohris or ismailies within your larger discussion of sectarian voilence since these groups are known for being overly apolitical anyway.

dont be ja-lus saksaq

also, i'm quite well. trying to graduate and find a job and all that good stuff. you?

God said...

I cant believe I'm reading all this. I am so looking forward to laying the smite down on you people when judgment day comes.. i mean, cometh.

Ali said...

blog, jawab-e-blog ^at the last comment

Anonymous said...

The time of the Holy Prophet and a few centuries after that were the most critical period for Islam. However, despite the absence of loudspeakers and radio, Islam managed not only to survive, but to expand. If there is innate strength in a concept, one does not need to increase the decibels to be heard. I think those who proclaim the Azaan through loudspeakers set at high volume have no faith in the strength of Islam and think that this noble faith will fade away if their stentorian tones were not heard five times a day. I recommend that they learn from the tradition of the Holy Prophet and have greater faith in their faith.

Al Sunna said...

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Musaffir said...

Jazzak Allah
Naat