Modern Muslim prayer: mosques' minarets fall silent

Minarets will no longer broadcast daily prayer in Cairo as muezzins are replaced by radios.

Minarets in Cairo will no longer sound for the daily adhan.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

For a thousand years, the call to prayer has sounded out five times a day in this ancient city by muezzins. Each muezzin imparts his own style to the call to prayer, or adhan, and in this city of chaos, where time is a fluid thing, each goes by his own watch as well. At prayer time, the cries emanate from minaret after minaret like echoes playing tag among the sounds of densely populated Cairo.

But Cairo will soon lose some of its chaos. “The war of the microphones,” as the minister of religious endowments has put it, will end at the start of the holy month of Ramadan. The government has ordered all mosques to broadcast through their speakers a single call to prayer performed by one muezzin and transmitted to Cairo’s more than 4,000 mosques by radio. The call will begin in every mosque at the same moment, changing what has been a part of daily life for centuries.

Some Cairenes appreciate the effort to tame the noise in this extremely loud city. But others say Cairo will lose some of its character. “The adhan is a beautiful sound,” says Noha, who sells scarves in the Sayeda Zeinab neighborhood. “If they want to eliminate noise, they should go after the cars honking their horns.”

Many imams, who draw their salaries from the government, were reluctant to criticize the ruling. But some, like Mahmoud, imam of a downtown mosque, says he will miss chanting the adhan, a spiritual act Muslims believe brings blessings from God. “This is what I have always done,” he says sadly. “The government is taking away from us something that is a very special and important responsibility for us.”

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