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Minneapolis to Allow Muslim Call to Prayer

First, let me credit the accompanying image to Wikipedia Commons and the artist, Leon Benett, circa 1882, of a picture of a muadhan giving the call to prayer from a minaret.

Last week, in several newspapers and online journals, one news headline read "Muslim Call to Prayer Arrives in Minneapolis." It turns out that Minneapolis is the first large city in the U.S. to allow the Islamic call to prayer, or adhan, to be broadcast publicly. Adhan is an Arabic word meaning "to listen." Back in the days of Muhammad, there was one man who would climb up high in a minaret and call out five times a day for men to visit the mosque for prayers. Muslims had to listen for this call to prayer and thus the word "adhan" became synonymous with the action.

The Minneapolis City Council passed an ordinance beginning June 1 to allow this call to prayer to continue in their city. So far, only one mosque is doing so three times a day. But after consultations with members, neighborhood residents, and businesses, three more mosques plan to follow suit.

The city council approved a bill allowing the prayer to be played publicly by loudspeaker between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., so long as local noise ordinances are respected. The law follows the same hours allowed for Christian church bells.

The call to prayer was first legalized in the U.S. in 2004 in Hamtramck, Michigan, by a local government's decision, followed by Dearborn, the only U.S. city in the same state where Muslims are a majority. The city council of Paterson, New Jersey, where nearly 30,000 Muslims live, was the third city to pass a measure authorizing the call to prayer in March 2020. While Minneapolis is the fourth city to legalize the call to prayer, it is the first large city in the United States to do so.

Where did the Call to Prayer originate?

In the Old Testament, the Jews used a rams' horns (a shofar) to signal their people about religious events (Exodus 19:13). Christians started using bells in the 4th century to call people to worship. According to one legend, one of Muhammad's companions had a vision in his dream in which the call for prayers was revealed to him by God. Other traditions state that the idea came from Muhammad himself.

Three Prayers or Five?

There is no mention of the five daily prayers in the Qur'an. However, three prayers are mentioned. They are the dawn prayer, the noon prayer, and the evening prayer (30:17-18). Another chapter and verse in the Qur'an give a different combination: "keep up the prayer at both ends of the day and during parts of the night" (11:114). In total, there are around 67 verses in the Qur'an about the prayers and how they were to be conducted. Muhammad's sunna and hadith are responsible for their being five prayers. First, when Muhammad was at home, he would partake of the five prayers, but when he was on a journey, he would combine the noon and late afternoon prayers and again combine the sunset and evening prayers. As to the adhan, it is not mentioned in the Qur'an either. However, there are dozens of hadiths on this subject, and the Muslim world has a consensus that five prayers are obligatory.

In Muslim communities, people are reminded that it is time to pray by the call to prayer. As it is known to Muslims, the adhan is delivered from the highest point in the mosque, usually a minaret. The person who did the calling was called a muadhan. The muadhan is considered a servant of the mosque, selected for his excellent character and clear, loud voice. Tradition holds that Muhammad chose the first muadhan, a freed slave of Abyssinian heritage with a strong, loud voice. Traditionally, the calls were made from the mosque's minaret without amplification. Many modern mosques now use loudspeakers so that the faithful can hear the call more clearly. The more prominent mosques now use recordings, and it is even common to use the same recordings in several mosques in different locations.

The actual call to prayer is made in Arabic and is slightly melodic. The English translation would read as:

God is Great! God is Great! God is Great! God is Great! I bear witness that there is no god except the One God. I bear witness that there is no god except the One God. I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God. I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God. Hurry to the prayer. Hurry to the prayer. Hurry to salvation. Hurry to salvation. God is Great! God is Great! There is no god except the One God.

In Islamic tradition, Muslims are called to the five scheduled daily prayers. The prayer times themselves are dictated by the position of the sun:

  • Dawn: The first appearance of light on the eastern horizon.

  • Noon: When the sun begins to descend after reaching its highest point in the sky.

  • Late Afternoon: When the shadow of an object is the same length as the object itself, plus the shadow length at noon.

  • Sundown: Just after the sun goes down.

  • Night: When the sun's light is gone from the western sky. Many Muslims associate this time to pray with their bedtime, so it is often performed later in the evening.

During certain parts of the year, the time for the Dawn and Night calls to prayer would fall outside the 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. range established by the Minneapolis City Council. In ancient times, one merely looked at the sun to determine the various times of day for prayer. In modern days, printed daily prayer schedules pinpoint the beginning of each prayer time. You can download apps on your cellphone that provide this information.

To devout Muslims, missing prayers are considered a severe lapse of faith. There are circumstances where a prayer time may be skipped, but tradition dictates that missed prayers should be made up as soon as possible.

Now that U.S. mosques have found city noise ordinances that accommodate church bells can be made to also accommodate the call to prayer, local citizens will be hearing the adhan much more often. I was fortunate to find a video of the Muslim call to prayer on the YouTube channel. If there is a mosque nearby, you could be hearing this chant in your neighborhood pretty soon.

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