When living in the Middle East, the usually melodic call to prayer ringing from the minarets across the city accompanying the warm breeze becomes synonymous with the dawn of a new morning and sun drenched evenings. Since I don’t speak Arabic and therefore can’t understand the words, it’s akin to hearing music playing in the background five times a day, and then some. On Fridays, the imam delivers his entire “sermon” (for lack of a better word) through the loudspeakers. Friday family time at the beach building sand castles or pushing your little ones on swings at the playground are often set against this aural backdrop. Depending on the personality of the imam, sometimes he sounds quite forceful while using an assertive tone, other times he sounds more soothing and nurturing. You can’t help but wonder, just what is he talking about?
When we moved into our house, there were plenty of mosques within walking distance but none on our block. That all changed when construction began on a plot of land a couple of houses down the street. The sign posted outside the construction zone declared that villas were being built, but as soon as the minaret started taking shape, we knew this was no villa.
It went live close to a year ago and the call to prayer and the imam who sings it became part of the family, even though I’ve never seen the guy. Sometimes when I hear the call to prayer at a certain time of day, it brings back family memories just like an old song. The summer time 4 a.m. prayer will always remind me of when I had little one last year. I was feeding the baby, my mom was up with jet lag and here came the imam’s voice, gleefully announcing the very early start to the day. Day-to-day happenings like nap time and bed time seem to be set in rhythm with the timings of the call to prayer. That voice is as much a part of our day as diaper changes, dinner prep and our nightly kids-are-asleep drink.
The great thing about the mosque around the corner is that the “sermons” are in English. (Mostly, anyway. At times parts are in Arabic.) This is the first time I’ve heard them given in English at any mosque. Alas, the mystery is solved! A sampling of the imam’s thoughts discussed over the last few weeks follows. He tells stories to illustrate his point:
1) Choose friends wisely. On judgement day, you can not blame your friend for your actions. Parents have a duty to help their children choose good friends.
2) Stay focused during prayer and don’t come unprepared. Would you go to a job interview unclean, unpresentable and rushed? Keep a clear mind and let it settle in your heart.
3) It is the responsibility of every Muslim to learn Arabic. Some parts of the Koran can’t be translated properly. Islam can not exist without Arabic. Muslims who don’t learn it are ignorant and misguided.
Non Muslims are generally not allowed to enter mosques in the UAE (with a couple of exceptions) or even handle a Koran.
These rules of exclusion feel awkward when you live in a predominately Muslim society. It’s an unavoidable and integral part of your day, yet it’s easy to feel like an outsider. Hearing the Friday sermon in English has given us an unusual peek into the weekly happenings at our local mosque. It’s as if we’ve just read the lyrics to a catchy tune we’ve heard a thousand times but could never understand the words. Usually these talks have very similar themes to those you might hear in a Catholic sermon. As Easter approaches and I’m feeling homesick for the traditions of the holiday, it’s nice to be reminded that although there are clear differences between the two religions, there are plenty of commonalities between Christianity and Islam as well.
(for an interesting article on how Muslims view Easter, click here.)