The Soundtrack of Our Life in the Middle East

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.

I was surprised to see that Korans are kept behind glass with this sign at Carrefour (a big superstore)

I was surprised to see that Korans are kept behind glass with this sign at Carrefour (a big superstore)

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.)


About Lynda

Longhorns and Camels is a blog about exploring Dubai from the perspective of an expat from Texas. It features stories about living in Dubai including descriptions of local culture and popular activities in the region. It also includes photography of the UAE and other countries abroad. It has been recommended by several well-known guides for expatriates: InterNations, ExpatWoman and Expat Focus.
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13 Responses to The Soundtrack of Our Life in the Middle East

  1. What a wonderful post! I’m so surprised that the mosque in your neighborhood is ‘preaching’ in English. But, what global messages. I highly recommend the visit to Jumeirah Mosque, which does tours and presentations for non-Muslims with a mission to educate and promote harmony among religions. They go through the prayer first in Arabic and then translate it to English. Like you, my first thought was that there are more similarities than differences. The very first words of the prayer are exactly like the words of a prayer I said every Sunday in the Catholic church growing up. Imagine what a peaceful place this world would be if we all focused on our similarities rather than our differences!
    Anne 🙂

  2. Judyj says:

    And I love the fact that first call to prayer of the day (just before dawn) sneaks in an extra line “prayer is better than sleep” (as in, get up you lazy bones)! 🙂

  3. Laura says:

    Really interesting about the English “sermon”. I remember really enjoying the call to prayer in Turkey… such lovely melodies.

    • You’ve been to Turkey? I’m so jealous! Istanbul is only a 4 hour flight from here, I’m really hoping we make it!

      • Laura says:

        Turkey is amazing, such a rich history. If you go, plan on seeing Cappadocia–that was one of my favorites, with amazing underground “cities” and above-ground cathedrals carved into the stone. Never seen anything like it before.

  4. mannahattamamma says:

    The adhan has become a marker for us too, here, and I’m told that in Istanbul, where the call isn’t quite so synchronized, there is much more of an individual flavor, less synchronicity, which would be kind of wonderful, I think. For me, though, the call also serves as a reminder “you aren’t studying arabic, you slacker…” : )

  5. I love how the very sound of the imam’s voice has become “a part of your family”!

  6. munchow says:

    An interesting post about Islam and how it affects daily life around your corner. It’s such a different world than what we in the so-called West are used to.

  7. I think it’s great there are sermons in English! I live between two mosques….and sometimes their calls to prayer are off a few moments of each other and it all sounds like they are competing….the dueling mosques I call it! Anyway, I often wonder what the sermons are about.

  8. Pingback: Jumeirah Mosque | Longhorns and Camels

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