Azaan – A Sublime Musical Experience
From the Azaan, flows wisdom which waters spiritually parched souls. It was the month of Ramadan and when the the Azaan came through, I felt like I was in a fairy land.
By Indira Satyanarayan
During the fasting month of Ramadan, my friend Zaheer Memon ( NCP National secretary- Advocate Majid Memon’s son) gave me the book, ‘’Muhammad- A Biography of the Prophet,” to read, with the condition, ‘’ Be sure to return the book to me….it is my wedding present. ‘’ One of the gems delineated in the book by the author, Karen Armstrong- a Roman Catholic Nun is the mystic, musical power of the Azaan, which had a poignant effect on me. Azaan to Muslims is a call for prayer recited at an appointed time with certain prescribed words. Karen Armstrong in her biography of the Prophet, ‘’Provides us with an accurate and profound understanding of Islam and the people who adhere to it ‘’ she explains that in April 623, about seven months after the Hijra (the emigration of the Prophet and his followers to the city of Madina), Muhammad built a Mosque in Madina in which there was a large courtyard for formal prayers. At first, people used to turn up for prayers without summons, but this was obviously unsatisfactory as everybody turned up at different times. Councils were held for the formulation of the proper Prayer Call. Muhammad first thought of using a ram’s horn, like the Jews or a wooden clapper, like the oriental Christians, but one of the Emigrants had a dream. A man wearing a green cloak told him in the dream that the best way of summoning people to prayer was to have a man with a ‘’Resonant Voice’’ call the people loudly with ‘’Allahu Akbar!’’( God is great), three times, to remind the Muslims that God is greater than any other good. The summons would continue thus: ‘’ I bear witness that there is no God but Allah, I bear witness that Muhammad is the Apostle of God. Come to Prayer. Come to Prayer. Come to Divine Service. Come to Divine Service, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar. Prophet Muhammad liked the idea and appointed Bilal, Abu Bakr’s freedman as the person in charge of this assignment. Every morning Hazrat Bilal ,the black Muslim, who had a loud, awesome voice used to climb up to the top of the tallest house near the mosque and sit on the roof top, waiting for the first rays of the dawn to appear. When he saw the rays, he used to stretch out his arms , face the Kabaah and before beginning the Call, would say , ‘’O, God I praise Thee and ask Thy Help for Quraysh that they may accept Thy religion. ‘’ It is believed that the Muezzin will have great rewards on the Day of Resurrection. Muslims also believe that besides prayer times, the Azaanshould be proclaimed in the right ear of the newly born child which is Sunnat. Azaan is recited five times in a day. ‘’ Why Five times in a day’’, I ask. My question appears naive to my friend, Zaheer Memon. ‘’You have to remember God throughout the Day,’’ is the profound answer. Shattering the grim silence of the early dawn, theAzaan acts as a wake-up call exhorting Muslims that, ‘’ prayer is better than sleep ‘’ reminding them to get ready to perform their worldly duties. Once I had forgotten to set the alarm clock to wake me up at 5.30 in the morning . The Azaan however acted as an alarm and woke me up. While in Jeddah shopping in the busy street of Balad in mid-afternoon, I saw shops being shut for Salaat (prayers) when business was at its peak. ‘’ Won’t this amount to loss of profit, ‘’ I had asked . The reply I got from the owner of a jewellery shop was that even while conducting business, performing mundane duties, one should not let materialistic concerns take over the spiritual calling of remembering God. One of the remarkable aspects of Karen Armstrong’s biography of Muhammad is that she has portrayed him as both Prophet and Poet. The book aroused my curiosity to experience the music of the Azaan. I switched on the speaker in my computer and went to the google site searching forAzaan. It was the month of Ramadan And Lo! When the Azaan came through, I felt like I was in a fairy land . The Azaan was from a mosque in Turkey called by Hafiz Mustafa Ozkan. It dawned upon me then that the Azaan was a poignant musical appeal from one individual soul to the soul of humanity, asking them to turn to God for succour and to partake of the spiritual feast. A few years ago, Justice Sri Krishna, while speaking at a seminar organised by Secular Activists Watch at the Y.B.Chavan Auditorium had made a poignant comment which I will always remember. The Justice said that as a child, he had seen his father recite the Gayatri Mantra at dawn, at the same time from a nearby mosque, the Azaan would burst out. While the Gayatri Mantra was in Sanskrit, the Azaan was in Arabic. The language of the prayers was different, but the substance was the same – MAN REACHING OUT TO GOD. While listening to the Azaan, I realized that there are no musical instruments used, but still the music was so soothing and spiritually elevating. I discovered a delightful blend of Raag, Taal, and Bhava in the Azaan. The Azaan’s spiritual depth, the poetry and verbal music in it compels one to respond to its sublime message of SURRENDER to God. (The writer can be reached at [email protected] rediffmail.com)