Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 24 October 2019

How the sound of one man's call to prayer in Petra is educating tourists from around the world

I was left in awe after a guide surprised tourists with a unique spiritual experience

Mr M in front of the Treasury at Petra, Jordan. Courtesy Melinda Healy
Mr M in front of the Treasury at Petra, Jordan. Courtesy Melinda Healy

“Allahu Akbar.” No matter what faith you’re from, you feel something special when the Islamic call to prayer (adhan) resonates throughout your local area five times a day, every day.

As a resident of the UAE until fairly recently, I was fortunate enough to hear the adhan in many notable locations in the Middle East – at the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca; the Amman Citadel on top of the Jebel Al Qala’a hill in the Jordanian capital; within the grounds of the Sultan Al Qaboos Mosque in Muscat; and the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi.

I was often woken up by it, too, as I lived opposite a local mosque. I grew to enjoy the early morning call because it reminded me of where I was in the world and the spirit of the community of people I had chosen to surround myself with. But it was not until I met a young man – he asks not to be named, so I will refer to him as “Mr M” – that I learnt to have more appreciation for the beauty of the adhan.

The adhan in the 'lost city' of Petra

I came across Mr M at Jordan’s famous Unesco World Heritage Site, Petra. The day I visited the “lost city” – the historic metropolis carved out of the rocky southern Jordanian desert by the Nabateans more than 2,000 years ago – it was bitterly cold and I had limited time to explore. So I enlisted the services of a guide, not realising at the time that this decision would buy me an experience far greater than the one I had paid for.

Petra guide and muezzin, Mr M, walking through his hometown. Courtesy Melinda Healy
Petra guide and muezzin, Mr M, walking through his hometown. Courtesy Melinda Healy

As I stood amid one of the most famous historical landscapes on the planet, admiring the red-coloured sandstone and striking facades of structures such as the Treasury, Mr M, who had walked us through the Siq, Street of Facades and the Theatre, led us into the Urn Temple, an ancient Royal Tomb that measures 18 metres by 20 metres. Here, he asked if it was OK for him to share something special with the group, but first requested that his face be kept out of any video recordings. Of course, we agreed. Then, with his back turned and the temple hauntingly quiet, the twenty-something Jordanian, who was born and raised in Petra, began to sing the call to prayer. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck begin to bristle. As his voice echoed through the tomb, I was left speechless and in awe.

Listen to Mr M's Quranic recitation inside Petra:

When the beautiful melody finished, our soft-spoken guide also shared some personal insight into his talent. “Since I was very young, I could imitate Quran reciters and even singers,” he said. “During Ramadan, when we chose the Quran channel on TV, I could do almost exactly as they did. The first adhan I did was when I was 14 years old, and as I remember, my voice at that time was rough but many commended me on it.”

The Royal Tomb in Petra, Jordan. Courtesy Melinda Healy
The Royal Tomb in Petra, Jordan. Courtesy Melinda Healy

Becoming a muezzin

Mr M later honed his talent and built quite a reputation within his community. He was called on to be the backup for his brother, who was the muezzin at the local mosque in 2007.

Being chosen as the muezzin is a position of honour and, according to Islamic culture, he who is chosen is considered a servant of the mosque, selected for his good character and clear, loud voice. They have incredibly beautiful voices, just as Mr M’s.

“He [my brother] asked me to do it when he went outside town,” he continued. “My brother works as a mosque servant until now.”

It takes a lot of focus to perform the call. “We stand in front of a microphone, keeping about 25 centimetres away from it,” Mr M explained. “When the time of adhan comes, we start [singing]. It takes about three minutes.

Mr M with writer Melinda Healy walking through Petra.
Mr M with writer Melinda Healy walking through Petra.

“It’s better to place your hands on your ears in order to feel it and not hear the echo coming from the mosque walls.”

Mr M stepped in as substitute to perform the adhan off and on for about 11 years at his local mosque, which, according to him, is officially called “The Biggest Mosque of Wadi Musa”. But that all changed when he became a guide at Petra. In 2015, a year into his new career, on a whim he decided to share his talent with a small group of interested tourists.

An education for tourists

“When I did it for the first time in the big hall, my group really loved it,” he said proudly. “At the end they clapped for me.”

“Other tourists asked what the beautiful singing was and for me to do it once more.” Mr M obliged and now he sees it as a way of sharing his culture and religion with a global audience.

As you would expect, his family – eight brothers, three sisters and his mum (his dad died a few years ago) – is incredibly proud of him and love the fact that he is sharing elements of the Islamic faith with so many.

Continuing to enlighten others about Islam, along with getting married and building a home, are among Mr M’s future dreams. He also hopes to share a slice of Jordan with tourists while at the same time gaining a better “understanding of this world”.

“I don’t travel a lot but as long as I have the money, I will keep visiting other countries to see how others are thinking,” he said.

In the meantime, for as long as he takes people on tours in Petra, Mr M is committed to being a “noteworthy” addition to the schedule of a fascinating historical walking tour.

For more on guided tours at Petra, visit touristjordan.com/destination/petra-tours

Updated: September 14, 2019 11:39 AM

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