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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

Amid the clamour of modern life, the call to prayer retains its power

The spirit of Bilal ibn Rabah, who accompanied the Prophet Mohammed, lives on in the muezzins of the UAE and beyond

Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Leslie Pableo for The National
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Leslie Pableo for The National

There is something deeply reassuring about the predictability of the azan, or call to prayer, which permeates cultural and daily life in the UAE and across the Arab world.

Heard five times a day to call the faithful to worship, the azan has no fixed metre and therefore varies slightly within each community.

But one thing unites the call, whether it booms out of a minaret in Egypt or is transmitted across the airways in the UAE: its startling beauty.

Such is the magnificence of the call to prayer, that it is traditionally recited into the ears of newborn babies. Some even believe it to have medicinal qualities. The prayer distils the core premises of the Islamic faith, offering a message of solidarity.

Indeed, in Palestine, the amplified azan has become a powerful symbol of resistance in the face of a brutal Israeli occupation.

While the ritual varies slightly in different countries and communities, the azan is force of unity for Muslims worldwide. That harmony was embodied by the first muezzin – he who recites the call to prayer – who was one of the Prophet Mohammed’s must trusted and loyal acolytes.

Bilal ibn Rabah was a pre-Islamic African slave, freed by Muslims in Abyssinia, in modern Ethiopia. His spirit lives on in the muezzins of the UAE and far beyond. Selected for their talent and ability, they must recite beautifully, loudly and tunefully.

It is unsurprising that the muezzin is among the most important roles in mosques and their surrounding communities.

Amid the clamour of fast-paced modern life, the azan can stop us in our tracks and expand our minds. Modernity is disruptive and there are issues surrounding, for instance, the use of technology in the call.

But the prayer retains the charm that has made it part of Muslim daily life for thousands of years. As The National reports today, the UAE religious affairs authority has begun searching for talented Emirati muezzins blessed with eloquent pronunciation and powerful projection.

It is a role of significant difficulty, but one can scarcely imagine a greater honour.