Islamic Misconceptions About the Call to Prayer (Adhaan)

Is the call to prayer (adhaan) correct?

Many Muslims hear the call to prayer (adhaan) and assume it is correct. However, the most widely used version of the call to prayer contains wording that not only seems irrelevant, but also possibly contradictory to the purpose of the call. According to Wikipedia, the Sunni call to prayer, for example, contains the wording “I acknowledge that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.”

A couple of questions worth asking are:

  • If the caller to prayer (muezzin) is calling or telling people to pray to God, why is he (it’s always a male) saying that he acknowledges that Muhammad is the messenger of God?
  • In verse 72:18, God makes it clear that mosques (places of worship) are for God and that we must not invoke anyone with God. Verse 20:14 makes it clear that prayer is to remember God. Based on these two verses, is it even necessary or allowed to mention that Muhammad is a messenger of God? God has many messengers including Abraham and, according to 2:285, they should all be treated equally. Exclusively stating that Muhammad is the messenger of God would therefore violate 2:285.
وَأَنَّ الْمَسَاجِدَ لِلَّهِ فَلَا تَدْعُوا مَعَ اللَّهِ أَحَدًا
And [He revealed] that the masjids are for God, so do not invoke with God anyone. (72:18)
إِنَّنِي أَنَا اللَّهُ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا أَنَا فَاعْبُدْنِي وَأَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ لِذِكْرِي
Indeed, I am God. There is no deity except Me, so worship Me and establish prayer for My remembrance. (20:14)
لَا نُفَرِّقُ بَيْنَ أَحَدٍ مِّن رُّسُلِهِ
We make no distinction between any of His messengers. (2:285)

Based on these issues, a more logical version of the call to prayer that also doesn’t violate the Quran would be as follows:

God is the greatest.God is the greatest.
I acknowledge that there is no god but God.There is no god but God.
I acknowledge that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.
Hasten to prayer (Salah).
Hasten to success.
God is the greatest.
There is no god but God.

I didn’t mention the number of times each statement should be said since that is irrelevant. It could be twice, four times, or however many times one sees fit.

I also excluded the “Hasten to prayer” and “Hasted to success” statements since people already know that they should pray as soon as it’s time and that praying is one of many requirements for long-term success. Everyone knows that when the call to prayer is done, it is time to pray and that they should pray. The purpose of prayer is to worship God alone and the two statements in the proposed call to prayer clearly focus on that aspect.

Must the call to prayer be done in Arabic?

Many Muslims in non-Muslim countries believe that the call to prayer must be done in Arabic. However, there is no requirement in the Quran that it be done in Arabic. It is clear that the purpose of the call to prayer is to remind people that it’s time to pray so that they go and pray. If people don’t speak or understand Arabic, then an Arabic call to prayer becomes less useful. Although most non-Arabic-speaking people know that when they hear the call to prayer in Arabic that it’s time to pray, not understanding the meaning of the words uttered during the call would render it effectively no different than if someone blew a horn or rang a bell.

Must the call to prayer be done live or can it be prerecorded?

Many Muslims think that the call to prayer must be done live and that playing a prerecorded version of the call is invalid. However, there are no requirements in the Quran that it be done live. It is commonly known that the first person to perform the call to prayer was a man by the name of Bilal. It is also commonly known that he was chosen for having a good voice. Unfortunately, many callers to prayer (muezzins) do not have a good voice and to make matters worse, they use modern-day technology (loudspeakers) to blast their unpleasant voices all over town and sometimes right next to people’s living rooms. It is clear that God has given some people gifts over others, such as a nice voice. There are many people who have a nice voice and can perform the call to prayer such that it is generally more pleasant to listen to. These calls can be recorded and played either manually or automatically. It is clear that doing so has many benefits including motivating people to actually pray rather than cover their ears. While some people may argue that using modern-day technology by playing a recording invalidates the call, that argument would also invalidate all current methods of the call to prayer since they use loudspeakers which did not exist during the time of Muhammad. Regardless, there are no specific requirements in the Quran with regards to the call to prayer. Therefore, God has given us the freedom to perform it however best we can. Playing a recording of a pleasant-sounding call to prayer would clearly result in a better, consistent and more motivating experience for the target audience.

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