I am up at 4 am, jet lagged after a twenty hour flight to Pakistan. I pull myself out of bed, wobble down to my sister's kitchen, and brew myself a cup of chai. In the stillness of the night, I curl up with my tea and tasbeeh, reciting the names of Allah. The house is quiet, the night quieter. And then I hear it. The lone man's voice, beaming off the minaret somewhere in the vicinity, permeating the air, melancholic, rousing the faithful from their sleep, and calling them to prayer—the adhan. I rest my tea-cup, place my tasbeeh in my lap, and shut my eyes. The sound, the only sound in the silent night, coming from beyond the shuttered windows, beyond the walls, permeates through my being. I listen. "God is great. I bear witness that there is no God but God. I bear that Muhammad is his prophet. Come to prayer. Prayer is better than sleep. Come to prayer. There is no God but God." And then it is quiet again.
I am still; in a state of awe. One would think that after hearing it five times a day, day after day, year after year; while playing as a child, chatting away as a teen, pouring over books in college, that somewhere along the line, one would stop paying attention. That it is too much of a permanent fixture in the sounds of Pakistan, that one no longer hears it. Well perhaps when the sound is drowned out by the noise of life: horns honking, music playing, high-pitched chorus of chatter, or sleep. Yet, it does stop you in your tracks. Women stop chatting, cover their hair with the dupatta, lower their head resting their chin on their palms, and when it is over, say a quiet prayer, remove the dupatta, and the talk resumes.
I left behind that part of my existence when I came to the U.S. I was lost, not knowing if it was prayer time. I let nature be my time keeper as I tracked the movement of the sun, and over time, I got used to living without the call to prayer. Each time I came back to Pakistan, I'd get all nostalgic when I'd hear the adhan.
Technology brought the adhan into our homes in the U.S. There was the Adhan clock, the App on our cell phones, the Apple Watch. But it wasn't the same. The sound coming off a device lacks the feel of the sound in the air. It doesn't echo off the mountains, the breeze doesn't carry it through the valley, the trees don't sway to the call. One day, I changed the settings of the Adhan clock, to beep instead of the Adhan, conserving battery power. One day, I stopped missing the sound.
This morning, in the silence of daybreak, I feel the power of the call to prayer. How much I have missed in living without this feeling!
I unfold my prayer rug, place it facing West, and raise my hands in prayer.