Saturday, May 22, 2010

Things I Will Miss About Egypt #1 The Call to Prayer?

We're going to be leaving Egypt sooner than we can wrap our minds around. On facebook, I've been listing as status updates the things I think I will miss. But the status updates of facebook get lost in the scroll. Isn't it strange how a blog seems more permanent?

I'm sure there will be unanticipated things about Egypt that I will find myself missing in the coming years. I understood this one night this week as I read a novel. I've instituted reading sessions at night, forbidding myself from turning on the computer when I get home at 8pm from work.

It was quiet that night. J was in his office; Bodie was sprawled on the cool wooden floor. Then came the call to prayer.

For the last two years, we have lived right next to a mosque with some mighty fine loudspeakers. We have a front-row seat to heavenward encouragement five times a day, and this includes not only the chanting of the muezzin but also the trickling of water and throat and nostril clearing from the ablutions hall adjacent to our apartment building. Some days it seems louder than other days. On Fridays, the imam's temper can be measured like a Baptist preacher's - you don't have to understand what he's saying - you only have to listen to tone. Barking and biting. Soothing. Chastising. Praising. Joyous. Preachers the world over are not so distinctive from each other as we would like to think.

Often, when I mention the call to prayer to someone who does not live in a country dominated by Islam, I get a sigh of wonder. People just love that call to prayer. It's so...mysterious? My cynical reply is to get back to me when you've lived next to a mosque.

But I have a feeling that I might miss it. That night, I had been reading a novel about the lonely lives of Americans (James Salter's Light Years). Salter's writing is pristine, but I was pretty tired of the characters and their existential concerns.

Enter the call to prayer.

As "Allahuakhbar" threaded the heavy air, I thought about silence. Nothing is ever really silent. My parents' house in the evening is the quietest place I know, and still there is the thrumming of crickets, furnace, coyotes, distant trains. Still there is your pulse, beating in your throat, your ears. But there is a difference between this and the call to prayer. I admit I've gotten into the nasty habit of perceiving the call to prayer as an intrusion. The other night, though, I remembered. I remembered I was in Cairo, Egypt, and that every time the call to prayer rings out, I know that there are uncountable souls around me, pulsing life. For me, the invocation is less about God than human beings. We exist. I wonder if I can find an analog in the next place, something that will thread the air like this. I hope it is something as unexpected as the call to prayer.



Bryan said...


siobhan curious said...

This is beautiful.

You might enjoy Sara Maitland's A Book of Silence, if you haven't already. Some of her thoughts might resonate with yours.

I've also tried to institute an evening reading-only rule, and it hasn't stuck, but it may be time to try it again.

kate hopper said...

This is absolutely gorgeous.

Minty said...

I absolutely love this post. Thank you.

Londoneya said...

Beautifully described :)