Archive for May, 2013

The Call to Prayer

I’ve been back from the Middle East for close to four weeks now. Yet at least a few times a week, as I’m walking around the city, I swear I hear the Islamic call to prayer somewhere in the distant background. It’s more likely music playing a ways off that I can’t distinguish, or something of the like. But it catches me, and just for a second I pause and strain to hear.

For those who don’t know, I live in Philadelphia. If we have more than one mosque here, it’s a lot (I do believe I’ve seen one). We’re a relatively diverse city, we just don’t have a lot of mosques. So I’m quite sure that the noise I’m hearing is not actually the call to prayer. Especially because I’d never heard it before going on my trip. But while I was in the Middle East, I was absolutely awed by the call. At first, I was intrigued. As I mentioned, I’d never heard it. Now I’ll be fully honest – as a newbie to the region, I kind of pictured everyone stopping in their tracks and praying five times a day. Pardon the ignorance on that one. It had never been to the Middle East and the only people I’d known that had been hadn’t been very recently.

I hadn’t made it out of the Dubai airport when I heard the first call to prayer. It was the later evening one, the last of the night. It was faint, tough to hear over all the clanging of the luggage and voices of excited tourists, but it was beautiful.
In Dubai, I had to actively listen to hear the call, and even then it was difficult. The area in which we stayed was the newer section, filled with construction in lieu of mosques. I didn’t plan it that way; it was the pre-assigned conference hotel. I was disappointed. The bit I’d heard in the airport had piqued my interest to learn more not only about the call itself, but the whole prayer process.

In Jordan, I got to hear the call a little more, but not much. We were out in the deserts much of the time, so once again not in good hearing distance of the minarets. I did learn a bit more, though. I learned that the call is five times a day. It is based on sunrise and sunset, so it can change throughout the year. I also learned that Muslims do not actually have to stop everything they are doing, grab a prayer rug, and pray the minute that they hear the call. Our guide told us that he can “save” his prayers if he’s in the middle of guiding, and pray more when he gets home. Further more, he does not have to pray in a mosque, or any place specific. He can pray where he chooses, as long as he does pray. (For the record, I’m using “he” here because our guide was a man, but the same goes for women). I learned that there are actually two “calls” with each call – one to let people know it’s time to pray, to give them time to wash and get to a mosque if they choose, and the second, about 10 to 15 minutes later, to start the actual prayer. In addition, the imams no longer have to climb up to the top of the minaret. They now stand at the bottom with a microphone, and it’s projected over the city from speakers at the top. I guess even this age-old tradition has had to adjust to the times a bit. It doesn’t matter though, at least not to me.

As our trip progressed, I continued to listen for the call, and each time I heard it, I grew enthralled. By the time we made it to Istanbul, where mosques and minarets are almost literally on every corner, I was completely enchanted. I couldn’t understand how people could not stop in their tracks when they heard it. I don’t even pray and it made me wish that I did. It is such a hauntingly beautiful sound.

Back home, as I walk around the busy streets of Philly, I hear traffic, conversation, dogs barking, and even occasionally church bells ringing – which I’ll admit I also think are worth stopping to listen to. But nothing like the call to prayer. Nothing that makes a non-pray-er want to drop to their knees and pray to something, even if they don’t know what. This has nothing to do with religion for me. If you care to know, I’m an aspiring buddhist, and my form of prayer, if you’d like to call it that, is meditation. It has to do with simply the sound and mystique of the call for me. Perhaps if I heard it five times a day, every day, for my entire life, I’d be able to walk on without even noticing it like so many people in the Middle East seemed to be able to do. I guess I probably won’t ever find out unless my life suddenly, somehow, takes me abroad for an extended period of time. So for now, I hold the call to prayer in a special place, a place of reflection, awe, and respect for the fact that it can impact a person so profoundly.

If you’ve never heard the call, here’s a recording on my Chimera Travel Facebook page.

Disclaimer: The details I’ve stated about the prayer process were those related to me by our guides throughout the trip. If any are off a bit, I sincerely apologize. I did my best to relate what they told me in the most factual manner when it came to the aspects of the religious process.

My Coolest Experience In Jordan

A couple of weeks ago I took a trip to Dubai, Jordan, and Istanbul. Jordan was, hands down, my favorite. It’s a magical place with magical people and I simply fell in love with it. In our somewhat whirlwind trip, we visited Wadi Rum, Petra, Jerash, and the Dead Sea, and all were spectacular. Learning about the history of the Nabateans at Petra and walking the same streets as the Romans in Jerash was awe-inspiring. Not to mention the hysterical laughter that ensued with the dead sea mud bath. But my favorite experience was a non-touristy one, one on which I hadn’t planned on, that I can’t say most other people traveling to Jordan have had.

Most tours in Wadi Rum stop at a bedouin tent. Usually, though, it’s a tourist tent. It’s set out for visitors to come and see the bedouin lifestyle and experience a little bit of the culture. While interesting, it’s somewhat standard. Ours was different. Our bedouin guide, Mousalam, took us to the home (tent) of his aunt and uncle. It certainly wasn’t a “canned” stop. They had migrated recently, and he couldn’t even find the tent at first so we had to drive around for a few minutes. There were no trinkets for sale, no other cars parked out front. We were instructed not to take photos of any kind – the women particularly do not like having that kind of attention.

We wandered into the tent, probably about 6 x 8 feet total. It was the “men’s side.” When there is company (or at least bedouin company) the men and women do not sit together. They made an exception for us, but they did not come in. Mousalam’s aunt was in the women’s tent brewing tea, and he acted as the go between, getting the tea from her and asking her a couple of basic questions that we had about the tent and general bedouin living (for instance, we learned that our “men’s tent” slept about six to eight people). The tea was delicious, piping hot, and very sweet. As we talked to Mousalam about their lifestyle, he told us about his daughter was currently staying with the aunt and uncle here. We hadn’t seen her yet, but as two camels that did not belong to the family wandered up, she ran out – from the women’s tent I’m assuming – and shoed them away.

We did tip them a slight amount. While it wasn’t expected, we had come to their home and drank their tea, and we felt it appropriate. But it wasn’t part of the plan. They didn’t bring us there for the money or to purchase anything (indeed, there was nothing to purchase), but to immerse into the true bedouin lifestyle, and through his family no less. I can now say that I have had tea in an authentic bedouin tent in the middle of Wadi Rum. That’s pretty cool.

I obviously do not have any pictures to share, but I’ve added a few pictures of Wadi Rum itself below. I hope you find it as breathtaking as I did.