Turkey

Prayer Calls

Photo: Yucel Tellici“Prayer is better than sleep." Or so goes the age-old Muslim adage. The first of five calls to prayer streams out from the minaret of every mosque before the sun rises, when dreams just seem to begin. Traveling to Southwestern Turkey - a 99 percent Muslim country - I had romantic notions of the muezzin’s call. "This will be lovely," I said to myself. "People rising to give thanks to God? Beautiful." Sometimes preconceptions in travel can be vastly off course from first-hand experience. As it turns out, I absolutely, positively hated that call to prayer.

To make things clear, our muezzin was no ordinary man of God. The job in Turkey is governmental, and until very recently has not required any formal singing training. Even so, plainly put, our muezzin of the small village I inhabited was far before his days of government work. He was an 11 year-old pubescent boy whose voice often cracked on the too-loudly broadcasted speakers. Instead of a somewhat haunting, yet lyrical, “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest), that is usually sung, all I could hear was a scratchy “wandering crow, wandering crow”, like a cryptic message played backwards on the Beatles' White Album.

The small village I was in was a strange contrast of very rural, often uneducated farmers and a pocket of previously professional Istanbulites who had left the city. A good portion of this group of people were Muslim; a good portion were not. So bothered by this tormenting song, I surveyed my friends on their thoughts of call to prayer. “I mean, don't you find it. . . intrusive?” I tried to delicately prod. 'Oh, yes, yes, yes,' they admitted. The owner of the olive orchard I was working for had already been engaging in a battle of diplomacy, periodically asking the mullah of the mosque to politely turn down the sound. The microphone would be slightly lower for about a day; it never lasted long.Photo: yav1947uz @ sxc.hu

Sharing this not-so-quaint conundrum with an American friend in Istanbul, she agreed the call to prayer took some getting used to. She also sent a link to a beautiful NPR piece done on the call to prayer, and how musical education is now being offered for people in such positions. In Istanbul, a city as chic as New York, there may be muezzins who could double in Broadway after hours. If there is one thing I learned about the country of Turkey, it is to never make sweeping generalizations. Turkey is a country of juxtapositions: old meets new, religious and secular, West and East, conservative and radical liberals, and everything in between.

In fact, I found that some simply used the call as a time-keeper, gauging the work day's time by each specific call. First call? For the ambitious, time to wake up and eat breakfast. Second? Tea time. Third call? Lunch. Fourth? Quitting time. By the time the last call was sung, dinner was either served or in the belly, and the traditional cup of tea in hand. 

We never won the war against our young, well-practicing friend. I suppose Allah is smiling down on his tenacity. And I suppose we should foster a child's love for God and music. Still, perhaps some of us have more, um, musical inclinations than others. Yet, a funny thing happened during the five months of my stay in Turkey; I began not to hear the call to prayer. Like some unconscious adaptation to something that had been so abrasive initially, I found myself waking after the sun wondering if the muezzin slept in. You know what? I never felt guilty over the extra sleep.

About the Author

Samantha Schoville has the soul of a gypsy, traipsing the world in search of everything and anything it has to offer. People are what inspire her travels, with the belief that the best way to create peace is to greet it face-to-face. For more information on Samantha and her travels, visit  www.wix.com/sschoville/samanthagill.

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 Full name: Republic of Turkey

 Population: 79.75 million (CIA, 2012)

 Capital: Ankara

 Largest city: Istanbul

 Area: 783,562 sq.km. (302,534 sq. mi.)

 Major languages: Turkish, Kurdish, Other

 Major religions: Muslim, Other

 Monetary unit: Turkish Lira

 GDP per capita: US $14,600

 Internet domain: .tr

 International dialling code: +90

 Source: CIA World Factbook