The twisting minaret of the 9th century Ibn Tulun mosque (Cairo, Egypt)

One of the most distinctive elements associated with traveling around the Middle East and countries with large Islamic populations is hearing the call to prayer (adhan) five times each day. Although in some places, like Dubai, the call to prayer is subtle, in other locations, such as Islamic Cairo or Turkey, the call to prayer is a central part of daily life and can be loudly heard throughout the city streets.

Download and Listen to the Call to Prayer

Listen to the adhan from Masjid Al-Aqsa, Jersusalem

English Translation of the Call to Prayer

God is the greatest (Allahu akbar); intoned four times.
I testify that there is no God but Allah (Ashhadu anna la ila ill Allah); intoned twice.
I testify that Mohammed is God’s Prophet (Ashhadu anna Muhammadan rasul Allah); intoned twice.
Come to prayer (Hayya alas salah); intoned twice.
Come to security/salvation (Hayya alal falah); intoned twice.
God is the greatest (Allahu akbar); intoned twice.
There is no God but Allah (La ilah ill Allah); intoned once.

Another line is sometimes added to the first prayer of the morning (pre-sunrise):
Prayer is better than sleep (Assalatu khayrum minan naum); intoned twice.

Muslim Prayer Times

Muslims pray five times each day (pre-dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset and evening) in the direction of Mecca. Travelers can use Al-Islam or an iPhone app that gives daily prayer times and quibla direction (facing Mecca) for destinations throughout the world.

Fridays at the Mosque

Friday is the day on which all Muslims, especially males, should go to the mosque at 12:00 (noon) for congregational prayer. Given this requirement, many shops outside of tourist areas will close as the owners make their way to the local Jama Masjid (Friday Mosque).  The mosque will certainly be closed to non-Muslims during this time.

Some Advice for Travelers Visiting Mosques

  • Typically, mosques are closed to tourists during prayer times; we recommend visiting just before the worship begins so that you can hear the call to prayer as it reverberates throughout the interior spaces of the mosque.
  • Always walk behind worshipers that are praying, so they do not pray “to” you, but rather towards Mecca.
  • Wear conservative clothes (sleeves, pants/skirts below the knees) and remove your your shoes before entering the mosque. Often you will find a local willing to “guard” your shoes for a small fee.
  • Women travelers: We recommend that women follow the locals’ lead and wear a long shirt/shirtdress that covers their backside. Also, women may be required to wear a headscarf upon entering a mosque; you can bring your own or borrow one from the mosque.

Historical Function of the Minaret

Historically, the minarets were used by the mosque’s muezzins as tall platforms from which to call Muslims to prayer and to announce the central tenant of the Islamic faith to non-believers. Today, however, a muezzin (or imam) typically recites the call to prayer into a microphone in the main prayer hall where it is then pumped through loudspeakers installed on the minarets.

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