Guide to the Islamic Call to Prayer (Adhan)

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.

Listen to the Call to Prayer

From Masjid Al-Aqsa, Jersusalem

English Translation

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.

Mosque-Cairo-Ibn-Tulun

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

Some Tips for Visiting Mosques

  • Prayer times (salat). It is helpful to be familiar with the five daily prayer times: fajr (dawn), dhuhr (when the sun begins to descend after reaching its highest point in the sky), asr (when the shadow of an object is the same length as the object itself, plus the shadow length at dhuhr), maghrib (sunset) and isha (when the sun’s light is gone from the western sky). Since they are based on the height of the sun in the sky, prayer times change (ever-so-slightly) on a daily basis — visit this website to get up-to-date Istanbul prayer times.
  • The mihrab and qibla direction.  The qibla wall is a mosque’s most important feature. It faces Mecca in Saudi Arabia — specifically the Kaaba shrine in the Great Mosque (al-Masjid al-Haram) — and highlights the direction of prayer; this is known as the qibla direction. In the center of the wall is the mihrab niche, which helps identify the qibla and reinforces its direction. The faithful kneel in the prayer hall, aligned in rows facing the qibla. This practice follows from the Quran’s chapter 2, verse 144: “So turn your face toward al-Masjid al-Haram. And wherever you [believers] are, turn your faces toward it [in prayer].” Click here for the the qibla direction for all cities in the world. 
  • No shoes. Before you enter a mosque’s prayer hall (or step on any associated carpeted floor), simply remove your shoes and place them in the rack to the side of the entrance.
  • Conservative clothing. Men and women should wear clothing that covers the core of the body: from knees to shoulders. Further, women are expected to use scarves to cover their heads.
  • Be mindful of others. Always walk behind those that are praying so that you don’t interrupt the space between them and the qibla wall.

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.