Today was basically just a class day. In addition to our two morning classes on the Gospel of Luke and The Spiritual Pilgrim we had an afternoon session on Islam. We had a Muslim come talk to us who specializes in explaining Islam to Christians. It was an extremely informative presentation. I’m learning so much about Islam since I’ve been here. One thing that you can’t miss if you come to Bethlehem is the “Call to Prayer” that is sounded over loudspeakers five times a day from all the Mosques. One of the pillars of Islam is that they pray prescribed prayers five times a day. If you’ve ever seen a Mosque, they have tall towers on them called minarets. In previous times a specially designated person, called a Muezzin, would climb to the top of this tower and chant an invitation to let people know it was time for prayer. This is not unlike the use of bell towers for us Christians to call people to prayer. In some ways, it’s like the angelus. However, in modern times the Muezzin has been replaced by a recording that is broadcast loud enough to be heard for miles and this does, in my opinion, make it way more annoying than the sounding of bells. As kind of a funny story, after being woken up at 4:30 each morning for the first couple nights, one person in our group jokingly exclaimed in frustration, “We have got to convert these people!” In fairness, even the Muslim who did our presentation said that he thought the pre-dawn call to prayer is rather insensitive to the Christians in the area. I do have to say though that I’m not really so bothered by the call to prayer. I actually kind of like the idea. Every time I hear it, I know that they are praising God for everyone to hear. If you think about it, we are constantly bombarded with noise in our Western culture. Here, the noise is just proclaiming how great God is and that it’s time for prayer. When the call to prayer wakes me up at 4:30, it’s a good time to pray the Office of Readings. After all, Christians have been praying five times a day in the Liturgy of the Hours long before the Muslims started. I bet they got the idea from us (and we probably stole it from the hours of offering in the temple). After singing some verses from the Qur’an, the Muezzin sings the following call to prayer
God is great; God is great (Allah Akbar!);
I attest that there is not (another God), except God;
I attest that Mohammad is the chosen of God;
Arise! (Come) to prayer;
Arise! (Come) to salvation (at Dawn – prayer is better than sleep)
God is great! God is great!
There is not (another God), except God.
That doesn’t really sound so bad now does it? Admittedly, it can sound like quite a cacophony when every Mosque in the city is playing this as loud as they can at the same time. However, when I remember that they are just yelling how great God is, then it kind of makes me feel good.
Allah Akbar! God is Great!
The Mosque of Omar at Manger Square