Photo by Mariko Kuroda/TheGazelle

Missing the Call to Prayer on Saadiyat

It was time for the evening Maghreb prayer, and I paused in the middle of writing to listen to the words the muezzin was saying. “It’s different,” my ...

May 2, 2015

Photo by Mariko Kuroda/TheGazelle
It was time for the evening Maghreb prayer, and I paused in the middle of writing to listen to the words the muezzin was saying.
“It’s different,” my sister remarked.
“What is?” I asked her, but in my mind I knew what she was about to say.
“The adhan," she replied. "It sounds different."
As a person who has grown up in Abu Dhabi, hearing the adhan was something I saw as an integral part of the UAE. When the academic year started and I first set foot on Saadiyat as a student of NYU Abu Dhabi, I came as any freshman would — to start anew. I knew it would be an experience like no other, but little was I prepared for the change it brought to my daily life: I woke up no longer able to hear the adhan.
It was the first time I found myself relying on my phone to know the times for prayer. I found it difficult to reconcile my place in the UAE, a Muslim country situated in the Middle East, with the fact that I could no longer hear the adhan.
Muslims have five obligatory prayers per day, at specific times that are accompanied by the call to prayer — the Fajr before sunrise, Zuhr at midday, Asr in the afternoon, Maghreb at sunset and Isha in the evening. Students have lately been more vocal about their desire to hear the call to prayer on campus, and focus groups organized by the Office of Intercultural Education and Spiritual Life will be convening in the following weeks in an effort to gather input from the NYUAD community.
Recently, Al Fajr clocks that indicate prayer times were installed in the East and West Dining Halls. While students acknowledge and appreciate the gesture, most mentioned that phone applications indicating prayer times are more convenient.
“Symbolically, [the clocks are] a nice thing to have for other people’s awareness and lot of people have approached me afterwards speaking of their appreciation, but it was never intended as a substitute for the adhan," explained Alta Mauro, Director of Intercultural Education and Spiritual Life.
In an effort to further understand the current situation surrounding the call to prayer, I spoke to a couple of students about what they thought. While some mentioned that the quietness of Saadiyat might be disturbed, or that the adhan would take some getting used to, most students were surprised that no action had been taken to make the adhan a more permanent presence on campus.
For some, hearing the adhan reminds them of home. For the upperclassmen, it evokes the memory of Sama Tower.
“Since I’m not a Muslim, I don’t think the call to prayer has an effect on me, but I would have absolutely no problem [with hearing it on campus],” said sophomore Jean Edwards. “Personally, there was something very peaceful about hearing the call to prayer.”
“As the university tries to cater to the needs of the individual groups, it tries to give all the groups the same allowance," added Edwards. "So I think that’s what they’re trying to do."
The adhan serves as a reminder of what kind of society students are living in. According to junior Noor Almahruqi, hearing the adhan is an important part of everyday life in Abu Dhabi, and a way to recognize that the choice to come study in the UAE is also a choice to experience different aspects of Islam.
“When I go to the city it’s so nice to hear it. In Sama Tower, everyone loved the adhan … It was a reminder of God [for us Muslims], and also satisfying for those of other religions,” said Almahruqi.
Sophomore Sarah Kowash, the current President of the Muslim Student Association at NYUAD, echoed the sentiment.
“For me, it’s more spiritual than it is aesthetic," she said. "For people coming to study here, it can’t be Abu Dhabi if the major religion is not Islam.”
Kowash remembered one time when she heard the adhan at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque for the Maghrib prayer; as she sat and listened, she felt even more strongly the adhan's absence on campus.
“For a lot of people that weren’t living in the Middle East before, they came to NYUAD to experience Abu Dhabi,” said Kowash. “If [one is] so removed from everything else and doesn’t have the adhan, how else are you going to experience that in a place like this?”
The call to prayer in Abu Dhabi is broadcasted from Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. According to a 2004 Abu Dhabi government plan, the call was synchronized by using satellite technology that linked the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque to more than 400 other Abu Dhabi mosques. The only way for students to hear this adhan would be if a mosque was built near Saadiyat Campus.
Yet given the number of residents on the island, that suggestion comes with its own complications.
“There’s no mosque, I think, because there are no people living here,” said freshman Evgenija Filova.
Filova remembered one incident that, for her, illustrated how hearing the adhan in Abu Dhabi helped increase her understanding of different cultural contexts. She had been home this winter and going with her friend to another part of the city, when they both heard the sounds of a call to prayer. As they exited the bus, her friend became uncomfortable and asked Filova if they could leave.
“[She] completely freaked out," said Filova. "She had never heard it before ... I wouldn’t expect people here to freak out because they are aware of where they are," added Filova.
Back on the Downtown Campus, students who heard the adhan during class knew to be mindful.
“[When] the adhan would go off, the professor would be quiet for the first ‘Allahu akbar,'" said Kowash. "And then we'd continue with the class. You wouldn’t start again with the same intensity, but the adhan is acknowledged."
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