The call to prayer is the announcement made before each of the five daily ritual devotions. It signifies that the time for Salah has commenced. It is typically given in mosques to announce the start of prayer time and to invite the believers to attend the congregation. It can be given wherever a Muslim wishes to perform the obligatory Salah, not limited to the mosque. In Arabic, the word athan means “to call” or “proclaim.”
The call to prayer was introduced to the Muslim community after the migration of the Messenger Muhammad to Medina. The practice of Islam became public for the first time after it was underground in Mecca for thirteen years due to persecution. One of the first things the Muslims did once the Messenger arrived to Medina was to build a mosque so that the Muslims could gather to offer their daily ritual devotions in congregation.
However, they realized they needed a way to call people to the daily ritual devotions. This was a time before the invention of clocks and timepieces. The Messenger Muhammad asked his disciples for their suggestions. They offered their feedback, with some suggesting a bell like the one Christians use, and others recommending a horn should be blown like that of the Jews. The Messenger Muhammad did not approve any of these suggestions as Islam teaches its followers to be distinct in their religious devotions and not to imitate others.
That night, one disciple by the name of Abdullah ibn Zayd saw a vision in his dream in which a man came to him and taught him statements that should be said in a call made out loud before the time of every daily ritual devotion. In the morning, Abdullah relayed his dream to the Messenger Muhammad. The Messenger Muhammad approved these statements, as the dream was a truthful vision, and the words were made official. The Messenger told him to teach the words to Bilal, an early convert from East Africa, who had a stronger and more melodious voice. Bilal made the announcement and became the first man to make the call to prayer. Once the announcement was made, it was disclosed that the dream was seen by multiple believers as a confirmation of its truthfulness and Divine origin.
The call to prayer covers all the essentials of the Islamic faith in a few words:
- It begins by proclaiming the greatness and glory of the One and Only True God.
- It testifies to God’s Oneness and His exclusive right to worship and absolute obedience.
- It denies all false gods and the worship of everything besides God.
- It testifies that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.
- It encourages people to come to one of the greatest pillars of Islam: the daily ritual devotions.
- It invites to the daily ritual devotions and equates it with prosperity, salvation and success.
There are many rewards and virtues of making the call to prayer, including:
- It is very rewarding and wards off evil and the devil.
- The callers of the athan will have the longest necks on the Day of Judgement. This can mean:
- That they will be leaders on that day, as the Arabs describe their leaders as having long necks so that they are visible to others and can be seen by them.
- They would be those who most look forward to God’s mercy as a person strains their neck to see what they seek.
- They will be taller than others on the day that all of mankind will be standing together.
- The caller to prayer will have everything in the creation that hears his call testify on his behalf on the Day of Judgement.
- The Messenger Muhammad described the caller as responsible, as he is entrusted with calling people to their daily ritual devotions and announcing the starting time for the fast and completion of it.
The one who makes the call has to be a male, as women are not to shout and raise their voices, as it goes against the regulations of modesty. The caller usually faces the direction of Mecca and then makes the call in a loud and melodious voice. He will usually place his hands over his ears or place his index fingers in his ears. When one hears the words, it is recommended to repeat them in sequence. After the call is complete, it is recommended to make certain supplications, including asking God to bless and honor the Messenger Muhammad, and to pray the following:
“O God, Lord of this complete call, and invitation, and of the established prescribed daily ritual devotions, grant Muhammad the means, and the most virtuous place and raise him to the praiseworthy position that You have promised him.”