The Call to Prayer
When Muslims first gathered in Madinah, they established the first mosque specifically built for Muslim worship. In those early days of the Muslim community, however, the people did not have any way of knowing the exact time for gathering in the mosque for prayer. The Christians rang bells at the church, and the Jews blew on a ram's horn trumpet to call people to assembly. The Muslim community strove to find an appropriate signal to let the community know when to gather for prayer.
A Public Call
The problem was solved when a suggestion was made to appoint someone to call for prayer with his voice. Muhammad approved of the idea and asked a man named Bilal to do so. Bilal was an African convert who had been freed from slavery by the Muslims.
He would climb up onto the roof of the mosque and use his beautiful and powerful voice to call out to the faithful to come for prayer. This call to prayer became known as the adhan, from a word that means to call or announce. Thus began the tradition that continues to this day.
In earlier times, the person calling the adhan simply stood on the roof of the mosque. As mosque architecture developed, the towering minaret became a convenient place from which to make the call to prayer. In modern times, Muslims still rely on the traditional caller, although he is now assisted with loudspeakers and sometimes cassette recordings of his voice.
The person who makes the call to prayer is called the mu'adhin. It is considered an honor to be selected by the community to make the call to prayer. A man is usually chosen because of his piety as well as his powerful vocal technique. (Women do not serve as mu'adhins because it's considered inappropriate for a woman to project her voice in public.)
At the time of prayer, the mu'adhin calls out the following words:
Allahu Akbar (God is Great)
Ashadu an-la illaha ill Allah (I bear witness that there is no god except Allah)
Ashadu an-la illaha ill Allah
Ashadu ana Muhammad ar-rasulullah (I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah)
Ashadu ana Muhammad ar-rasulullah
Haya ala salah (Come to prayer)
Haya ala salah
Haya ala falah (Come to prosperity)
Haya ala falah
Allahu Akbar (God is Great)
La illaha ill Allah (There is no god worthy to be worshiped except Allah)
During the predawn hours, there is an additional phrase added in the middle: As-salaatu khayrun min'n-nawm, which means, “Prayer is better than sleep!”
Upon hearing the adhan, Muslims make their way to the mosque for the prayer service, which begins after people have had time to arrive, usually about 15 to 30 minutes after the call.
Mosques in the Muslim world usually call the adhan over loudspeakers so that everyone within traveling distance can hear. Several mosques are often located in the same vicinity, and the sounds of the various adhans echo through the land.