Say Your Prayers

One of my favorite parts of living in Amman is the regular call to prayer. Five times a day, every mosque in the city blasts their own adhān from the top of their minarets. Traditionally, the adhān is sung by a muezzin whose job it is to remind everyone to pause their day long enough to turn towards the city of Mecca and recite their prayers. Not everyone stops what they are doing, but many Muslims have prayer mats with them just for this regular occasion.  These days, the call to prayer is typically a recording projected by loudspeakers. The tune of the call to prayer is not the same at every mosque, but the wording is uniform. Even if people don’t bow down to pray, the prayer serves as a reminder to both Muslims and non-Muslims of the most basic beliefs of Islam (“God is great. I testify that there is no God but Allah. I testify that Muhammad is a messenger of God….” For one reason or another, these probably sounds pretty familiar).

King Abdullah Mosque in Amman. Some minarets are more impressive than others.

The speakers at this particular mosque sound like they could use a little tuning up; most calls to prayer are clear enough to understand the words. But as I was walking home this morning, I couldn’t help but stop and record this for you guys. Maybe it sounds a little spooky to you. That’s OK. It takes some getting used to. In the short time that I’ve been here, it’s become a welcome and relaxing part of my daily life.

It has taken some getting used to, being in a place where religion is a very real part of everyone’s daily routine. For example, people say alhamdulillah (praise to Allah) for just about everything. Seriously. How are you? Alhamdulillah. How did you sleep? Alhamdulillah. Do you want more food? Alhamdulillah. Just burped? Alhamdulillah. People use the phrase so often that, in many cases, it has actually lost it’s religious significance. At this point, it’s mainly a cultural feature of the language. Most Christians in the region say it as often as Muslims do.

During the CIEE orientation, we were advised not to bring up conversations about religion or local politics. In fact, they told us (wisely) that it’s not a good idea to discuss our personal lives with anyone who we haven’t come to know and trust. But religion is a difficult topic to avoid. Topics that are sensitive in the US (finances, politics, religious beliefs) aren’t quite so off-limits in Jordan.

During my first couple days in Amman, I wandered into a coffee shop near the hotel I was staying at for the CIEE orientation (While it’s nice to have such a strong support network of American friends, I was anxious to escape for a bit and meet some Jordanians). It was immediately obvious that I was fresh from the United States, and everyone made sure I felt welcome by reciting the usual ahlan wa sahlan and pouring a cup of Turkish coffee. There were about half a dozen men in the shop. All of them were taxi drivers and all of them were curious about what I was doing in Jordan. Within about five minutes, they asked me what my father does for a living and how much it costs for me to live with a Jordanian host family. These have become regular questions from new acquaintances. I don’t mind telling them what my dad does, but I’ve gotten good at avoiding questions about program cost.

When the call to prayer floated in through the open window, the patrons began taking turns unfurling the communal prayer mat in a small corner of the shop. When one of them had finished his prayers and rolled up the mat, the next taxi driver would roll it out again and start his own prayers. My new friend, Waseem, must have noticed that my eyes couldn’t completely avoid the prayer corner, because he invited any questions I had about what everyone was doing. I didn’t want to get in too deep with my barely passable Arabic, but I did ask him about the bracelet he had been holding since I got there. It looked just like a rosary, and he kept using his thumb to rub bead after bead. I couldn’t quite understand everything he said, but the gist was that each bead represented one of God’s gifts, and the bracelet was a way for him to remember both the vastness of God’s generosity, as well as the smallness of his own existence.  No matter what you believe in, it seems like a good idea to just sit and feel thankful every once in a while. I appreciated how he didn’t ask me what I believed in. It was clear that he wasn’t trying to force his beliefs on me. He just wanted to be sure I understood them.

For the most part, Jordanians have been extremely friendly and respectful. I’ve made plenty of friends with people who simply approached me in cafés to introduce themselves. It’s refreshing to be in a place where it’s not considered rude and invasive to say hello in a public place. Last week, I was having lunch in the hotel (yes, yes, I’ll be getting to my homestay details soon), when a guy named Hameed asked to sit with me. Of course I said yes! It turns out Hameed was visiting Jordan with his uncle from Libya, making them two of the thousands of Libyans who have been pouring into Amman seeking medical treatment after fighting to topple Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

Late nights with my new Libyan friends

This seemed crazy to me. It’s one thing to hear about the Libyan revolution on the news. It’s quite another to meet some of the people who actually made it happen. Later that night, I met Hameed’s friends. Many of them had canes and heart monitors or walked with limps. These people were seriously injured. I wish I knew enough Arabic to ask them their stories. Instead, we were forced to stick to the basics. It was actually really fun. I spent a few hours with them each night, learning about their families, showing them pictures of mine, talking about Amman, all the while learning a lot of Arabic. And they had such cute kids!

Anyway, it’s getting late. In the US, I would never say this before midnight. But something about constantly stretching my language muscles tires me much faster than usual. Tomorrow morning I get to meet my peer language tutor, a University of Jordan student that I’ve been paired up with to help me practice my Arabic. I’m glad for the opportunity to meet some Jordanians my age! My classes started this week, but the rest of the university doesn’t start until this Sunday. I’ve been busy already, but things will be picking up even more soon. Can’t wait!


4 responses to “Say Your Prayers”

  1. Malcolm Taylor says :

    I traveled also at about your age, in Europe. I found that meeting people my age there was most welcome, and the bond between us was immediate and almost sacred. Treasure it.

  2. Barbara says :

    Someone said that the human mind is like a book. One can only learn when it is open. Nothing opens the mind like being out of ones comfort zone with an positive attitude and and a receptive heart. My experience of you Kevin is that describes you well. I know you will stretch and grow and have amazing experiences. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  3. Erin says :

    The call to prayer is just amazing. One of those few sounds that just can’t be described until you hear it.

  4. Katie Congelli says :

    Hearing that call to prayer really drove home the huge distance between us! Thank you for giving us a piece of your new “everyday life”. I feel closer to you and farther away all at once. You are my hero, little brother.

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