Shmuly on Call to Prayer

What I love about this Facebook post is Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz’s choice to see the romance of prayer in the Muslim call to the faithful, to feel gratitude in the music and the words of the adhan (أَذَان).

When I lived in the South Jerusalem neighborhood of Ba’ka, I occasionally heard the morning music of the muezzin (مؤذن‎‎) – the prayer leader – from nearby Sur Baher. It arrived lightly, as if carried on the wind. It reached me only on those mornings when I was already drifting back to consciousness from a sound sleep. I, too, would use those moments to get up early to daven and to embrace a moment of hitbodedut, personal prayer and meditation.

Now I live in Arnona, up the hill from Tzomet HaBankim. I hear the call to prayer each morning as it echoes from hilltop to valley to hilltop, blasted by loudspeakers. On rare mornings I sleep through it. Most mornings it jars me to consciousness. Some days I fall back to sleep. Other days, I cannot.

If my upstairs neighbor repeatedly woke me up before 5 a.m. – even with classical music or beautiful song – my attitude would be simple: my neighbor is being rude, perhaps without knowing it, but rude nonetheless. Hopefully, we’d come to some agreement about reasonable neighborly behavior in the early morning.

When I lived in Ba’ka, my spiritual practice was to use the light and lovely call of the muezzin as a call to my own prayer. Here in Arnona, jarred out of slumber, my spiritual practice is to breathe and to reject anger. Some mornings I wonder how those who live closer to Sur Baher manage. Other mornings I try to remember that this is an ancient practice that goes back to the time of Muhammad.

Loudspeakers don’t. The volume – a level that far exceeds the needs of the local community – is disproportionate to an intention of prayer. That’s the question. Why amplify so loudly? The easy answer, of course, is to say that this is a hostile act. That prayer is being used as a weapon to deprive others of sleep.

This is where spiritual practice gets interesting, because it’s a choice to connect the act of broadcasting the call to prayer with an intention of violence. I confess. It can be tough for me to see it any other way. And it’s still a choice.

Perhaps there’s another interpretation. Blasting the call to faith can be seen as an ingenious means to protest Palestinian status in Israeli society. There’s no physical violence, no threat to life and – as an ancient custom of a people – no individual to blame. It’s in Arabic. The sender and the message are clear. As ‘invisibles’ in major parts of Israeli society – those who’s rights are diminished and humanity disparaged – this forces the majority culture to hear their voice.

I have several choices of how to view being woken up in the early morning day after day by the Muslim call to prayer. Bad neighbors. Hateful instigators. Ingenious protesters.

Thankfully, there are still days when I hear the call to prayer as beautiful, when I grab my siddur and tefillin and join the chorus of praises. Other days, woken again from needed sleep, I choose to view it as a protest, rather than the unconscious act of bad neighbors or the conscious act of hateful people.

Be clear: this choice is not a gift to the Muslims of Israel. This is not naivety. This is a gift I give myself, to keep my own heart free of anger and hate. The choice to hear the daily blast of the adhan as an ingenious protest — instead of a daily assault on my sleep — is a spiritual practice. It’s a choice to maintain my ability to see others without being blinded by prejudice.

I can certainly still recognize individuals who hate Jews, whether Muslim or not. I also remain free to see a broader humanity among our Arab brothers and sisters: those who are tired of the conflict, those who would make peace in spite of their anger, those who would make peace from a place of love, those who are frustrated and don’t know what else to do.

Being woken up each day is debilitating. It takes spiritual discipline to hear a daily morning intrusion of over-amplified sound as a call to prayer. I’m grateful for Rabbi Yanklowitz’s example of spiritual decision-making. For those of us who live here, that choice can be much more difficult than it appears from his Facebook post.

Here’s my prayer “For Peace in the Middle East:”

Sons of Abraham,
Sons of Hagar and Sarah,
Of Isaac and Ishmael:
Have you forgotten the day we buried our father?
Have you forgotten the day we carried his dead body into the cave near Hebron?
Have you forgotten the day we entered the darkness of Machpaelah to lay our Patriarch to rest?

Sons of Esau and Jacob:
Have you forgotten the day we made peace?
The day we set aside past injustices and deep wounds to lay down our weapons and live?
Or the day we, too, buried our father together? Have you forgotten that we took Isaac’s corpse into that humble cave to place him with his father for eternity?

Brother, I don’t remember crying with you.
Sister, I don’t remember mourning with you.
We should have cried the tears of generations.
We should have cried the tears of centuries,
The tears of fatherless sons
And motherless daughters,
So that we would remember in our flesh that we are one people,
From one father on earth and one Creator in heaven,
Divided only by time and history.

One G-d,
My brother calls you Allah.
My sister calls you Adonai.
You speak to some through Moses.
You speak to some through Mohammed.
We are one family, cousins and kin.

Holy One,
Light of truth,
Source of wisdom and strength,
In the name of our fathers and mothers,
In the name of justice and peace,
Help us to remember our history,
To mourn our losses together,
So that we may,
Once more,
Lay down our weapons and live.

G-d of All Being,
Bring peace and justice to the land,
And joy to our hearts.

For Peace in the Middle East” is © 2010 Alden Solovy and www.tobendlight.com. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.