Mosques: History, Very Old Ones, Uses, Muezzins

Home | Category: Mosques, Mecca and Muslim Holy Places / Muslim Art and Architecture


Mosque in Delhi

A mosque is essentially a place to pray. Unlike many churches, mosques generally do not contain human remains, funeral jewelry or images and paintings of religious figures or have graveyards. Some, mostly those used by Shiites and Sufis, contain tombs of martyrs or prominent religious figures. These are sometimes referred to as shrines rather than mosques.

Mosque is a French word derived from the Arabic word “masjid”, meaning “place of prostration.” Mosques are regarded as places that people gather to pray. According to sura 24:36 they are “houses which God has allowed to be built, that His name may be spoken in them.”

Throughout their history, wherever Muslims have settled in large enough numbers, they have made erecting a mosque an high priority. Dr. Carool Kersten of the Kings College London wrote for the BBC: “The mosque is a place to gather for prayers, to study and to celebrate festivals such as Ramadan. It can also be used to house schools and community centres. The simplest mosque would be a prayer room with a wall marked with a “mihrab” – a niche indicating the direction of Mecca, which Muslims should face when praying. A typical mosque also includes a minaret, a dome and a place to wash before prayers. Each feature has its own significance. [Source: Dr. Carool Kersten, Kings College London, BBC |::|]

Mosques serve as community centers as well as a religious centers, and are regarded as places for education. The atmosphere inside a mosque is generally relaxed. People hang out and chat with their friends when not praying. Children sometimes play around inside and people often enter to escape the heat. It is generally okay for non-Muslims to enter. Mosques have traditionally been oriented mostly towards men. Women have traditionally been encouraged to pray at home. Many mosques only a relatively small, screened off area that women can use.

Websites and Resources: Islamic Architecture and Art: Islamic Arts & Architecture / ; Architecture of Islam ; Images of mosques all over the world, from the Aga Khan Documentation Center at MIT ; British Museum Islamic Art Metropolitan Museum of Art ; Islamic Art Louvre Louvre ; Museum without Frontiers ; Victoria & Albert Museum ; Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, Qatar ; CalligraphyIslamic, lots of Islamic calligraphy ; Islam IslamOnline ; Institute for Social Policy and Understanding; ; Islamic City ; BBC article ; University of Southern California Compendium of Muslim Texts ; Encyclopædia Britannica article on Islam ; Islam at Project Gutenberg ; Muslims: PBS Frontline documentary frontline

Mosque Architecture

Mosque in Ivory Coast
Muslim architecture it expressed mostly in the form of mosques as well as in related “madrassahs” (theological schools), “khanqahs” (monasteries), shrines and mausoleum complexes.

Tim Stanley, curator the Middle Eastern collection a the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, told the Times of London, “What you must remember is that a mosque is built as much to honor its creator as to honor the creator of the universe. In its opulence and detail, it resembles a place as much as a church.” The concept behind a mosque is very simple. “All you need in a mosque is the correct orientation — toward Mecca and an open space.”

Mosques often lie at the center of a complex of buildings that can include related madrassahs khanqahs. shrines, mausoleum complexes, legal courts, hostels, hospitals, and facilities to help the poor. Turkish mosques were often built as part of larger complexes called “kulliye” that included a madrassah, a soup kitchen (“imaret”), public bath (“hamam”), and public fountain (“cesme” ) with drinking water. The building of mosques has traditionally been financed by donations obtained people and organizations living around the place where the mosque be built or a wealthy benefactor or foundation.

Early Mosques

Mosques have been in existence as long as Islam. Some of the earliest mosques were built during the time of the prophet Muhammad. However, according to Qur’an, some mosques predated Muhammad and were built during the time of the previous prophets like Abraham. The Qur’an mentions four mosques. It is unclear when these mosques were first built, but they are considered the oldest mosques in the world. These mosques hold the highest place in the Islamic tradition and are regarded as holy pilgrimages. [Source: Oldest,org]

After Muhammad arrived in Medina, he said Allah would use his camel to chose the best spot to set to set up his camp and a place to pray. The camel knelt before a small barn. This barn became the world's first mosque. It was likely made of palm logs and mud brick and had fiber roofing. A stone marked the direction of prayer. The pulpit used by Muhammad to preach was fashioned from a tree trunk. Muslims gathered in the courtyard to discuss community matters. All mosque built afterwards were based on this humble structure.

20120509-Dome of the rock.jpg
Dome of the Rock In Jerusalem
One mosque that set the tone for all mosques that followed was the Dome of the Rock, completed in Jerusalem in A.D. 691. It contained no human figures and instead was decorated with Qur’anic verses written with Arabic calligraphy. The great dome suggested balance and space.

Early mosques were influenced by Byzantine architecture and local styles. Many early mosques were reconstituted churches or synagogues. Other mosques were converted Persian halls or rectangular fields surrounded by a ditch or a fence.

The designs of early mosques was relatively simple and they were enlarged by simply knocking down some brick walls and shuffling around the columns.

Initially Islam had no restrictions on visual art. Since images of Moses, Abraham, Noah and Jesus found early churches that were converted into mosques were all prophets in the minds of Muslims no effort was made to tear them down.

Oldest Mosques in the World

1) Masjid al-Haram in Mecca is said to have been built during the time of Abraham 4,000 years ago. Also known as Al-Haram Mosque, it is considered the oldest mosque in the world. The mosque surrounds Kaaba, the most sacred object in Islam and circled by Muslim pilgrims during the Hajj. According to Qur’an, the prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) and his son Isma’il built the Kaaba. With in the Masjid al-Haramcomplex are The Black Stone, Maqam Ibrahim, the hills of Safa and Marwa, and Zamzam Well. Some Islamic scholars believe that the Black Stone goes to the Age of Abraham. Renovations and expansions have been made over the centuries. The the mosque complex now covers an area of 356,000 square meters and has nine minarets. Masjid al-Haram is also the largest mosque in the world and can accommodate hundreds of thousands of Hajj million pilgrims at a time. [Source: Oldest,org]

2) Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem’s Old City is considered the second oldest mosque in the world. Regarded as the third most sacred site in Islam and sacred to Jews and Christians, who call it the Temple Mount, the site and compound is home to the Qubbat al-Sakhra (Dome of the Rock) and al-Aqsa mosque. According to Islamic tradition, the Dome of the Rock is where the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven during the Night Journey and where Abraham tried to sacrifice his son to God. The site is a source of conflict between Israel and Palestine. As well as Muslims and Jews. Currently, Israel controls the site, but Muslim Waqf, an Islamic trust, administers the mosque. Ummayad rulers built the original Dome of the Rock during A.D. 691-692.

3) Al-Mashʿar Al- aram is an open-roofed mosque in Muzdalifah, near Mecca. Also called the Sacred Monument, the site is mentioned in Qur’an and is thus regarded as one of the oldest mosques in the world but the time when it was first built is still not confirmed. The site place hosts one part of the Hajj pilgrimage — the Maghrib and Isha prayers. A large structure and other infrastructure have been built around the Al-Mashʿar Al- aram to accommodate Hajj and Umrah pilgrims. Al-Mashʿar Al- aram is one of the holiest places in Islam as Muhammad gave his Farewell Sermon here.

4) Mosque of the Companions was first built 613 in Massawa, Eritrea. Also known as the Masjid a-a abah, it is a small mosque and the oldest mosque in Africa. It is believed to have been built by companions of Muhammad, who fled persecution in Mecca, while Muhammad was still alive.. Historians, however, believe that the current structure was built somewhat later as a memorial bases partly on the fact features of the mosque such as the mihrab and minaret, that were not introduced in Islamic architecture when it is said to have been built. during the early 7th century. In any cases, Masjid a-a abah is the oldest mosque that can be accurately dated.

Pilgrims gather around the Kaaba at al-Haram Mosque during the Hajj

5) Al Nejashi Mosque was first built 614 in Negash, Ethiopia. It was built by the companions of the prophet Muhammad, who fled to the Tigray region in Ethiopia and one of the places where the first Muslim settlements took place. The mosque is named Nejashi, meaning the king. Initially, 15 companions of Muhammad arrived in this area and were warmly received by the king of Abyssinia. Then, another group of around 101 followers came during the second migration. The mosque underwent a major renovation in 2018 but sustained damage during clashes between Tigray People’s Liberation Front and Ethiopian and Eritrean security forces. Behind the main mosque building, there are 15 tombs. Scholars believe these are the tombs of the companions of Muhammad that came during the first migration.

6.) Masjid al-Qiblatayn was first built 615 in Zeila, in the western Awdal region of Somaliland, a semi-independent area of Somalia. Not to be confused with Masjid al-Qiblatayn in Medina, it is one of the three earliest mosques built in Africa by the early followers of Muhammad, who fled Mecca to escape persecution. Masjid al-Qiblatayn, Al Nejashi Mosque, and Masjid a- a abah all have similar histories. Masjid al-Qiblatayn, now mostly in ruins, contains the tomb of Sheikh Babu Dena and two mihrabs. One mihrab is in the north, facing Mecca, and the other in the northwest faces towards Jerusalem. The mosque is believed to be constructed by the Dir clan family, who were instrumental in spreading Islam in Somalia.

7) Quba Mosque was first built around 622 in Medina, Saudi Arabia. It is the first mosque built by Muhammad, who is said to have laid the mosque’s the first stone. This small mosque was built in Quba, a village five kilometers from central Medina. Over time Medina expanded and engulfed the Quba. The Qur’an says after emigrating to Medina, Muhammad stayed in Kulsoom bin Hatam’s home for 14 days. Later, he built the Quba mosque at that place. Every Saturday. Muhammad would go to this mosque and lead prayers. He told his followers to do the same, saying, “He who makes ablutions at his home and comes to Masjid Quba and offers two rakats therein will be rewarded the reward of an Umrah.” Quba is also the mosque where the first ever Friday prayer led by Muhammad took place. The original structure Quba mosque was demolished in the 20th century to be replaced by a new building.

8) Al-Masjid an-Nabawi was first built around 622 in Medina. Also known as the Prophet’s Mosque, it is the second mosque built by the prophet Muhammad in Medina and is now the second-largest mosque in the world — and is regarded as the second-holiest site in Islam. The stories goes the land on which the mosque was built belonged to two young orphans, Sahl and Suhayl. Before Muhammad reached Medina, the site was used as a burial ground but when Sahl and Suhayl learned that Muhammad was looking for land, they offered it as a gift. However, knew that the orphan brothers were strapped money and insisted on paying for the land. price. Later, Abu Ayyub al-Ansari paid on behalf of Muhammad. Originally the mosque was an open-air building used as a religious school, a court of law, and a meeting place for the followers of Islam. Al-Masjid an-Nabawi, the Green Dome, in the southeast corner of the mosque, houses the tombs of Muhammad and early Caliphs Abu Bakr and Umar.

Al Sahaba Mosque, Massawa

Very Old Mosque Found in Israel

In 2021, archaeologist announced that a mosque dating to the earliest decades of Islam had been found in the city of Tiberias, near the Sea of Galilee. They said the mosque dates to around A.D. 670, just a few decades after the death of Muhammad. Tiberias was founded by the Romans in the 1st century A.D. and conquered by Muslim forces in A.D. 635. Because most other mosques from this period are still in use and therefore can’t be excavated, this mosque offers archaeologists an unprecedented opportunity to investigate a religious building dating to Islam’s infancy. [Source: Archaeology magazine, May 2021]

According to Associated Press: “When the mosque was built Tiberias had been a Muslim-ruled city for a few decades. Named after Rome’s second emperor around 20 AD, the city was a major center of Jewish life and scholarship for nearly five centuries. Before its conquest by Muslim armies in 635, the Byzantine city was home to one of a constellation of Christian holy sites dotting the Sea of Galilee's shoreline. Under Muslim rule, Tiberias became a provincial capital in the early Islamic empire and grew in prominence. Early caliphs built palaces on its outskirts along the lake shore. But until recently, little was known about the city’s early Muslim past. Gideon Avni, chief archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority, said the discovery helps resolve a scholarly debate about when mosques began standardizing their design, facing toward Mecca. “In the archaeological finds, it was very rare to find early mosques,” he said. [Source: Ilan Ben Zion, Associated Press, January 29, 2021]

“Initial excavations of the site in the 1950s led scholars to believe that the building was a Byzantine marketplace later used as a mosque. But excavations by Katia Cytryn-Silverman, a specialist in Islamic archaeology at Hebrew University delved deeper beneath the floor. Coins and ceramics nestled among at the base of the crudely crafted foundations helped date them to around 660-680 AD, barely a generation after the city’s capture. The building's dimensions, pillared floor-plan, and qiblah, or prayer niche, closely paralleled other mosques from the period. Avni said that for a long time, academics weren’t sure what happened to cities in the Levant and Mesopotamia conquered by the Muslims in the early 7th century. “Earlier opinions said that there was a process of conquest, destruction and devastation,” he said. Today, he said, archaeologists understand that there was a “fairly gradual process, and in Tiberias you see that.”

Masjid al-Qiblatayn in Zeila

“The first mosque built in the newly conquered city stood cheek by jowl with the local synagogues and the Byzantine church that dominated the skyline. This earliest phase of the mosque was “more humble” than a larger, grander structure that replaced it half a century later, Cytryn-Silverman said. “At least until the monumental mosque was erected in the 8th century, the church continued being the main building in Tiberias,” she added. She says this supports the idea that the early Muslim rulers — who governed an overwhelmingly non-Muslim population — adopted a tolerant approach toward other faiths, allowing a "golden age” of coexistence. “You see that the beginning of the Islamic rule here respected very much the population that was the main population of the city: Christians, Jews, Samaritans,” Cytryn-Silverman said. “They were not in a hurry to make their presence expressed into buildings. They were not destroying others’ houses of prayers, but they were actually fitting themselves into the societies that they now were the leaders of."

Another Very Old Mosque in Israel

In 2019, an equally old mosque was found at a construction site in Rahat, Israel. It was built only a few years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in A.D. 632. Candida Moss wrote in the Daily Beast: According to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), the building was constructed around 600 or 700 A.D., when the region was mostly rural farmland. The location and layout of the mosque can tell us a great deal about the building’s purpose. Unlike some of the larger urban mosques that were built during this period, it is a simple open-air rectangular building. It was identified as a mosque by the presence of a mihrab, or prayer niche, which faced south towards Mecca. The discovery of a nearby agricultural settlement from the same period suggests that the mosque catered to the needs of farmers in the region. [Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast, July 28, 2019]

Oliver Scharbrodt, professor of Islamic studies at the University of Birmingham, told The Daily Beast that the discovery shows “the early Arab Muslim settlers were not simply city-dwellers ruling over a non-Muslim rural population but already owned land and engaged in farming at this very early period of the Arab-Muslim conquest of the Middle East.”

Given how early this mosque is it can tell us a great deal about the emergence of distinctive identity-defining facets of Muslim identity. Cobb told me that in some cities that were recently conquered by Muslims, Christians and Muslims shared prayer space. This was not the case in Rahat however, “if this mosque is indeed as early as the archaeologists claim,” Cobb said, “it tells us that building a separate place of prayer was an important part of an emerging and distinct Muslim identity.”

In a similar way, the discovery of this early mosque is a witness to emerging Islamic practice ritual and architectural tradition. “According to Muslim tradition,” said Cobb, “the first generation of Muslims in Arabia briefly prayed toward Jerusalem, as Jews did. But the mihrab… in this mosque points solidly toward Mecca. So while it is early, it nevertheless reflects the more confident and distinct Muslim identity that emerged after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.” It is important evidence that helps us track the rise of certain, now normative, aspects of Muslim prayer and identity. (Cobb cautioned however, that as we don't have any archaeological evidence of mosques pointing to Jerusalem this might be “beside the point.”)

Prophet's Mosque in Medina

The second historical process that the mosque can tell us about is sedentarization, the process by which nomadic populations settled in one place and by which small pre-existing groups of people developed into larger communities. This discovery disproves one of the more problematic myths about the Muslim conquest. Cobb told me, “It is often held—especially with regard to the Negev—that the coming of Islam brought with it vast numbers of nomads who destroyed local settled communities. In fact, the archaeological evidence (of which the Rahat mosque and ancient village are one example) tends to suggest that sedentarization and urbanization actually increased following the Muslim conquests.” What the discovery of the Rahat mosque shows is that “the standard architecture of Islamic ritual space was fully integrated into settled agricultural communities from a very early date, even in a place as remote as this.”

Mosque Life

Mosques are the focus of Islamic community life. The faithful gather there for prayer, reflection and social activity. Adult Muslim men are expected to attend a Friday sermon called the Salat ul-Jumuʾah, or "prayer of gathering." Women are encouraged to attend, but those with domestic responsibilities are allowed to pray at home. Many mosques function as community centers, where meetings are held and offer various services to the poor and instruction for children.[Source:]

Muslims don't use a mosque the same way Christians use a church. A Sunday Christian sermon is a once a week event that combines prayer, religious ceremony with the sermon itself. Muslims try to pray at the mosque everyday, ideally five times a day, and they believe that Islam is a way of life that they ascribe to 24 hours a day.

John L. Esposito wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”: The mosque's main prayer area is a large open space adorned with Oriental carpets. When they pray, Muslims face the mihrab, an ornamental arched niche set into the wall, which indicates the direction of Mecca. Near the mihrab is the minbar, a raised wooden platform, like a pulpit, that is similar to the one the Prophet Muhammad used when giving sermons. Prayer leaders deliver sermons from the steps of the minbar. Most mosques also have a spot set aside, away from the main area, where Muslims can cleanse themselves before they pray. [Source: John L. Esposito “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, 2000s,]

Mosques are often the sites for Qur’anic recitations and retreats, especially during the fast of Ramadan, and as centers for the collection and distribution of charitable contributions (zakat). Muslim pilgrims visit their mosques before they leave for, and when they return from, a pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj), and the bodies of those who have died are placed before the mihrab for funerary prayers. Mosques are also sites where marriages and business agreements are contracted and where educational classes are often held. In contemporary times mosques have become centers for political mobilization in those countries that control or ban public meetings or opposition politics. Preachers deliver sermons that incorporate political messages, criticizing government leaders, corruption, and injustice.

Friday Prayers at a Mosque

Wudhu (Ablution)
John L. Esposito wrote in the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”: For many Muslims, Friday at a mosque is a day of congregational prayer, religious education , and socializing. The atmosphere is one of tranquility and reflection and also of relaxation. A visitor to a mosque may see people chatting quietly or napping on the carpets, as well as praying and reading the Qur’an. [Source: John L. Esposito “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices”, 2000s,]

Friday noon prayers are the one time when Muslim are expected to gather together and listen to a short sermons. Men kneel or sit cross legged on prayer rugs while the preacher (“ khatib” ) gives a 15- to 30-minute sermon that usually follows a regular form: praises to God, blessings invoked on the Prophet, a story the good deed performed by Muhammad or homily regarding the Muslim community, and an invocation of God’s blessing on the local community or leader. Afterward everyone prays together. Similar services are held on major holidays, particularly the Breaking of the Fast after Ramadan and the Feast of the Sacrifice. Muslim Friday is not as significant day of rest like the Jewish sabbath (Saturday) or the Christian sabbath (Sunday). This is one reason why many Muslims can follow a normal Western work week.

The only prayer which must always be performed in public is the noon prayer on Friday (jumʿa). Haïm Z’ew Hirschberg wrote in the “Encyclopaedia Judaica”: In preparation for the Friday prayer washing the entire body (ghusl) is required. The Friday prayer is the only prayer during which a sermon (khu ba) is delivered. The sermon normally includes praise of Allah, a prayer for the Prophet, exhortation to good deeds, and a chapter from the Qur’an. It is also customary to mention the ruler. This custom has great political importance: it is a symbol of the worshipers' allegiance to the government in power. Mentioning the ruler's name in the sermon is considered indicative of the preacher's (and the congregation's) political loyalty, while its omission is considered a symbol of rebellion. Mutatis mutandis, sermons are at times used for political statements in the modern period as well. Religiously speaking, Friday is not a day of rest like the Jewish Sabbath. As is clear from Qur’an 62:9–11, work is prohibited only during the prayer itself; after the prayer is concluded, all activities may be resumed. Nevertheless, Friday has acquired in Islam the characteristics of a holiday and is the official day of rest in many Muslim states. [Source: Haïm Z’ew Hirschberg, “Encyclopaedia Judaica”, 2000,]

The choice of Friday as the Muslim day of congregational prayer was explained in various ways. Some thought that it was just to differentiate Islam from Judaism and Christianity; but this argument is good for any day except Saturday and Sunday. A classical tradition observes that although the Jews and the Christians were given their holy books before the Muslims, the Muslims precede them in their day of prayer, in order to do them justice. The most widely accepted scholarly explanation was given by S.D. Goitein. Goitein suggests that Friday was chosen because on that day the Jews of Medina used to prepare provisions for the Sabbath; because of this Friday became a market day on which not only the inhabitants of Medina, but also the inhabitants of the adjacent areas assembled in the city and engaged in commerce. Since Qur’an 62:9–11 clearly says that commercial activity must cease when the call to prayer is sounded, this explanation sounds convincing.

Mosque Customs

Mosques and shrines are often not open to non-Muslims. Those that do welcome them expect them to be appropriately dressed: no shorts, short skirts, revealing halter tops or exposed shoulders. Mosques that allow women often require them to at least wear a head scarf. Some require them to cover their entire bodies, except the face, hands and feet, and not wear trousers. Sometimes mosque provide women who don’t have one with a head scarf. Sometimes they have robes for men wearing shorts.

The Muslim faithful are expected to remove their shoes and wash their feet in a sacred basin before they enter the mosque. If no water is available Muslims are supposed to wash themselves with sand. Foreigner visitors s can usually get away with just removing their shoes and are not required to wash their feet. In any case, make sure you feet or socks are clean. Dirty feet in a mosques are regarded as an insult to Islam. In large mosques you remove your shoes and place them on a shelf with a number.

Inside a mosque don't walk in front of someone who is praying, don't touch the Qur’an, never sit or stand on a prayer rug and never place a Qur’an on the floor or put anything on top of it. Also, don't cross your legs in front of an older people and don't step over someone who is sitting down Show respect, remain quiet and stay out of the way. Taking photographs is frowned upon.

Segregation of Men and Women in Mosques

Sometimes women are not allowed to pray in mosques. When they are allowed in they are often relegated to small screened off areas. In some cases they have to enter through a back door and pray on a balcony and are only to able communicate with men through notes that are delivered by their children. Women are not allowed to speak through microphones, it is sometimes said, because their voices are said to be sexually alluring to men. Women that ignore rules about praying in the men’s areas are admonished and scolded and banished from the mosque.

Women praying
Similar restrictions are the norm when men and women pray outside of mosques in public buildings. Men say their prayers in a spacious room while women are confined to much smaller room with prayers piped in from the men’s room. Many Muslim insist that women should pray at home not in a mosque. In North America, Muslim women are active challenging the segregation rules in mosque and getting the barriers removed.

There is nothing in the Qur’an that states women should be segregated and secluded in mosques. Muhammad told his Companions: “Do not stop the female servants of Allah from attending the mosque of Allah. Muhammad himself prayed with women. When he was informed that some men were choosing positions to pray near attractive women he scold the men not the women. In Muhammad’s time and after his death historical records show that men and women prayed side by side without screens in the Prophet’s mosque. Women participated in debates and asked questions of the Prophet himself.

Segregation is justified by sayings from the hadith such as: “Do not prevent your women from [going to] the mosques, though their houses are best for them.”


Muezzins are people who issue the call to initiate the five daily prayers. Serving as a Muslim crier in a ritual is over 1,400 years old, these men traditionally stood at the top of a mosque minaret and called the faithful to prayer through cupped hands, with a waling, mellifluous chanting of Qur’anic verses. Now muezzin generally either sit in the mosque and summons the faithful with a microphone and a crackling set of loudspeakers or they play a tape of an imam with a "particularly beautiful voice".

The muezzin typically calls: " Allah akbar ! Allah akbar ! Allah akbar ! Allah akbar ! — "God is Great! God is Great! God is Great! God is Great" — followed by “There is no God but Allah. There is no God but Allah. Muhammad is God's messenger. Muhammad is God's messenger. Come to pray. Come to pray. Come to security. Come to security. Prayer is better than sleep. God is Great. God is Great. The is no God but Allah." Many people stop what they are doing and prostate themselves on the streets towards Mecca. No noise can be transmitted over the system except for the voice of an imam reading the from the Qur’an. The place the muezzin traditionally stands on a minaret is built without scaffolding until reaching the height of the balcony — which bulges outward from the rest of the structure. The tower and the stairs are often built together with the builders simply building the structure upwards as they go.

According to the AFP All across the Muslim world, muezzins, broadcast the "adhan" call to prayer, five times a day. Intoned in Arabic over minaret loudspeakers, it reminds Muslims: "God is the greatest" and they should "hasten to prayers". There is a quiet hierarchy among muezzins. A particularly melodic caller can increase the standing of a mosque. House hunters might judge the neighbourhood adhan before making an offer. And at prestigious mosques, the job is highly coveted. [Source: Zain Janjua, AFP, April 11, 2023]

Muezzins in Cairo

muezzin in the old days

Jeffrey Fleishman wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Sandals in alleys, keys scraping locks, the holy men are the first ones up, opening mosque doors and clicking on microphones, their cadences crackling across the sleepy city, summoning the faithful to another day of struggle and grace. “Mohamed Ahmed is among them in the half-light. Since he was a child, he's wanted his voice to be an instrument for God. A small, swift man in a white tunic, he's one of thousands of prayer callers whose tenors and baritones [Source: Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2010 |*|]

Like many muezzins, Ahmed receives occasional donations but no salary. He grew up a farmer's son in southern Egypt and traveled to Cairo in his 20s, wandering from mosque to mosque and studying the timbre and rhythm of the city's revered callers. Maghfera has been his spiritual home for 20 years and he is not likely to let the state pull the plug on his vocation, especially now during the holy month of Ramadan. "I've wanted to serve God since I was a boy," he said. "I never wanted a prominent job or big money. For me, life is a phase, a space before paradise. The afterlife is the most important, and the best way to earn credit with God is to be in a mosque calling people to prayer. My reward will come later. A lot of young men stop by and ask if they can make the call to prayer so they can gather the goodness of God." |*|

“He knows the fathers and sons washing themselves for prayers in the spigots of the green and yellow mosque. He has watched them grow, succeed, fail, and, for the older ones, his voice is as recognizable as a long-ago song on a car radio. It has stayed constant — a soothing tenor chanting ancient words — while this city of 18 million has grown anxious, fretful and desperate for solace. "The old Cairo I knew," he said, "has been swapped for another one. There are so many more mosques now than there used to be, and the number of people coming goes up every year." |*|

“He checks the time, steps to his microphone. “Hayya 'ala-salatt. Hayya 'ala-salatt. (Make haste toward prayers.) “Men and boys come from across the neighborhood, putting down tools, tucking papers away; they slip off shoes and step into the dimness beneath overhead fans. More and more arrive and soon the small mosque, smelling of aftershave and sweat, is crowded with men and the murmur of prayer. The descending planes and the traffic on the highway seem to fall silent and Ahmed, a speck of white in a colorful sea, stands in the front, hands raised, palms open.|*|

“Still spry in his 60s, Ahmed prostrates himself. The men follow, bent rows from wall to wall. A few worshipers open Qur’ans. The soft turn of pages. A breath. A child looks toward the door light. The prayer done, the men disappear as quickly as they came. Ahmed steps outside into the breeze. In a few more hours, the call would come again and the men would retrace their steps, following that trusted voice toward a moment of grace.”

Cairo Call to Prayer Cacophony

Jeffrey Fleishman wrote in the Los Angeles Times: In Cairo there are “thousands of prayer callers whose tenors and baritones fill the Cairo skyline with, depending upon your ear, a clamor reminiscent of the caw of migrating birds or sacred music borne from deep in the desert. The dueling rhythms fit this city, a ramshackle clutter of emotion and humanity, where the individual battles for recognition against the screech and bustle. The prayer caller, or muezzin, is that rare distinction, a neighborhood's singular note of repose, the first sound many hear when car engines are cold and the moon fades to a powdery smudge in the sky. [Source: Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2010 |*|]

the first muezzin, a slave on the Kaaba

“But one man's tranquillity is another's cacophony. The Ministry of Religious Endowments, which oversees the nation's mosques, says when you stitch all those voices together you've got an out-of-tune, rambunctious chorus that plays five times a day and brings anything but serenity. The ministry has decreed that the call to prayer, which is supposed to start in unison but often sounds like an overbearing echo, must now be delivered by one muezzin broadcast over a radio system linking the city's 4,500 mosques. |"The call to prayer in Egypt has recently become a very chaotic process involving a war of microphones and sound disruptions that do not suit the spirituality of calling for the prayer," said Minister of Endowment Hamdi Zaqzouq. "The unified call for prayers will bring back its spirituality, because its main aim is to attract people to praying and not repel them."

In 2010 the Cairo government decreed 'chaotic' call of prayer by thousands of muezzin would be unified by one muezzin broadcast over a system linking 4,500 mosques. Jeffrey Fleishman wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “The ambitious plan is part of a nationwide drive that began this month in Alexandria. Cairo's large mosques have embraced the idea, but this being Egypt, technology problems have caused delays. And in a country where rules can be regarded as mere discretionary annoyances, many neighborhood muezzins, the tone deaf and the melodic alike, are not surrendering their loudspeakers. [Source: Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2010 |*|]

“"No one came to tell me of this new regulation," said Ahmed, sitting near stacks of prayer rugs in the Maghfera (Forgiveness) mosque below the flight path to Cairo International Airport. "I think I heard something about it last year. But if this happens, the call to prayer will lose its mystique and spirituality. People in these streets know my voice. And in other mosques and in other neighborhoods the worshipers know the voices of their muezzins." He paused, less exasperated than intrigued at how the new system will reach thousands of small, unregulated mosques, known as zawiyas. "It'll never work," he said. "It's too expensive to coordinate such a plan." |*|

Muezzin at a Pakistan Mega Mosque

During Ramadan in 2023, Zain Janjua of AFP wrote: Moments before dawn, Noor ul Islam ascends the steps of one of the world's biggest mosques, enters its cavernous hall and says a private prayer before a faintly buzzing microphone. Then, the 32-year-old gulps down a deep breath and makes the morning's call to worship — a forceful yet lilting chant amplified across Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, marking the start of daylight fasting. "The voice is a gift from God," Islam told AFP at Faisal Mosque, a towering marble monument to the nation's devotion to faith. "If your intentions are genuine, your voice will have the power to touch people's hearts," he said. [Source: Zain Janjua, AFP, April 11, 2023]

In the month of Ramadan, where prayers mark the start and finish of 14 hours of fasting in Pakistan, the faithful are particularly attuned. The three muezzin roles at Faisal Mosque — a national emblem opened in 1986 with a fabled capacity of 300,000 worshippers — are among the most prized outside the holy sites of Mecca and Medina.

As a teenager visiting Pakistan's capital from his hometown 105 kilometres (65 miles) away, Islam was captivated by the soulful call from Faisal Mosque's four spiked towers. "Every Muslim yearns to say the adhan, lead prayers or give a sermon at a well-known mosque," he said. "Every pious Muslim has this dream." His chance came in 2018, when a single slot opened and he beat 400 other candidates to the post.

When he steps up to the microphone, Islam plugs his ears with his fingers in order to block all sounds apart from his voice. "The adhan, delivered with a beautiful and precise pronunciation, resonates with people," said 57-year-old businessman Aziz Ahmed in front of the mosque.

Some of Islam's fellow muezzins coddle their vocal cords like rock stars and theatre performers, drinking honey-laced beverages, and avoiding cold breezes and oil-drenched Pakistani cuisine. "I am a careless person when it comes to this," chuckles Islam. "I can't resist." Nonetheless, he treats his vocation with humble reverence. “The fundamental purpose of the adhan is to invite people towards God. You can only accomplish this effectively when you possess a pure heart", he said. "Any delay or lack of sincerity in performing the adhan could potentially erode our faith." A sub-par adhan is treated as a "formality" by muezzins who create "fake voices".

A good recital can "strike me straight in the heart", Islam said. But the position does come with a hint of celebrity. Devotees travel for miles to hear the call at Faisal Mosque, peer through the windows to watch Islam at work and ask for selfies afterwards. Back home in the town of Swabi, he is considered a local hero. Now Islam aspires to secure a further promotion to muezzin at the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca. "I can't explain these feelings," he said. "Every Muslim should try to make this bond between him and God. There is peace in this."

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources:Internet Islamic History Sourcebook: ; Arab News, Jeddah; “Islam, a Short History” by Karen Armstrong; “A History of the Arab Peoples” by Albert Hourani (Faber and Faber, 1991); “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); Metropolitan Museum of Art,, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Library of Congress and various books and other publications.

Last updated April 2024

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.