Muslim call to prayer hits Minneapolis soundscape

MINNEAPOLIS – Arabic chanting blared from the overhead speakers, drowning out both the roar of traffic from the nearby freeways and the chatter and clinking of glasses on the patio of the pub, which shares a wall with Minneapolis’ oldest Somali mosque.

Dozens of men in fashionably ripped jeans or impeccably pressed kameez tunics rushed towards the Dar Al-Hijrah Mosque. Teenagers clutched smartphones and some of the older faithful, with the help of hikers, shuffled out of the high-rise complex across the street, home to thousands of Somalis.

This spring, Minneapolis became the first major city in the United States to allow the Islamic call to prayer, or adhan, to be publicly broadcast from its two dozen mosques.

As more and more of them prepare to join Dar Al-Hijrah, the changing soundscape is a testament to the large and increasingly visible Muslim community welcoming the change with both celebration and caution lest it cause a backlash.

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“It’s a sign that we’re here,” said Yusuf Abdulle, who heads the Islamic Association of North America, a network of three dozen mostly East African mosques. Half of them are in Minnesota, which has been home to a rapidly growing number of refugees from war-torn Somalia since the late 1990s.

Abdulle said that when he came to the United States two decades ago, “the first thing I missed was the adhan. We leave everything and answer the call of God.”

The adhan declares that God is great and proclaims Prophet Muhammad as his Messenger. It exhorts men – women are not obligated – to go to the nearest mosque five times a day to pray, which is one of the five pillars of Islam.

Its cadences are woven into the rhythms of daily life in Muslim-majority countries, but it’s a newcomer to the streets of Minneapolis, which reverberate with city traffic, the roar of snowplows in winter and tornado siren drills in summer.

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Americans have long debated the place of religious sounds in the public sphere, especially when communities are being transformed by migration, said Isaac Weiner, a religious studies scholar at Ohio State University.

“What we take for granted and what stands out depends on how we see ourselves as a community,” he said. “We respond to sounds based on who is making them.”

This is especially true when the sound is not a bell or a horn but spoken words, as in the Adhan.

“Hearing that voice is a connection to God even at work, in the field or in the classroom,” said Abdisalam Adam, who often prays at Dar Al-Hijrah. “It’s a balance between here and hereafter.”

Dar Al-Hijrah received special permission to broadcast for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in spring 2020, when Minnesota was under a pandemic lockdown, so worshipers could hear the adhan from their homes, mosque director Wali Dirie said.

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It was soon blaring from speakers set up with the help of First Avenue, a nightclub made famous by Prince.

People thought they were dreaming and cried at their windows.

This community need led to the recent resolution approving the broader transmissions. It sets decibel levels and hourly limits in accordance with the city’s noise ordinance, which means the early morning and late evening calls to prayer are only broadcast indoors.

In Dar Al-Hijrah, elders are now calling to prayer three times a day, attracting youth like Mohamad Mooh, 17, who arrived just five months ago. He said he wished the broadcasts were louder than they were in Somalia when the early morning calls woke him up.

“I know it’s a bit complicated because of the company,” Mooh added after a packed prayer service recently.

Just as some Americans rejected church bells in the 19th century, the call to prayer led to disputes over the years Duke University to Culver City, California. In Hamtramck, a small town surrounded by Detroit, city councilors exempted religious noise from the noise ordinance at the request of a mosque. After 9/11, the change became embroiled in national controversy, but a referendum to repeal it failed.

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In the predominantly Somali neighborhood of Cedar-Riverside, tucked between downtown and two university campuses, the Dar Al-Hijrah Mosque adhan has met with no backlash.

Hoping to prevent that from happening as well, the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center in south Minneapolis, which hosts about 1,000 men for Friday midday prayers, plans to hold meetings with neighbors before it goes public this summer.

“We take care of the neighbors,” said Abdullahi Farah, the center’s director. “We need to talk to them, explain to them and at least share our views on it.”

Abdullahi Mohammed stopped in Abubakar one afternoon as he drove by and was alerted by a prayer call app he and many others use in the absence of a public broadcast. He said he would love to hear the adhan ring out everywhere because it would teach Muslim children to pray “automatically” – but even recognized non-Muslim neighbors “might think differently”.

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Between reluctance to provoke tension, technical complexity and the challenge of getting someone with Arabic and voice skills to sing the call live, several mosques may choose not to broadcast, said Jaylani Hussein, director of the council’s Minnesota chapter on American-Islamic Relations.

But other mosques are already eager to push for permission to broadcast all five prayers, hoping Minneapolis will become an example for cities across the country.

“We want Muslims to exist fully here in America,” Hussein said, adding that the adhan is the “final piece that makes up this home. It is incredibly important for Muslims to know that their religious rights will never be violated.”

Several neighborhood groups consulted by The Associated Press said that although no formal talks have been held, they expect most residents will accept.

“People will ask: What is this? and then say, ‘That’s cool,'” predicted Tabitha Montgomery, director of the Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association.

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At two churches founded by Scandinavian immigrants more than a century ago, which are now within earshot of the adhan, the leaders also had no objection.

The Trinity Lutheran Congregation works with Dar Al-Hijrah on charity and outreach events. Pastor Jane Buckley-Farlee said she enjoys listening to the adhan from her office.

“It reminds me that God is bigger than we know,” she said.

Hierald Osorto, pastor of the predominantly Spanish-speaking St. Paul Lutheran Church near Abubakar and another mosque, does not expect his flock to back down either.

In fact, he’s considered bringing back the long-broken church bell to rally the congregation and make them more visible in the neighborhood.

“It allows us to be known,” Osorto said.

Mowlid Ali, the Imam of Abubakar, said part of the aim of broadcasting the adhan is precisely this mixture of claiming affiliation and publicity.

“We hope that declaring the adhan publicly will actually stimulate more interest among neighbors in learning about the religion of Islam,” Ali said.

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The Associated Press’s religion coverage is supported by AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, funded by Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.

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https://www.local10.com/news/national/2022/06/01/muslim-call-to-prayer-arrives-to-minneapolis-soundscape/ Muslim call to prayer hits Minneapolis soundscape

Sarah Y. Kim

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