The Adhan: The Islamic Call to Prayer

A mean hears the call to prayer

David Silverman/Getty Images

In Islamic tradition, Muslims are called to the five scheduled daily prayers (salat) by a formal announcement, called the adhan. The adhan is also used to call believers to Friday worship at the mosque. The adhan is called out from the mosque by the muezzin, who stands either in the mosque's minaret tower (if the mosque is large) or in a side door (if the mosque is small).

In modern times, the muezzin's voice usually is amplified by a loudspeaker mounted on the minaret. Some mosques play a recording of the adhan instead.

The Meaning of Adhan

The Arabic word adhan means "to listen." The ritual serves as a general statement of shared belief and faith for Muslims, as well as an alert that prayers are about to begin inside the mosque. A second call, known as iqama, then summons Muslims to line up for the beginning of the prayers.

The Role of the Muezzin

The muezzin (or muadhan) is a position of honor within the mosque. He is considered a servant of the mosque, selected for his good character and clear, loud voice. As he recites the adhan, the muezzin usually faces the Ka'aba in Mecca, although other traditions have the muezzin face all four cardinal directions in turn. The institution of the muezzin position is a long-standing tradition, dating back to the time of Muhammad.

Muezzins with exceptionally beautiful voices sometimes achieve minor celebrity status, with worshipers traveling great distances to their mosques in order to hear their renditions of the adhan.

The Words of the Adhan

Courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways Recordings.

Arabic transliteration of the adhan is as follows:

Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!
Ashhadu an la ilaha illa Allah. Ashhadu an la ilaha illa Allah.
Ashadu anna Muhammadan Rasool Allah. Ashadu anna Muhammadan Rasool Allah.
Hayya 'ala-s-Salah. Hayya 'ala-s-Salah.
Hayya 'ala-l-Falah. Hayya 'ala-l-Falah.
Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!
La ilaha illa Allah.

The English translation of the adhan is:

God is Great! God is Great! God is Great! God is Great!
I bear witness that there is no god except the One God.
I bear witness that there is no god except the One God.
I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
Hurry to the prayer. Hurry to the prayer.
Hurry to salvation. Hurry to salvation.
God is Great! God is Great!
There is no god except the One God.

For the pre-dawn (fajr) prayer, the following phrase is inserted prior to the final repetition of Allahu Akbar / God is Great:

As-salatu Khayrun Minan-nawm. As-salatu Khayrun Minan-nawm.
Prayer is better than sleep. Prayer is better than sleep.