So I was browsing Download.com (as I, you know, sometimes do) and noticed an interesting app. It was #36 or something on the most-downloaded list at the time—right up there next to WinZip and “Download Accelerator Plus.” It was a little program called Athan.
The athan is the call to prayer that you hear in Muslim countries, five times a day. Usually broadcast on tinny loudspeakers, it’s become a cliche of international reporting, an easy atmospheric effect. “Then, the sound of the muezzin calling the faithful to pray—distant, spectral—echoed through the streets.” Something like that.
It sounds like this. I tried to find a video that was more representative of actually hearing an athan in a Muslim city; it’s never so well-recorded, never so in-your-face. It’s more like the emergency sirens that cities rev up here in the U.S. on the first Tuesday of every month (or whatever)—you can hear it everywhere, but it always seems to be coming from somewhere else.
(Here’s something I don’t know: Do mosques in the U.S. or Europe play the athan over loudspeakers? Are they allowed? Probably not, right?)
Now, to be clear, I am a serious atheist. I am not dabbling in Islam. But even so, this app really called out to me (ha!) for two reasons. One, nostalgia. I do remember the athan—distant, spectral—from my time in Dhaka. Two, structure. I’m building my days entirely for myself now, and finding that it’s a challenge to split them into pieces. When does this thing end, and that one begin? It’s arbitrary. So—admittedly this is silly—I thought hey, this works for folks! Let’s give it a spin!
I am 100% glad I downloaded it, if only to see the interface.
Wow. Do you want the athan from Mecca or Medina? How about one from Egypt? They’ve all been sampled. Do you want the dua after the athan? What juristic method will you be using for the asr prayer? (The default is the one preferred by Imams Shafii, Hanbali, and Maliki.)
It might sound like I’m poking fun, but I am absolutely 100% not. One of my favorite intersections—and one of the most underreported—is the one between technology and religion. And an app like this lets you not just read about it, but sort of explore it.
And, come on: 42,305 downloads on Download.com last week! This is significant. This is a piece of culture, a piece of people’s lives.
Weirdly, it is now a part of my life, too. The volume is set really low, so the fajr athan at 5:43 a.m. doesn’t wake me up. I can’t even hear it in the next room. But the athans do play, and they do offer a gentle reminder to pull myself out of my laptop and look around.
And sometimes—this is the fun part—I’ll be listening to my writing soundtrack Pandora station, and the athan will start up, and it will suddenly be the coolest technology/religion remix you’ve ever heard.
(I’m totally on some watchlist now, aren’t I?)