The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

Microsoft Muezzin
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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?)

11 comments

Tim Carmody says…

I used to live around the corner from a mosque in West Philadelphia; and they do, indeed, broadcast the muezzin’s call to prayer over loudspeakers. At least in that part of Philly, anyways.

Even the pre-dawn one?

Last I knew, they broadcast three per day in Hamtramck. They cut the speakers for the early morning and late night calls.

I was once on an overnight flight on Royal Jordanian airline that signaled on movie and TV screens when it was time to pray. It must have been helpful, considering all the time zones we were flying through. It also amazed me to land in Jordan and see most of the airport stop when the time came to pray. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but it was like nothing I’d seen so far in my life.

2 years ago I spent a month in Morocco. All of the places I stayed were directly across the street (or alley) from a mosque (probably fairly common there). The athan was annoying for, like, two days, and after that it had a sort of comfort to it. Even if it was decidedly less musical than your sample. It actually kind of sounded like a man imitating a race car shifting gears.
I am not a religious person, but I grew up directly across the street from a church, so you always knew what time it was and had a reference point for where you were in the day. If I heard the 6 pm chimes and I wasn’t inside eating dinner I knew I was either in trouble or something was wrong.
Now, the pre-dawn athan wasn’t always a pleasant experience, but at least you knew you hadn’t overslept … or missed dinner.

One of my favorite intersections—and one of the most underreported—is the one between technology and religion.

Oh, the rabbit holes we could pull you into–you have no idea. . .

And an app like this lets you not just read about it, but sort of explore it.

I think this is a profound insight that goes beyond the subjects at hand. Taking the signage ostensibly meant for the natives, and making sure it is inviting to the tourists, does something magical for your discipline/hobby/religion/country/political process.

The mosque on Atlantic Avenue near Flatbush plays the call to prayer on loudspeakers, but probably not at off hours. I don’t live close enough to hear the mosque regularly, but we do have nearby church bells that let me know each hour, especially noon. They’re usually 5 minutes fast, which sometimes helps me arrive on time. In my old place in Lower Haight, if I was home from work during the week, the children’s recesses from the school across our back fence would regularly mark the day.

I found the NYTimes piece about the Brooklyn Ramadan Drummer pretty hilarious. If this guy shows up in my neighborhood he is definitely going to hear a lot of colorful American idioms.

The debates about hilal sighting are pretty interesting too. I like that Saudi Arabia has apparently decided to ignore this tradition and just start their Ramadan according to the Western calendar, but they still insist that they sighted the crescent moon, even when that would be impossible.

I am ignorant; if you are someplace like the airport when it is time to pray, are you supposed to have a mat with you to spread out, or is that unnecessary?

Just as a blog design comment, the color of links is still very hard to detect against the general color scheme. This may be a protanope issue…

I’ve argued before in my academic work that our consumer culture could benefit from a jewish/christian tradition of Sabbath for some of the same reasons: to structure our lives around LIFE instead of just work. I am a believer, but I think that religious traditions have something to teach us about how to shape our lives around our priorities.

One of my teachers set up his iPhone to play a bell sound every hour as part of his mindfulness practice. It sometimes puzzles people who have recently met him until he explains. But me, I like my local fog horn and train whistle as reminders that life exists outside of my head and this room.

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