The century-old Grand Mosque in the Turkish city of Edirne is hosting the latest round of an annual competition to find the country’s most melodic religious voice.
The competition sees five muezzins – the clerics who issue the adhan (call to prayer) – compete for a place in the finals on August 17.
The adhan is one of the most distinctive soundscapes associated with the Islamic world and plays an important role in the daily lives of many Muslim worshippers.
Turkey’s most melodic religious voice
Cupping his hands over his ears, one of the contestants leans closer to the microphone to issue a tender call to prayer in front of the judges.
“Allahu akbar” (“God is the greatest”), he sings in a slow, cascading voice, his words echoing on the golden stones of the majestic Eski Camii mosque.
Alettin Bozkurt, the province’s mufti and one of the contest’s five judges, explains the importance of finding the best voices the country has to offer.
“The call to prayer is recited five times a day in all our mosques. So when it is our brother with the most beautiful voice who recites it, it has a great influence on our nation. And while being a call to Islam and prayer, it’s also nice to listen to,” Bozkurt says.
The art of adhan
The call to prayer is an extremely complex art form and can take years for a muezzin to master.
It is carefully timed throughout the day, depending on the position of the sun in the sky. The day begins with the dawn prayer – or fajr – and ends with the evening prayer, isha.
One of the participants in this year’s competition, Abdullah Ömer Erdogan, describes how the particular time of day can affect a muezzin’s vocal inflection.
“The call to morning prayer is done with a particular variation: as it is recited at a time when people are sleeping, it should be like a pleasant awakening. Like this, there are different variations of recitation,” Erdogan explains.
“We pay attention to the cold. We usually drink lukewarm water and in large quantities. We also pay a lot of attention to our sleep pattern and even how we lie down because of the movements of the throat and larynx “, adds Erdogan.
The complexity of the call lies in its melody, which is said to have the power to captivate the ears of Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
“You have to be touched in the depths of your being. You have to feel this invocation of Allah. Everything is very important: the tone but also the different variations. The more beautiful the voice, the more a person will be moved and will feel close to Allah,” says Tuncay Sakallı, a resident of Edirne province.
Watch the video above to hear the spectacular call to prayer