One of the 5 pillars of Islam is salat, or the prayer that occurs five times daily: pre-sunrise, noon, afternoon, sunset, and post-sunset but before midnight. The specific times for prayer are calculated according to the position of the sun, but if you’re in a Muslim country like Egypt and unsure about what time to prayer, there is no need to worry. You will most likely be able to hear the call to prayer from wherever you happen to be, even within the walls of the hedonistic American University of Cairo.
The adhan, or call to prayer, follows a specific format, though it might vary slightly from place to place and between Shi’i and Sunni Muslims. Here’s Cat Stevens reciting the call to prayer, with English translation.
Obviously, this is a beautiful rendition and it would be a pleasure to hear this at any time of day, every syllable tickling the ear and reminding one of God’s greatness. However, not every muezzin (guy who performs the call to prayer) performs the call to prayer with such artistry. The quality varies greatly according to the place, time, and audience. For example, the prayer at a famous university at noon on Friday will probably be more impressive than the pre-dawn prayer in a one mosque town. Those not blessed with silver voices such as Cat Stevens make due with shouting or mumbling their five times daily call to prayer, oftentimes combining the two in a mumble-shout.
I have noticed that the muezzin close to our apartment has varying quality in the level of artistry with which he announces the prayer. During the day, his voice rings out loud and proud, wavering skillfully in the traditional mournful tone of recitation. At night, however, his calls are not as enthusiastic. I wouldn’t say they manifest a complete lack of effort, but that description is not far off.
I imagine him hearing his alarm clock right around 3:30 am, and thinking, “Dangit….not this again. Every day, every bloomin day.” And then he begins, no longer the happy camper he was earlier. His encouragement to prayer becomes a series of rapid mumbles followed by slower mumbles and a few allahu akbars thrown in there for good measure. Though he says prayer is better than sleep, to me it is more than apparent that he would rather be in bed and is trying to get this whole “prayer announcement” thing over with as soon as possible. He might even be aggravated that people aren’t pious enough to get up by themselves without him having to shout them out in his gravely but charming pre-dawn voice.
I suppose it is the thought that counts, and indeed it is said that unless the intention to pray is made before the actual prayer, the prayer itself is invalid. Thus, it is better a lackluster call to prayer than no call to prayer at all. We’re all a little bit farther from the flames of hell fire.