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Choosing The Call For Prayers: The Leniency Of Islam - The Prophet’s Way

Islamic Perspectives - Muslim Journals

Arab News & Information - By Adil Salahi

A NUMBER of scholars are of the view that prayer was made obligatory to Muslims in the first instance as night worship. This is confirmed in the opening verses of Surah 71, which may be translated as follows: “You enfolded one! Stand in prayer at night, all but a small part of it, half of it, or a little less, or add to it. Recite the Qur’an calmly and distinctly. We shall bestow on you a weighty message.” (73: 1-5) This order was relaxed a year later after the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his companions went through an exacting task that required them to spend several hours each night in prayer. It was then made obligatory twice a day, one in the morning and one at night, each consisting of two rak’ahs. Muslims used to offer these prayers in secret, and no call was made out to them to attend prayers. In year 10 of the start of Islamic revelations, when the Prophet took his night journey from Makkah to Jerusalem and then ascended to heaven, prayer was made obligatory five times a day.

Three years later, when the Prophet immigrated to Madinah where the Muslim community had a settled, solid base and established their state, the need was felt for some form of announcement to call people to come and attend the congregational prayers. The Prophet consulted his companions on the matter and different views were expressed. A Hadith narrated by Abdullah ibn Umar gives a short version of this consultation. He says: “When Muslims settled in Madinah they were on the watch out for prayer times. No call was made for them to gather. They discussed the matter one day. Some of them suggested to have a bell like the one used by Christians, while others suggested a horn like that used by the Jews. Umar said: ‘How about choosing a man to make call when prayers are due.’ The Prophet asked Bilal to make the call.” (Related by Al-Bukhari).

Other Hadiths give more details of the discussion and the suggestions made. Apparently, the first suggestion was to raise a banner, but this seemed unpractical, because it could not be seen at night. Moreover, people needed to look out for it. Another suggestion was to lit up a fire, but the Prophet said that such was the form used by Magians. He did not like the idea of copying their practice. He made the same objection when a horn was suggested, because he did not feel it proper to imitate the Jews when a large Jewish community was living in Madinah. However, he did not object when a bell, like that used by Christians, was suggested. In fact, he ordered that a bell be made. It was then that Umar made his suggestion for a vocal call to prayer. The Prophet liked the idea and told Bilal to make the call. He went out and shouted that prayer was due.

Abdullah ibn Zayd reports: “I went home that night thinking hard about the matter, particularly because the Prophet was not very happy with the outcome. When I went to bed, I was still not fast asleep when I saw in a dream a man carrying a bell. I asked him whether he was willing to sell me the bell. He said: ‘What do you need it for?’ I said: ‘We will use it to call people to come to prayer.’ He said: ‘Shall I point out to you something better than this?’ When I asked him what was that, he taught me the words of the athan (i.e. the Islamic call to prayer).” These are: “God is supreme (4 times). I bear witness that there is no deity other than God (twice). I bear witness that Muhammad is God’s messenger (twice). Come to prayer (twice). Come to what ensures success (twice). God is supreme (twice). There is no deity other than God.”

In the morning, Abdullah ibn Zayd went to the Prophet and mentioned what he saw in his dream. It was revealed to the Prophet that the call should be verbal. Therefore, he told Abdullah that his dream was true. He further said to him: “Go out with Bilal and teach him these words to make the call. His is a melodious voice.” Bilal made the call. When Umar heard him, he came hurriedly to the Prophet and said: “By Him who sent you with the message of the truth, I saw the same dream.”




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