The call to prayer

Five times a day in Saudi Arabia, the muezzin turns on a speaker system and calls the people to pray. It’s not music – music is forbidden, officially. But it’s melodic, sort of like the soundtrack singing that was popular in the early 2000s. The difference, though, is that this is real and in context and religious. It’s beautiful like that and reminds me where I am.

Five times a day, he calls. The first time usually hits around 5:00 in the morning. They said it would wake me up the first morning but I’d get used to it over time. That didn’t happen. I slept through it the first day. I’m at work during two of the other calls, and I get two breaks as a result. I don’t hear them, though, because I stay inside and the speakers are too far away.

Five times a day, those speakers sound, but only twice do I pay attention. The last two calls fall in the evening, right around dinner time. If we’re out shopping, we either have to get out of the stores or plan to stay inside through the prayer time because they’ll lock us in. Some of the restaurants let us stay inside and continue eating, letting us out through a side door when we want. Others don’t offer that convenience at all, hurrying us through our meals or not serving us if we’re too close to prayer time.

Five times a day, it’s stricter than any other Islamic country in the world. They called in Egypt, but the shops stayed open. The devout staggered their prayers with others to remain faithful. In Saudi, though, things close when they hear the call. Not everyone observes it. Not everyone prays. But the whole country knows that the whole country shuts down during prayer.

Five times a day, I thought about praying. I pray, not in the same way and maybe not even to the same God as the Muslims, but I pray. So I thought about keeping up with Saudis in my own way when I hear the call. In the end, though, I realized that’s not me, not how I talk to God, not how my God wants me to talk to him. It’s beautiful like that and reminds me where I am.