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Published: December 9th 2018
It is 6.36am. The very first call to prayer started some time ago. I heard it from my bed. The calling woke me and I had no idea where I was / were I am. Then I realised, not through memory but through touch - the bed, unfamiliar, hard, short in length, wide, crisp, in a Riad, in the Medina, in Marrakesh. I get up straight away to hear the callings to prayer that Elias Canetti wrote of when he lived in Marrakesh.
On the rooftop veranda of the Riad, I find that I am surrounded on all 4 sides by the amplified call to morning prayer. In my complete ignorance, I follow the sounds from different calls from the minarets across the city by rushing around the roof in complete darkness, scattering cats ahead of me whilst feeling my way. The atmosphere is cool but not cold, the air crisp, the pitch-dark sky clear with stars above and around. The calling grows like the tip of an arrow to a crescendo, wider, gathering momentum and depth across the city. It moves as an echo. The first call came from the east but I did not know this
fact until a night worker at the Riad came to me, smelling of cigarettes and quietness. He explains that the calling to mosque starts in the East at sunrise from other cities in Morocco and follows through to Marrakesh and further afield. I am absorbed by the beauty of the callings. The night worker follows me around the roof veranda, as I follow them. So entranced am I by the hypnotic sounds that I try to listen to the repeat. To me it is not words but a lilting melody, some quite melancholy, all seductively appealing.
The night worker came from the East but he does not remember. He is Berber. He tells me of the callings to prayer lasting 6 minutes, that this is the first of 5 each day and is the longest. The callers start by calling the men to pray at the mosque, "Allahu Akbar"- God is greater, “Hasten to Prayer,” then with, ‘get out of bed, come to mosque, it is good, don’t be lazy’ and all manner of variations for 6 minutes to get the men and now, in some places, women to mosque. I learn that if I am Muslim,
I can also go but if I am not Muslim, I can go to the kitchen, ask the lady there, cover my head and they may, or may not take me inside. I, of course, wish to see because to me, it is not only a religion but something sacred, like the Buddhist callings I joined in Tibet and Xhiahe.
The night worker offers me coffee which I rarely drink but gratefully accept. The cats continue to scatter ahead of us. He turns the low lights on around the veranda, pulls the cord for the electric ring overhead heater and the hypnotic atmosphere fades with the darkness giving way to electric light. I am in love with the callings of Morocco. This is the first of the day.
One hour after coming to the roof, the sun has still not risen, I move from side to side of the roof to catch the first suggestion of day light so that I may find the horizon and wait for a hint of the rise of the sun.
A chorus of dogs are barking in the distance. What disturbs them?
worker returns. I ask his name. Abdul, from the mountains, no religion, no limits, no boundaries.
I eventually find true east when the sun rises. Abdul places two stools beside the veranda wall so that I can sit high to watch the sun, one for a step and a high one for a seat. He doesn’t realise and I don’t tell him that my ankles are annoyingly unbalanced lately so I hold onto the stone trellis too. There is no visible sun, just light. But it is east. One isolated bird sings. The city is waking. Me, I’ve been running around the four sides of this veranda for way over an hour. Abdul brings me fresh juice in a wonky, stumpy, handmade, thick green glass. More birds join the chorus. With daylight arriving, the magic of the calling in the darkness leaves.
At 6.33am. On the third morning, I rose, without hesitation or wonder, at about the third call of the 1st
calling to prayer. Probably, in some faint way, like a local but as far removed from the praying demographic as ever could be possible.
I climbed the stairs to
the roof of the riad, in complete darkness. I knew the light switch was at the top of the stair well, then, I lit the way but only on the side of the Riad that I was staying in. I left the other back end in complete darkness.
Already, in the East, the chorus of calling to prayer was in full lilting swing but close to the riad, a melancholy, older voice, taking an audible intake of breath between each line, started to call in an undemanding, not pleading, not needing, almost sad way. He called line after line while around him, the city’s cacophony grew. The closest mosque, to the north side of the roof, had not yet started. I thought it was sleeping but as the city callings were dying down in the east, the closest mosque in location to me also began with the morning call to prayer. I listened to the sounds because to me, they are not words. The sound, is inviting, is hypnotic. Some words extended and emphasised changing the depth and tone of the call. Some syllables rose and fell, yet they are not a song. I stood on a
sofa cushion to look over the riad wall as if seeing the mosque would enable me to understand the words. Everywhere in complete darkness, with only the sound of calling to mosque in my vision. High above the city lanes, I could see no movement but knew that all activity would by walking towards each and every source of sound. You cannot deny its drawing power.
Every morning, the calling to prayer, is an act so deeply embedded in Morocco, in the walls themselves, that it is not mentioned in any tourist book as a thing to be aware of because it is a true way of Morocco’s religious heritage and tradition and many people will arrive and leave here without ever really feeling it happening, though they cannot fail to hear it. I did feel it, embraced it but still understand nothing. My understanding is purely as an appreciation and respect of the act.
The last call in the city ended at 6.53am. It was my most pure listening to this hypnotic happening; without wonder, without first taste, with zero understanding or expectation – just standing on a roof with a complete sense
Miles away, far away, if I strain, I still hear the callings to prayer of individual men further to the west, which travels across the world from the east, carving up time, in a wave.
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