The Adhaan, or the Call to Prayer, forms an intrinsic part of the culture and tradition of Islam as a call for the obligatory daily prayer, known as the Salaat, which comprises one of the five pillars of Islamic belief. In its pragmatic essence, it is an announcement for the devotees of the religion that one of the five times to pray, spread across dawn (Fajr) till dusk (Isha), in order for the pious to prepare themselves for prayer. These periods are calculated according to the movement of the earth around the sun depending on the location of the Mosque. With the daylight as the primary point of reference for the Adhaan to sound, there is a popular belief among Muslim communities that since at any given moment, with sunlight constantly moving across the globe, an Adhaan is constantly being announced somewhere in the world.
In this way, what marks the Adhaan as intriguing is how it exposes Islam as a belief system present globally, and that the Adhaan is a representation and manifestation of such presence with the call acting as a beacon and as a commonality between all Muslim communities worldwide. Therefore, albeit the differences of style and performance of the Adhaan, it exists as a connecting feature within Islam through its function and content. However, for those who do not adhere to Muslim belief, depending on how informed an individual is, the Adhaan is a manifestation of a tangible social presence of a group of people who have distinct lifestyles and interests; a community which shares a space with other communities, with all the mundane negotiation that such coexistence implies.
With this context in mind, what The Adhaan Project wishes to achieve is to produce a work in which through the constant streaming of the Adhaan from a library of user-submitted recordings, one can explore the popular belief of the ever sounding Adhaan as it circulates the globe and in the process expose the diversity of style which has developed through centuries of a variety of cultural traditions and histories. With the recordings being made on location, and thence played back in the stream as submitted, we can also hear the sounding of the Adhaan as it interacts with its environment, through the relationship of the Call with the recordist, recording technique and location, exposing the Adhaan as a tangible phenomena within social environments; a phenomena that is multifaceted and not one which functions solely as a symbol of piety. This highlights a critical aspect of the project in that it asks individuals to approach the Adhaan as an object of scrutiny, whether this be out of religious interest or not, and to develop an understanding of the presence of Islam, through the Adhaan, with the aid of the contributor’s direct feedback about their experience in recording the material.
In summary, if according to the premise of The Adhaan Project, one attempts to perceive the Adhaan as primarily a relational phenomena, one which manifests itself as a sonic object of religious and socio-cultural significance, one can uncover a series of understandings about one’s position on the spectrum of relationships that the Adhaan makes manifest, whether or not these relationships are from an individual that ascribes to Muslim belief. In addition, in placing these disparate recordings together into a focal point, we are also making heard the material manifestations which lead to the sounding event of an instance of an Adhaan as a sound which has sculptural properties. For, similar to a sculpture, the sound sculpture becomes a constant stream of presence, manifested in its pointing at each individual event and its material components, that construct the Adhaan as a whole.
With that in place, it begs the question: how does one approach the Adhaan? What is important to note here is in that treating the Adhaan as first and foremost a sonic object – which within its materiality finds its expression as an object laden with the complicated interweaving of the social, political, and to an extent, the arts, with the religious and the sacred – is an attempt to move towards a critical understanding of the position of Islam as a culture that in such an occasion as the Call to Prayer, manifests itself through sound. What can one discover when the phenomenon is framed through the recording apparat , and focused as an element which features prominently in the ever-changing soundscape of communities where Islam is present, some of which are engulfed by an increasing social tension?
The Adhaan Project is an initiative of sound artist Lutfi Othman in collaboration with Nick Nikolov (coding) and Istishhad Hheva (project manager) .