You cannot force anyone to become a muezzin. It’s a calling. To be a muezzin takes a lot of faith, dedication, and discipline.
Occupation – Muezzin, Palayam Juma Masjid
It’s a little past four in the afternoon, a couple of days before the month of Ramzan starts, and it’s time for Asr – the afternoon prayer – at Palayam Juma Masjid. Calling the faithful to prayer is Haroon Moulavi, the principal muezzin of the mosque. Haroon is the person responsible for leading and reciting the call to prayer, five times a day, every day, at the mosque. In local parlance, he is known as the bangu vilikkaran.
“The daily prayers are Subahi (before dawn), Luhar (at noon), Asr (in the afternoon), Maghrib (after sunset), and Ishaah (at nightfall). The prescribed time for each depends on the movements of the sun,” explains Haroon.
After his ablutions and donning fresh clothes – a white dhoti and full-sleeved shirt, with a chequered shawl thrown over his shoulders – Haroon takes his place in front of a microphone at the designated muezzin’s corner, situated to the left of the Imam’s alcove inside the main hall of the mosque. He covers his head with the shawl and stands facing the direction of the Ka’bah in Mecca, cupping his ears with his hands. As ‘Allahu Akbar…’, the opening lines of the prayer, resonates clearly and melodiously over the din of the downpour through the loudspeakers attached to the minarets of the mosque, everywhere around the faithful kneel in prayer.
“In the olden days, the prayer was recited from the top of the minaret and the muezzin only used the power of his own voice to draw the faithful to prayer. Thanks to loudspeakers, nowadays the prayers can be heard all the way from East Fort to Kuravankonam, and beyond,” says the soft-spoken muezzin who has been working at the Juma Masjid for the past 18 years. “Also, because of the loudspeakers, reciting the prayer is not longer a strain on the throat and we don’t need much in way of vocal exercises,” he says.
Haroon says he learnt the art of reciting the prayer from his father, the late K.P. Abdul Salim Moulavi, a scholar and a muezzin with the Attingal Town Mosque. “My father was an inspiration to all of us 11 siblings. In fact, three of my brothers are also muezzins. Growing up, I’d always dreamed of being a muezzin; I was never that interested in studies, anyways. As such I used to often accompany my vappa for his prayers. At 15 I enrolled at an Arabic college in Kayamkulam and afterwards worked in several mosques before getting the job here,” says the 47-year-old. “I am not a hafiz (someone who has memorised the Koran) but I can recite certain portions by heart. Learning the Koran is an ongoing process,” he adds.
Apart from being the muezzin, Haroon also sometimes stands in for the mosque’s Imam, Maulavi Jamaluddin Mangada, when the latter is not available to oversee ceremonies. “In such instances I have to preside over marriages and funerals and also lead prayers. Even if I have to go somewhere, I make sure I get back in time for the prayers. My deputy, Saliq, who is from Bihar, steps in when needed,” adds the genial Haroon, who hails from Tholikode, near Nedumangad. He now lives at Pattoor with his wife, Laila Beevi, and three sons Al Rashid, Al Arshid and Al Irshad. His sons, he says, are not interested in following in his footsteps. “You cannot force anyone to become a muezzin. It’s a calling. To be a muezzin takes a lot of faith, dedication, and discipline. More than a job, I think of it as my service to Islam,” he muses.
(A weekly column on the men and women who make Thiruvananthapuram what it is)