The Adhan: The Islamic Call to Prayer

A mean hears the call to prayer

David Silverman/Getty Images

In Islamic tradition, Muslims are called to the five scheduled daily prayers (salat) by a formal announcement, called the adhan. (The adhan is also used to call believers to Friday worship at the mosque.) The adhan is called out from the mosque by the muezzin (or muadhan—the prayer leader), and is recited from the mosque's minaret tower, if the mosque is large; or at a side door, in smaller mosques. In modern times, the muezzin's voice usually is amplified by a loudspeaker mounted on the minaret, or a recording of the adhan is played.

The Meaning of the Term

The Arabic word adhan means "to listen," and the ritual serves as a general statement of shared belief and faith, as well as an alert that prayers are about to begin inside the mosque. A second call, known as iqama, (set up) will then summons Muslims to line up for the beginning of the prayers.

The Muezzin's Role

The muezzin (or muadhan) is a position of honor within the mosque—a servant selected for his good character and clear, loud voice. As he recites the adhan, the muezzin usually faces the Kaaba in Mecca, although there are other traditions in which he faces the four compass directions in turn. The muezzin institution is a very old position in the Islam faith, dating back to Mohammad's times, and those muezzins with exceptionally beautiful voices have achieved minor celebrity status, with worshipers traveling great distances to their mosques simply to hear their breathtaking renditions of the adhan. Notable performances of the adhan from well-known muezzins are available online. 

The Words of the Adhan

The following is the Arabic transliteration and the English translation of what you hear:

Allahu Akbar
God is Great
(said four times)
Ashhadu an la ilaha illa Allah
I bear witness that there is no god except the One God.
(said two times)
Ashadu anna Muhammadan Rasool Allah
I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God.
(said two times)
Hayya 'ala-s-Salah
Hurry to the prayer (Rise up for prayer)
(said two times)
Hayya 'ala-l-Falah
Hurry to success (Rise up for Salvation)
(said two times)
Allahu Akbar
God is Great
[said two times]
La ilaha illa Allah
There is no god except the One God

For the pre-dawn (fajr) prayer, the following phrase is inserted after the fifth part above, towards the end:

As-salatu Khayrun Minan-nawm
Prayer is better than sleep
(said two times)