Minneapolis becomes first large US city to allow the Islamic call to prayer, or adhan
This spring, Minneapolis became the first large city in the United States to allow the Islamic call to prayer, or adhan, to be broadcast publicly by its two dozen mosques.
The transforming soundscape is testament to the large and increasingly visible Muslim communities in the US, The Associated Press said in a report.
“It’s a sign that we are here,” said Yusuf Abdulle, who directs the Islamic Association of North America (IANA), an umbrella organization based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with over 35 Islamic centers and organizations.
The state of Minnesota is home to rapidly growing numbers of refugees from East Africa since the late 1990s.
Abdulle said that when he arrived in the United States two decades ago, “the first thing I missed was the adhan. We drop everything and answer the call of God.”
The adhan declares that God is great and proclaims the Prophet Muhammad as his messenger. It exhorts men — women are not required — to go to the closest mosque five times a day for prayer, which is one of the Five Pillars of Islam.
Its cadences are woven into the rhythm of daily life in Muslim-majority countries, but it’s a newcomer to the streets of Minneapolis, which resonate with city traffic, the rumble of snowplows in winter and tornado siren drills in summer.
Americans have long debated the place of religious sound in public, especially when communities are transformed by migration, said Isaac Weiner, a scholar of religious studies at Ohio State University.
“What we take for granted and what stands out is informed by who we think of ourselves as a community,” he said. “We respond to sounds based on who’s making them.”
That’s especially true when the sound is not a bell or a horn, but spoken words, as in the adhan.
“Hearing that voice, it’s a connection to God even if at work or in the fields or a classroom,” said Abdisalam Adam, who often prays at the Dar Al-Hijrah mosque, Minneapolis’ oldest Somali mosque. “It’s a balance of this world and the hereafter.”
Dar Al-Hijrah got a special permit to broadcast for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in spring 2020, when Minnesota was under a pandemic lockdown, so the faithful could hear the adhan from home, mosque director Wali Dirie said.
Soon it was resounding from speakers. People thought they were dreaming and wept at their windows.
That community need led to the recent resolution authorizing the broadcasts more broadly. It establishes decibel levels and hourly limits in line with the city’s noise ordinance, meaning that the early-morning and late-night calls to prayer are only aired indoors.
At Dar Al-Hijrah now, elders call the prayer three times a day, drawing youth like Mohamad Mooh, 17, who arrived just five months ago. He said he wishes the broadcasts were even louder like back in Somalia, where the early morning calls woke him up.
“I know it’s a little bit complicated because of the society,” Mooh added after a recent packed prayer service.
Just like some Americans opposed church bells in the 19th century, the call to prayer has led to disputes over the years, from Duke University to Culver City, California.
In Hamtramck, a small city surrounded by Detroit, councilors exempted religious sounds from the noise ordinance at a mosque’s request. The amendment got embroiled in national controversy, but a referendum to revoke it failed.
In the predominantly Somali neighborhood of Cedar-Riverside, tucked between downtown and two college campuses, Dar Al-Hijrah mosque’s adhan has met no backlash.
Other mosques are also eager to push for permission to broadcast all five prayers and hope to see Minneapolis set an example for cities across the US.
“We want Muslims to fully exist here in America,” said Jaylani Hussein, director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Adhan is the “last piece to make this home. It’s incredibly important for Muslims to know their religious rights are never infringed upon,” Hussein said.
“People will ask, What’s that? and then say, That’s cool,” predicted Tabitha Montgomery, director of the Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association.
At two churches, founded more than a century ago by Scandinavian immigrants and now within earshot of the adhan, leaders also had no objections.
Trinity Lutheran Congregation collaborates with Dar Al-Hijrah on charity and outreach events. Pastor Jane Buckley-Farlee said she likes hearing the adhan from her office.
“It reminds me that God is bigger than we know,” she said.