Muslim Call To Prayer, NYC-Style: A Turkish Eye On New York's Historic Azan Law
New York Mayor Eric Adams has for the first time allowed the city's mosques to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer over loudspeakers. A Turkish correspondent living in New York listens in to the sound of the call ("cleaner" than in Turkey), and the voices of local Muslims marking this watershed in their relationship with the city.
— It’s Sept. 1, nearing the time for the noon prayer for Muslim New Yorkers. The setting is the Masjid Al Aman, one of the city's biggest mosques, located at the border of the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. WABC, Channel 7, one of the local television stations, has a
parked at the corner. There are a few more camera people and journalists milling around. The tension is “not normal,” and residents of the neighborhood ask around what’s happening.
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This neighborhood, extending from East New York to Ozone Park, is not the Brooklyn that you see in the movies, TV shows or novels. Remove the pizza parlors, dollar stores and the health clinics, and the rest is like the Republic of Muslim brothers and sisters. There are over 2,000 people from Bangladesh in East New York alone. There’s the largest halal supermarket of the neighborhood one block away from the mosque: Abdullah Supermarket. The most lively dining spot is the Brooklyn Halal Grill. Instead of a Kentucky Fried Chicken, there's a Medina Fried Chicken.
The congregation of the mosque, ABC 7 , a clueless non-Muslim crowd and I are witnessing a first in New York history: The azan , the traditional Muslim public call to prayer, is being played at the outside of the mosque via speakers — without the need for special permission from the city. Yes, the azan is echoing in the streets of New York for the first time.
Muslims in New York
New York Mayor Eric Adams had officially announced the new city policy on Aug. 29, alongside a crowd of leaders of Muslim groups and the municipality's directors who are responsible for diversity and inclusion. The mayor said that it was a “historic moment” not just for Muslims but all New Yorkers. The next Friday, the first azan was heard in some streets of New York, through speakers, without the need for any permissions, limitations — and without any trouble. The 275 mosques within the borders of the city of New York will be able to play the azan on outside speakers, up to a certain volume, every Friday at 12:30 and 1:30 p.m., and every day on iftar time in the month of the Ramadan , according to the new regulation.
Some are uneasy about the matter being politicized.
There are approximately 3.5 million Muslims living in the United States, of which 22% percent of those live in the State of New York. The Muslims add up to nearly 9% percent of the state population. A recent report from the organization known as Muslim for American Progress, or MAP , found that of the four million jobs at small and mid-sized businesses 250,000 are are at Muslim-owned businesses. Their contributions are most felt in the industries of health and engineering, as well as transportation and food industries: 40% of New York taxi drivers and 57% of the food truck owners are Muslims.
While the Masjid Al Aman is the biggest mosque in New York, the oldest one is the Powers Mosque in Brooklyn, on the eastern side of Williamsburg. Without any sign on it, the mosque is almost impossible to recognize as a historical place of worship unless you look up and see the small minaret .
During the week of the historic call-to-prayer regulation coming into effect, around half of the 15-20 Muslims I talked to at the supermarket, in an Uber or at the dry cleaners were not aware of the new development. Most are not too excited about the azan being piped out from the mosque; some are uneasy about the matter being politicized .
Mohammed, who runs a store on Bedford Street where I get my Sunday newspapers, said “thank you, Brother Eric” (that’s what he calls the mayor) because now his family feels more at home in New York.
NYC mayor Eric Adams
Inspired by trans rights
Ahmed, a driver for Revel (a competitor of Uber), who was born and raised in Egypt before arriving 25 years ago in New York, is even more at ease as he parked his car on a Tuesday evening. Unfolding his prayer mat, he bends down for his daily worship on the sidewalk.
The sound quality is particularly clean, without the crackle you hear in the azan in Turkey.
“Hundreds of Muslims go to Times Square at the beginning of Ramadan and pray. I never did that. I always held back. Now, it’s like the world is changing. There's trans people, and more and more who freely live their identity in New York. I took courage from them. I wouldn't have done it it before, because I thought I would be criticized. Now it’s just the opposite: Why don’t I do it, I say. Whenever I pull the car to the side and start to pray, there's always someone who offer me some verbal support. Somebody even clapped once.”
I listened to the azan as I was cycling around the neighborhood around the Masjid Al Aman mosque at Friday prayer time. It can be heard clearly from a few blocks away, and lasts longer than church bells, and the sound quality is louder and clearer. It's a particularly clean and without the crackle you hear in the azan in Turkey.
Members of the congregation said that they have received “warnings” and “reminders” from the neighborhood that the azan is sometimes too loud, though it has always remained below the legal limit of 54 decibel, they said.
New York's Masjid Al Aman mosque
Symbolism and 9/11 legacy
Playing the azan outside with speakers is a symbolic cultural and political moment, many years in the making, says Yusuf Abdulle, who’s in charge of coordination among nearly 30 mosques of the people with Eastern African origins. Abdulle believes it’s about the right to say “we’re here, too. Hearing the azan is a matter of belonging and identity for me. It relaxes me, has a way of making you feel at home.”
It has been 22 years since the September 11 terrorist attack on the Twin Towers of New York, which left a legacy of paranoia and Islamophobia. Mayor Adams was elected in 2022 with an approval rating of around 55-60%, but was down to 46% at the beginning of June. Some people believe his azan initiative, launched just shy of the anniversary of 9/11, is meant not for the Muslims only but for all in the city. It's a message of “I’m the mayor of the minorities. I work for equality for everyone.”
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