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What is coming out of the loudspeakers at a Mosque? (adhān – call to prayer)

If you have ever traveled in the Middle East, or any Muslim country for that matter, you have likely heard the ubiquitous sound of the call to prayer coming five times a day from Mosque loudspeakers. Muslims pray five times a day at set times and the call to prayer, known as the adhān أَذَان lets you know when exactly it is prayer time.
To pronounce the word properly, the dh represents a dhāl which is kind of a combination between a d and a th. To pronounce it improperly, which many people do, particularly in colloquial speech (and by Muslims who speak languages other than Arabic such as in Iran, Pakistan etc.) you can say azān.

Now that we know the word adhān, perhaps you’re wondering what they say during it. An important note however, is that the  adhān is slightly different for Sunni Muslims, and Shīʿah Muslims. Since over 75% of Muslims are Sunni, and the vast majority of Shīʿah Muslims are located in only one country, Iran, this lesson will focus on the Sunni adhān which you more likely have heard, or will hear in the future.

The adhān is the same every time. Below is the a clip it followed by the text:

 

EnglishTransliterationArabicAmount of times said

God is greaterAllahu akbarاللهُ أكبرx4

I testify that there is no god but Allahašhadu an la ilaha ila Allahأشهدُ أن لا اله إلا اللهx2

I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of Allahašhadu anna Muḥammadan rasūl Allahأشهدُ أن محمدا رسول اللهx2

Come to prayerḥayya ʿala aṣ-ṣalāحيَّ على الصلاةx2

Come to successḥayya ʿala al-falāḥحيَّ على الفلاحx2

God is greaterAllahu akbarاللهُ أكبرx2

There is no god but Allahla ilaha ila Allahلا إله إلا اللهx1

Now to break that down:

 Allahu akbarاللهُ أكبر

Allah means God in Arabic. Akbar means greater. It is the superlative of kabīr (كبير) which means big.
كبير (kabīr) = Great
أكبر (akbar) = Greater

If you’re asking “greater than what?” the answer according to wikiislam is “Allah is greater…than whatever god you happen to believe in.”

Why is it Allahu akbar and not just Allah abkar? The reason for the syllable u added to the end is because the language of the adhān is Classical Arabic which uses a system of adding vowels to the ends of words depending on their grammatical function. If you don’t understand what exactly that means, don’t worry about it because it is extremely complicated and completely disregarded in the Arabic people use to speak in their everyday lives. If you are really curious, the vowel u in this situation signifies that Allah is the grammatical subject of the sentence.

If you were to say Allah abkar it wouldn’t entirely be proper classical Arabic, but it means the same thing.

ašhadu an la ilaha ila Allahأشهدُ أن لا اله إلا الله

أشهدُ (ašhadu) = I testify or I witness. Technically it is really ašhad but the u is added to the end because of classical Arabic grammar (described above).

أن (an) = that

لا اله إلا الله (la ilaha ila Allah) = no god except for Allah

ašhadu anna Muḥammadan rasūl Allahأشهدُ أن محمدا رسول الله

أشهدُ أن  (ašhadu anna) = I testify that (as above). The reason it is anna and not just an is due to classical Arabic grammar, but there is no change in meaning.

محمدا رسول الله  (Muḥammadan rasūl Allah) = Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. The reason that it is Muḥammadan and not just Muhammad is because of the classical Arabic vowels added to the end (described above). Usually you would just say Muḥammad. Rasūl as you likely figured out means messenger.

ḥayya ʿala aṣ-ṣalāحيَّ على الصلاة

This phrase means “come/rise up to prayer.”
صلاة  (ṣalā) = prayer

as-ṣalā means “the prayer” and is written as such because when you add the Arabic word for “the”, which is “al”, it “assimilates” with the letter ṣ which is a special category of letters. See this lesson for more about that.

The word ḥayya (حيَّ) is a tricky one because I have not seen or heard it used in any other context, likely because it is obscure classical Arabic. I have seen it translated as either “come” or “get up” but the former definition is likely the best to remember.

على  (ʿala) = “on”, or in this context “to”

ḥayya ʿala al-falāḥحيَّ على الفلاح

This phrase is pretty much the same as the previous one but now you’re “coming/getting up” to al-falāḥ instead of aṣ-ṣalā.

الفلاح  (al-falāḥ) = success (in classical Arabic)

Don’t get confused with the word fallāḥ which in Arabic is written the same and means a peasant farmer. If the adhānwas promising you to become a peasant farmer if you went to mosque, attendance would likely not be very high.
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After this line, the rest of the adhān is repetitions of things said previously.

Now that you learned all about the adhān, scroll back up and listen to it one more time.