Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar …
If you are a Muslim, this will resonate with you. The azaan is one of the most beautiful sounds you will hear over your lifetime. As a kid, you aspire to sound as good as the muezzin as he effortlessly carries the notes and exhorts you to come and pray. There is a real skill to a good azaan. From my layman’s perspective, I would say a bit of a nasal tone is required for the high pitch, which is necessary for the azaan to be carried over a large area. You also need to have a good control over your breathing, so as to not change pitch midway. Needless to say, you need to know the correct pronunciation of the Arabic words. Enunciation is of utmost importance.
Most Imams and muezzins have these qualities. However, there are many aberrations too (or if the Imam or muezzin is on leave and someone unqualified steps up for the job). I will list only five of them as I don’t want to offend too many of these pious souls and earn myself an easier ticket to Hell.
1. Mr Reshammuezzin
This fellow takes the nasal thing a bit too seriously, so much so that, you begin to wonder whether his voice originates from his throat at all. He hits such high notes that birds start flying haphazardly. Cows start mooing incessantly. Bricks start falling off rooftops and glasses start breaking (Well, not exactly, but you know isn’t that how people exaggerate). Even the non-namazi Muslims start screaming, “Ya Allah, make it stop. I’m going to the Masjid.” As for my neighbour who is chanting shlokas from the Bhagavad Gita at the top of his voice, it only gives him an excuse to raise his decibel levels to the point where you don’t know who is winning the competition.
2. Mr Distraction Jackson
Every stupid thing distracts him when he is reciting the azaan. His eyes are never in the right place. He will check whether your kurta is half-sleeved and whether the ends of your pajamas are above the ankles or not as he is turning his head during the Hayya‘alas-salāh/Hayya‘alal-falāh part. And if he catches you talking, he will frown at you and make weird eyebrow signals to admonish you. He will also turn his head at other times, like when there is a person walking past the adjacent street, especially if it’s a woman. Now what he does with his eyes or head is his problem. However, the issue arises when he turns his head so much that his mouth shifts away from the microphone and the azaan becomes more of a fill in the gaps exercise than calling the faithful for prayer.
3. Mr Consti von Pation
He is all right in every aspect. He belts out great azaans and can do it consistently. The only problem is that you can never look at his face when he is on the microphone. Every muscle on his face is stretched to the limit. His eyes are closed shut and his brows are joined together furrowing deep into his forehead. Beads of sweat start rolling down his cheeks as he strives to strike that perfect note. If you take a picture of him and crop out the fingers and hands, while keeping just his face, you will find it extremely difficult to ascertain whether he is in the Masjid or somewhere less pure. In fact, his apparent discomfort makes you very conscious of not approaching him from behind in case something smelly happens.
4. Mr Puff Shorty
He often sets the records for the shortest azaans in history. He then goes on to break them himself. The source of his power is his incredible ability to not be able to hold a note for more than two seconds. He has developed this ability over the years through numerous packets of bidis and their cooler cousins, the cigarettes. Of course, the years of shouting matches with his wife at the middle of the night have tuned his vocal chords to match his breathing abilities. There is one plus though. He is the one you can turn to on cold December mornings for the Fajr namaz.
5. Sir Croaksalot
This fellow has no clue whatsoever regarding the concept of qirat. He thinks reciting the azaan equals to shouting over the microphone like an orator. The word besura means zilch to him. He just lives in the moment, and like Mr Reshamuezzin, his specialisation in calling the faithful lies in his extraordinary ability to annoy the hell out of the listeners. If you listen carefully, you can literally hear frogs croaking in unison with him, and saying, “Croak! My ears! Croak! My ears!” The worst thing about him is that he never gets discouraged by the grimaces of the people who have suffered his torture. He mistakes them for grins and picks up the microphone before anyone else during the next namaz.
P.S. I think I belong to the last category. But the people in my society probably caught on to the impending danger during my childhood and made me understand, “Beta, tumse na ho payega.”