Update: At the bottom of this post I’ve added a link to some video footage of the pre-dawn melange of calls to prayer as heard from our back terrace.
I find that Metallica, NIN, and Ministry in my earphones are effective at mostly blocking out the morning Call to Prayer.
“If you live near a mosque you’ll have to hear the Call to Prayer,” you are warned by expats and guidebooks about choosing a place to stay or live.
This is Istanbul. There are mosques everywhere. There is nowhere you can live where you will not hear the Call to Prayer. The reason hotels here advertise soundproof windows is not for the regular sounds of the city (traffic, sirens, shouting Turks resolving conflicts, etc.). It’s because hotel owners know jet-lagged Western travelers (except Rick Steves) don’t want to be woken up well before dawn by the nearby mosques.
I’ve been here less than a month and I already hate the Call to Prayer. Few things are more jarring than walking down a street when the CALL leaps out of some tinny loudspeaker in the building next to you that doesn’t look like a mosque and pierces your head like a knitting needle through one ear and out the other. Istanbul residents just keep walking as if nothing happened. I hope to get like them.
(I will say this: the Call is not as jarring as the two stray dogs were who tried to attack me yesterday morning during the last 200 meters of my run. Dogs long ago declared war on runners for some unknown reason. At times I have wanted every dog that ever chased or bit a harmless runner to be put down along with its owner. But stray dogs are sacred in Istanbul.)
Some mosques are old, obvious, and beautiful to look at and admire. Many look like every other building squeezed next to one another here. So unless you notice the sign for it amid all the other signs above all the other jam-packed building entrances, you won’t realize you’re standing next to a mosque until you’re hit through the loudspeaker with the prayer shout.
I’m up at 5am to write. Which means I’m up before the morning Call to Prayer. For some reason this morning, the calls were all very long, over 15 minutes. I turned up the volume on my computer.
It isn’t just one call from one mosque. Throughout the day, I can often hear three, four, or five different calls at the same time from three, four, or five nearby mosques. Three, four, or five different calls at the same time produce an unmitigated thrashing of harmony that only lovers of Arnold Schoenberg would admire.
One morning, I heard a soothing voice with a very calm-sounding prayer. I thought, now that’s a nice way to ease into the day. I haven’t heard a voice or prayer sung so serenely since. Some of these guys (no women heard as of yet) sing with all the precision of a loose fire hose. God might have called some of these men to spread the Word, but he didn’t give them the Voice to sing it. (This is also true of some Catholic priests I recall from my youth.)
The Unrepentant Ass in me wishes he had a loud stereo. He would place the speakers out on the terrace. When the morning call to prayer would start, he would then turn the stereo up to 11 and select something like Black Sabbath, Metallica, Iron Maiden, or Slayer. When the police showed up he would claim it was his morning Call to Metal and that he was a worshiper here at the “Metal Church.”
The unrepentant ass would probably be deported back to the U.S. that day. So it’s a good thing there isn’t a loud stereo in this apartment.
I think it’s best if I just have a shot of Turkish coffee while I sit and read as the sun brightens the city.
Addendum: Here’s some video of what it sounds like most mornings with the window open. When the windows are closed, it’s not as loud.