Ottawa’s Muslim call to prayer: There’s an app for that
If you live near one of Ottawa’s many churches, the sound of bells tolling is probably nothing unusual. Residing in the shadow of any of Ottawa’s eight mosques, however, is a curiously silent affair.
In predominantly Muslim nations, the call to prayer is broadcast loudly from the mosque’s minaret five times a day, summoning worshipers to dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset and evening prayers.
The timing of these prayers follow the natural cycle of the day. Since the rising and setting of the sun change constantly, so do the times of prayer.
Ottawa’s Muslim community, which comprised 3.9 per cent of the city’s population in the 2006 census, is out of luck if they’re listening for a public daily reminder.
There is only one mosque in Ottawa with a minaret capable of performing the call, though it has never been used to do so, says Mohamed Ghadban, the president of the Ottawa Muslim Association.
“From my past knowledge, no, it hasn’t been used. The time in the morning, for example, is early morning and to wake up the neighbourhood is not a good idea … You won’t hear it, not in the Western world as much as you would in the Middle East.”
Omar Mahfoudhi, executive director of the Islam Care Centre in Ottawa, knows of no public calls to prayer in most Canadian cities - But that’s not a significant problem, he said.
“We have to acknowledge that we’re in a predominantly Christian land … It ends up being really just a matter of identity, I think. ...The reason to call to prayer is to call people to come and pray. If we can accomplish that better by having loudspeakers then yes, that would be great,“ he said.
“But the way our communities are, we’re very dispersed, people will come to the mosque … I don’t live anywhere that’s near a mosque and even most of the people that come to prayer here at the centre, they live very far away.”
Amira Elmi, a practicing Muslim and a policy analyst at Environment Canada, said she’s never heard a desire from the Ottawa community for a public call to prayer, and can understand why.
“Right now, I only hear [the call to prayer] when I go to a mosque, within the confines of the mosque. Personally, I feel like the purpose is kind of served by virtue of having Internet and having so many ways to know what time it is to pray,” she said.
“I think we’re so dispersed nowadays that it’s not like everybody is in one area and they’ll all hear it and go. I’m not sure it’s necessary in that sense.”
The daily calls to prayer would also be a violation of Ottawa’s noise bylaw. Church bells, on the other hand, have been granted an exemption.
The bylaw reads: “No person shall ring any bell, sound any horn, or shout in a manner likely to disturb the inhabitants of the City provided that nothing herein contained shall prevent the ringing of bells in connection with any church, chapel, meeting house or religious service...”
While the by-law does not strictly prohibit the Islamic call to prayer, it provides no exemption.
The city’s bylaw and regulatory services branch has not received any complaints or requests to amend the bylaw.
Officials at the city’s by-law office said the department has not received any complaints nor have there been requests for exemptions to the Noise By-law.
Without a public call to prayer, many Muslims rely on technology to keep track of changing prayer times.
“When there weren’t digital watches, no atomic clocks, and all these ways to tell time, people needed to hear something, or people needed to tell each other what time to pray,” said Amira Elmi.
“I usually just Google the time.”
Mahfoudhi said he uses his smart phone for accurate prayer times. In fact, he says, there’s an app for that.
“We’ve gotten around the restriction of not being allowed to do it publicly, and we actually have a little app,” said Mahfoudhi.
“We have software, we have apps—it’s all around us. In fact, sometimes I’ll be with my wife and we’re at home and my phone will go off and her phone will go off and her computer will go off, all of them with the call to prayer. So you almost end up feeling like you’re in some Muslim land where the mosques are calling off.”
Mahfoudhi said there are watches and clocks that will do the same thing, but that the technology isn’t necessary.
“To be honest, nobody really doesn’t know when prayer time is. There will obviously be people who don’t have a computer or are not savvy enough to know that there are apps or software that they could use, so they tend to have a little print-out schedule of the times and they just have that pinned on their fridge.”
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