Muezzin Voices of the Adhan, Islamic Call to Prayer, Soon to be Silenced

At Its Best: Investigative Journalism
By Jennifer Karchmer

In These Financially Trying Times, We Need Assertive, Go-Get ‘Em Storytellers, Like Anna Kipervaser…

… and a team of talented, professional, pioneering reporters, photogs, editors, and filmmakers who will tell the untold story.

In this issue of my blog, “At Its Best”  I’d like to bring attention to the work of Anna Kipervaser, the producer of  “Voices and Faces of the Adhan: Cairo” documenting the story of a religious tradition going by the wayside, thanks – or due to – technology.

I first learned of Anna and her documentary project in May of this year while listening to NPR, which carried a report on the Islamic call to prayer. I was fascinated to learn that this 1,000-year-old tradition in Cairo, Egypt was being altered. Originally it was to be replaced by an  electronic, version. Now, Anna reports that the call to prayer will continue to be live but announced by one muezzin from a radio station, spread throughout Cairo by wireless receivers – a big change indeed.

Cozied up in my apartment in Bellingham, Wash, getting informed by radio in the Northwest corner of the United States, why would this journalist be interested in a long-time religious tradition thousands of miles away going through a major metamorphosis?

“The first rough draft of history,” I thought.

I’ll let Philip Graham, former publisher and co-owner of the Washington Post, take the credit for this phrase having said it in a 1963 speech to reporters in London “…so let us today drudge on about our inescapably impossible task of providing every week a first rough draft of history that will never really be completed about a world we can never really understand.”[i]

I believe Graham was referring to our obligation and our duty to tell the whole truth with an open mind using the best journalistic tools we possess in our quiver. This includes an inexplicably high level of ethics as what we write, shoot, photograph, say and produce will go down in history, serving as history.

As the NPR piece I caught that afternoon came to a close, I managed to scribble down some notes, and although spelling Anna’s last name incorrectly, located her Facebook page and subsequent link to On Look Films, the production company putting together the documentary.

Anna, based in Chicago, is backed by a slew of talented and professional reporters, editors, writers, photographers, videographers and filmmakers. I’m impressed with this diverse team who are passionate about cultural topics of significance and informing themselves through research and first-person reporting:http://www.onlookfilms.com/about.html

Having completed several trips to Cairo, Egypt, the team is documenting the story of the muezzin, the people who recite the Islamic call to prayer, known as the adhan, which is called out five times a day from thousands of mosques in Cairo. Apparently, the beauty of a variety of muezzins is becoming obsolete as only one will be assigned to do the call to prayer disseminating the message via wireless receivers. This change began this year.

To get a sense of the story and what the team has gone through to gain access and complete their interviews, viewers can watch an impressive 8-minute short that features some of what Anna and her team hope to accomplish with a full-length documentary. Yet another angle they explore shows how the traditional adhan creates a melodious sound in itself, like a musical instrument.  See “Harmonies of Cairo” on their webpage: www.onlookfilms.com and for more on the history of the adhan and Egypt, go to: http://www.onlookfilms.com/history.html

It’s no secret that US journalism is in a critical period as news outlets face dwindling budgets and devote less and less resources to international  bureaus. Anna’s first-person, eye witness reporting is required to keep today’s news provocative and diverse. Otherwise, we’re limited to press release journalism — government and commercial outfits spoonfeeding stories to newsrooms that churn out verbatim drivel.

According to the On Look Films’ website, the project is being funded, at least in part, by support from the Hartley Film Foundation, National Geographic’s All Roads Films Project and the Lucius and Eva Eastman Fund. Of course it takes time and effort to apply for such grants and funding is never guaranteed.

In fact, Anna corresponded with me via email saying, “We have raised less than half of what we need to make the thing happen… although we have been fortunate enough to have the support of these organizations, we are still struggling to get the funding necessary to complete principal photography.”

If you’re committed to a democracy that thrives on freedom of speech, diversity of ideas and open access to information, you will appreciate the work and spirit of On Look Films. Thankfully, Anna and her team is documenting the story, serving as a first rough draft of history, that could disappear before it’s too late.

Hopefully, stories like the this one from Cairo will help further our understanding of a way of life, religion, spirituality and tradition in a way that no single press release could do justice.