World's largest Quran recitation and call to prayer competition returns for Ramadan

Televised religious talent show Otr Elkalam celebrates exceptional vocal ability

The total prize money for Otr Elkalam exceeds 12 million Saudi riyals ($3.2 million). Photo: Otr Elkalam / Twitter
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TV talent show Otr Elkalam (Scent of Speech), an international Quran recitation and adhan (call to prayer) competition, is back for a second year.

Launched on the first day of Ramadan, the show is the largest of its kind in the world; it is an initiative of Saudi Arabia's General Entertainment Authority.

This year, the contest attracted 50,000 Muslim entrants from more than 100 countries, all vying for qualification. Of the 2,116 contestants who made the cut, 36 participants (18 from Quran recitation and 18 specialising in the call to prayer) qualified for the final stages.

Participants demonstrate their vocal capabilities by reciting verses of the Quran before a jury composed of experts in recitation, phonetics and maqamat (music structures).

The total prize money for the competition exceeds 12 million Saudi riyals ($3.2 million).

Otr Elkalam contestants

Syrian contestant Mohammed Al Jalab is one of the finalists. Al Jalab was impacted by the February earthquake in Syria and Turkey and was forced to live among the rubble when his town was struck. It was the natural disaster that prompted him to turn to the Quran, helping him to overcome the difficulties and fulfil his potential by participating.

Al Jalab had memorised the Quran by the age of 15. He also studied Tajweed — the proper pronunciation of the Arabic letters and words when reciting the Quran — and intonation, and mastered the employment of maqamat, clarifying the meanings of the holy book.

On Wednesday, Al Jalab participated in the Quran recitation event, competing against his Moroccan opponent Zakaria Al Zirek.

Despite Al Jalab's best efforts,it was Al Zirek who successfully secured a spot in the next round of the competition. Al Zirek is known for winning the title of Munshid Al Sharjah in 2021.

In the adhan competition, Syrian contestant Ahmed Darwish, who specialises in electronic production and publishing, competed against Raheef Al Hajj, a teacher of maqamat and vocal performances, and founder of a specialised vocal academy from Lebanon.

Al Hajj qualified for the next stage of the competition thanks to his distinguished performance, diversification of the maqamat, and his balance between the vocal transitions that dazzled the members of the jury. He was also a Munshid Al Sharjah finalist.

According to Azzam Al Omran, the director of Otr Elkalam, the competition is not only the largest Quran recitation contest at an international level, but also the first that incorporates both Quran recitation and adhan.

In season one, Moroccan contestant Younes Mustafa Gharbi won the Quran recitation category, earning a prize of 5 million Saudi riyals ($1.33 million). In the adhan category, Turkish contestant Muhsin Kara came first and received 2 million Saudi riyals ($530,000).

Otr Elkalam is broadcast daily during Ramadan on MBC1 and online on MBC's digital platform Shahid at 5.30pm

Updated: April 01, 2023, 8:07 AM