Dear Ali: Since my arrival in the UAE, what really takes my breath away every day is the “azaan” – I hope this is the correct way to spell it. I really want to know if I can get that music from some store or get it on a CD if possible? VF, Abu Dhabi
Dear VF: This is one of the cutest questions I’ve received this year, because I know you meant the “athan”, which is the call to prayer – it’s lovely how you view it as music. It influences many people who visit Muslim nations and it’s indeed similar to a beautiful piece of music but without musical instruments.
You see, when Muslims hear the athan, we are not supposed to sing, listen to music or even make any noise. The athan is highly regarded and we should always show respect by keeping calm and quiet until it’s over.
You will notice when it takes place during an event such as a football match, all cheering, chanting and drumming stops. Even when the athan is finished, it takes us a good five or 10 minutes to get going again, because praying comes after the second call to prayer, which by the way is called "iqama". Athan CDs and tapes are available at Islamic tapes and libraries stores in Abu Dhabi, known as Maktabah Islamiyah. One is in Marina Mall on the ground floor. You can also purchase special software to download the athans on your computer desktop. Try www.islamicfinder.org.
Search for the Makki Athan or Madinah Athan, which represent the two classical styles of melody when reciting the athan.
It’s really beautiful to see more people embracing our culture and faith and wanting to know more and keep some of it for their collections.
Dear Ali: During the past holiday, I’ve noticed traditional houses or big villas were lit up like Christmas. What’s with the lights on top of the houses? Is it related to marriage? JH, Abu Dhabi
Dear JH: It’s likely these lit-up houses are showcasing their celebration for either an engagement party or a wedding, so if you decide to pay a visit it’s best you say “congratulations” to them. It’s possible they were celebrating National Day, if the UAE flag was on display. But the usual reason for a lit-up house is the occasion of a wedding – the lights are a message that the families send out to the whole community that they are celebrating such an event. The lights usually stay up and on for a month.
When my sisters got married, we had the lights up when their engagement was announced, and then prior to their wedding we also had the lights up for two weeks after the marriage.
The whole celebration can take from two weeks to three months, depending on how long it takes to make all the arrangements. The lights are turned on each day when it gets dark, or after the maghrib prayer, and some people keep them on until morning.
These lights are a symbol of celebration, much like those displayed on Christmas or on National Day. The wedding itself won’t actually take place in the house, even though we still welcome close family members to our homes to share their greetings with us. Some engagement parties are held in the house, and for bigger ones we put up tents. But before you approach a tent, you should look closely because we often put them up for funerals as well.
I can’t tell you if every family now would welcome a stranger, but I’m sure many wouldn’t mind someone stopping and visiting the men’s area of a lit-up tent or house, perhaps to share some coffee with you as you share your best wishes for the groom and bride.
Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow @AskAli on Twitter, and visit www.ask-ali.com to ask him a question and to find his guidebooks to the UAE, priced at Dh50.
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