WADI SHA'AM // At noon the call to prayer echoes across the mountains at the northernmost tip of the Emirates, drowning out the cackling birds and sneezing goats on the jagged cliffs behind the Abdulrahman al Zaabi Mosque.
The village is quiet as young boys and their grandfathers make their way towards the beloved building. Most of its men work in big cities and return only on weekends. With the help of a twisted cane, the 85-year-old Abdulla Saeed slowly makes his way to pray. Thanks to his sons, Mr Saeed has not missed a day at the mosque since he moved to the village from his mountain home 30 years ago, even though he began to lose his sight to cataracts five years ago.
He is followed by a farmer who parks a blue pickup and hobbles over to the intricately decorated gate. The stone cutter Ali Rashed, 82, who chisels mountain rocks into tombstones, is next to arrive, taking a break from his daily labours to obey the call from the muezzins, orange prayer beads swinging. It is a ritual that has repeated itself across the centuries and the generations. Ras al Khaimah alone has more than 800 mosques that range from humble portacabins with megaphones to architectural splendours that remind us of the beauty that is possible in the world.
The call to prayer, or adhan, is beamed live across the emirate five times a day via satellite from the Sheikh Zayed Mosque on the al Qawassim Corniche in RAK city. The four callers span the Islamic world, hailing from Morocco, Egypt, the UAE and Bangladesh. Though a single voice at a time delivers adhan to mosques at the click of a button, the call in each mosque absorbs the character of its setting.
In the mountain village of Khatt, a throaty prayer rises from the village centre. On a hilltop above the town, four megaphones too big to be contained by their tiny minarets sound from the newer Rashid al Aqil mosque. In a call and answer, they carry the adhan across the gravel plains below to the desert beyond. In the city, it slices through the noise. The call bounces off buildings and sandals scrape against the pavement in the rush to prayer. Shops are locked, their lights left on.
For 20 minutes a row of shoes steadily accumulates on the checkered marble tiles outside the pink walls and stained-glass windows of the Abdulrahim mosque in Old RAK after the raspy adhan sounds from nine storeys above. Cars park in the centre of the street as the worshippers, a mix of regulars and those passing through for business, draw near to make obeisance. "In cities we see many nationalities but the praying as per the Islamic concept - it is for God," says Abdulla Variyalintavida, 39, a sales executive from a village of 4,000 in Kerala. "It doesn't matter what country you are from. It is communication between God and myself only."
Beside a market selling mangos and inflatable animals on the Fujairah-Dibba highway, the Safwan bin Umaiah Mosque raises its cream-coloured neck above the date gardens. Teenagers cross the street from the fishing village of Sharm, leaving their fleet floating serenely in the bay as others roar up in customised cars. In the car park, Shamsa Mabyoa, 28, a mother of two from Fujairah, waits for her husband. Though she cannot enter the mosque, the adhan affects her profoundly.
"I feel like our God is saying 'come pray with me, put your heart and mind with me'," she said. "Most people forget to pray. They are at work, at hospital, at the shop, but when we hear the mosque, we say 'thank God'." A few kilometres south and into Fujairah, the car park fills with worshippers at Al Bidya Mosque, a mud brick building that dates to 1446. Many visitors drive for hours to visit this, the country's oldest mosque, to feel the echo of generations from its thick pillars.
"When we hear the call to prayer, I join my brothers from Islam, from different nationalities, and answer," says Omar al Ahmed, a 25-year-old from Jordan. "The mosque shouldn't matter but to be honest, it's an old mosque and I'm praying in a very old place that make me feel the connection to our heritage, our ancestors." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org